Building a Bridge Between Two Rhythmic Cultures Indian Clave

Every piece of music has a story to tell, and the one we’re looking at this month, “Indian Clave,” started at a festival in Croatia, when I performed with Horacio “el Negro” Hernandez for the first time. It was during a long ride to dinner one night of the festival that the music came into being. “I have a rhythmic idea I worked on with [master conguero] Giovanni Hidalgo,” Hernandez recalled. “Giovanni had been shown it by the percussionist Sikiru Adepoju. It has a cool 6/8 vibe with a very syncopated and illusory time feel.” Here’s the basic rhythm:

Indian Clave 1

When Horacio showed me that pattern, it got me thinking of a comparison between it and some of the time structures you find in South India, especially in a style called Pallavi, which involves modulating a rhythmic idea from 8th notes to 8th-note triplets to 16th notes to 16th-note triplets and finally to 32nd notes. I showed these compositions to Horacio, and he started clapping various bell patterns over them. The rhythms seemed to fit together in a way that sounded very fresh. In South India, they would always clap a straight pattern, so it was really interesting to hear Indian-style phrases over an Afro Cuban-style bell pattern. This first exchange inspired me to come up with a rhythmic structure that would fall halfway between Cuban and South Indian styles.

As I was writing the piece, I decided to take it out of a normal 6/8 or 4/4 feel and instead went for something that sat nicely in five. I also decided not to have a formal structure, as found in Pallavi, but to pick a couple of time shifts and gear changes that I felt reflected the intent of Pallavi while also incorporating some of the flavor of the improvisation that Horacio and I originally explored.

The main theme (A) is played over two bars of 5/4. This is the motif that gets expanded and contracted in the following sections. Phrase marks are indicated above the notation. This basic theme has five phrases.

Indian Clave 2

For section B, we shift to a triplet base. Traditionally, the theme would be repeated verbatim three times at this level, but I’ve altered the gaps in the fourth and fifth phrases to force it into a two-bar cycle. I wanted to keep this first modulation a little more grounded and locked into the Afro-Cuban bell-style feel.

Indian Clave 3

In section C we go to 16ths and contract the theme into one bar of 5/4. We also drop the third phrase of the original theme (section A) and reduce the gaps in all of the other phrases.

Indian Clave 4

In section D, take section C and repeat it verbatim at one and a half times the speed. Notice that section C is four phrases long and section D comprises twelve phrases. This gear change is a really interesting time modulation and has an offbeat feel.

Indian Clave 5

Finally, for section E we generate a feeling of acceleration by switching back to 16ths. This is basically a repeat of section C, with an altered ending. The ending is known in North India as a tihai and is a rhythmic cadence created by repeating a phrase three times and calculating it to end on beat 1 of the time cycle.

Indian Clave 6


Horacio and I had great fun performing and recording “Indian Clave,” which also features Bernhard Lackner on bass. It provided a few rhythmic challenges, including some of the other sections that appear later in the track.



Award-winning percussionist Pete Lockett has worked with Björk, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Dido, Bill Bruford, Jeff Beck, the Verve, Primal Scream, and many other artists. He’s also arranged and recorded ethnic percussion for five James Bond films and other Hollywood blockbusters. For more info, log on to