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Stylistic originsDescarga_header_cell_0_1_0 Son cubano, filin, rumba, mamboDescarga_cell_0_1_1
Cultural originsDescarga_header_cell_0_2_0 Havana music scene (mid-1950s)Descarga_cell_0_2_1
Typical instrumentsDescarga_header_cell_0_3_0 Piano, double bass, percussion section, horn section, tres, flute, violinDescarga_cell_0_3_1
Derivative formsDescarga_header_cell_0_4_0 Salsa duraDescarga_cell_0_4_1
Regional scenesDescarga_header_cell_0_5_0
Other topicsDescarga_header_cell_0_6_0

A descarga (literally discharge in Spanish) is an improvised jam session consisting of variations on Cuban music themes, primarily son montuno, but also guajira, bolero, guaracha and rumba. Descarga_sentence_0

The genre is strongly influenced by jazz and it was developed in Havana during the 1950s. Descarga_sentence_1

Important figures in the emergence of the genre were Cachao, Julio Gutiérrez, Bebo Valdés, Peruchín and Niño Rivera in Cuba, and Tito Puente, Machito and Mario Bauzá in New York. Descarga_sentence_2

Originally, descargas were promoted by record companies such as Panart, Maype and Gema under the label Cuban jam sessions. Descarga_sentence_3

From the 1960s, the descarga format was usually adapted by large salsa ensembles, most notably the Fania All-Stars. Descarga_sentence_4

History Descarga_section_0

Origins: son, filin and jazz Descarga_section_1

During the 1940s, the term descarga was commonly used in the music scenes of Cuba to refer to performances of jazz-influenced boleros in an improvised manner. Descarga_sentence_5

This was part of the so-called filin (feeling) movement spearheaded by artists such as José Antonio Méndez, César Portillo de la Luz, and Luis Yánez. Descarga_sentence_6

This style was inherited by musicians such as Bebo Valdés and Frank Emilio Flynn who explored the combination of jazz and Cuban forms into the 1950s. Descarga_sentence_7

In particular, Bebo's 1952 session with producer Norman Granz in Havana, credited to Andre's All Stars, is often cited as a milestone in the development of Cuban jazz, and by extension, descarga. Descarga_sentence_8

At this time, however, the term descarga began to be used in a different way to describe jam sessions based on the son montuno and other Afro-Cuban rhythms. Descarga_sentence_9

The incipient mambo and Afro-Cuban jazz scene found in New York during the 1940s was also a catalyst of the development of descargas, with artists such as Machito, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Tito Puente performing extended jams with Afro-Cuban motifs. Descarga_sentence_10

1950s: the Panart sessions Descarga_section_2

The first series of commercially successful descarga jam sessions were recorded mostly between 1956 and 1958 at the Panart studios in Havana. Descarga_sentence_11

The Panart descarga sessions were released in three volumes under the title Cuban Jam Session; they would sell over a million copies. Descarga_sentence_12

Volumes I (1956, yellow cover) and II (1957, blue cover) were recorded under the direction of Julio Gutiérrez with Peruchín on piano. Descarga_sentence_13

The sessions were recorded by engineer Fernando Blanco in Havana and then sent for editing to New York. Descarga_sentence_14

According to the original liner notes of Volume I, the studio doors were opened at 10:30 pm and the recordings took place throughout the night. Descarga_sentence_15

The jams in Volume I revolve around canción, mambo, chachachá and conga themes; the longest track, "Opus for Dancing", lasts 10 minutes. Descarga_sentence_16

Volume II kicks off with "Descarga caliente", a 17-minute montuno jam recorded in 1952 and thus considered the first recorded descarga, while side B includes three jams recorded later: rumba, chachachá and batá (Santería-based). Descarga_sentence_17

Volume III (1958, red cover) was directed by tresero Niño Rivera and it comprises three montuno tracks combined with swing, guajira and chachachá, plus a guaguancó-comparsa. Descarga_sentence_18

The only musicians to participate in all three sessions were Alejandro "El Negro" Vivar (trumpet), Emilio Peñalver (tenor saxophone) and Salvador "Bol" Vivar (double bass). Descarga_sentence_19

Another session entitled Cuban Jam Session with Fajardo took place under the direction of flautist José Fajardo in 1957, but only four tracks could be recorded. Descarga_sentence_20

The album was finished in Miami in 1964. Descarga_sentence_21

It was the first descarga album in the charanga format and it features jazz-inspired mambos, chachachás, guajiras and montunos. Descarga_sentence_22

In 1957, Cachao recorded in the Panart studios his Cuban Jam Sessions in Miniature, short descargas which contrasted with the extended jams in the previous Cuban Jam Session LPs. Descarga_sentence_23

The album, credited to "Cachao y su ritmo caliente" (Cachao and his hot rhythm), has been described as a "historic recording" with a "classic rhythm section" and "the true salsa musician's bible on record". Descarga_sentence_24

The same year, Chico O'Farrill directed two descargas, namely "Descarga Número 1" and "Descarga Número 2" with his all-star group, All Stars Cubano, featuring Cachao on bass. Descarga_sentence_25

O'Farrill's recordings were released by Gema as a single and later included in the multi-artist LP Los mejores músicos de Cuba (1959). Descarga_sentence_26

Cachao continued to record descarga sessions as a leader between 1958 and 1960: Jam Session with Feeling (Maype), Descarga (Maype), Cuban Music in Jam Session (Bonita) and Descargas con el ritmo de Cachao (Modiner). Descarga_sentence_27

At the same time, Cachao recorded sessions of traditional danzones for Ernesto Duarte's label Producciones Duarte, yielding two albums that were distributed by Kubaney: Con el ritmo de Cachao (reissued as Camina Juan Pescao) and El gran Cachao (reissued as Cachao y su Típica Vol. 2), featuring former members of Arcaño y sus Maravillas. Descarga_sentence_28

Nonetheless, later in his career he would record many of these danzones ("Avance Juvenil", "Ahora sí", etc.) in an extended, descarga-like format. Descarga_sentence_29

Simultaneously with the Panart recordings from Havana, Tito Puente recorded a full descarga album in 1956, Puente in Percussion. Descarga_sentence_30

It is a percussion-heavy set of descargas featuring Mongo Santamaría, Willie Bobo and Carlos "Patato" Valdés. Descarga_sentence_31

Like Cuban Jam Session Vol I, the album features variations on mambo themes, although the focus of Tito's recordings is the percussion section, lacking a pianist to play the guajeos. Descarga_sentence_32

The album featured guest bassist Bobby "Big Daddy" Rodríguez to play tumbaos on a couple of tracks. Descarga_sentence_33

In 1957, Puente recorded his critically acclaimed Top Percussion, the follow-up to Puente in Percussion. Descarga_sentence_34

It features Mongo Santamaría, Willie Bobo, Francisco Aguabella and Julito Collazo. Descarga_sentence_35

The album closer is a 7-minute descarga-jazz with guest Doc Severinsen on lead trumpet. Descarga_sentence_36

In 1958, Walfredo de los Reyes, the timbalero in Cuban Jam Session Vols I and II, recorded Sabor cubano with pianist Yoyo Casteleiro, a horn section, and singers Kiko Rodríguez and Martha Rams. Descarga_sentence_37

The album included Chico O'Farrill's "Descarga", Mario Bauzá's "Mambo Inn" and a guaracha titled "Cuban Jam Session" credited to Rafael Hernández. Descarga_sentence_38

1960s: from Havana to New York Descarga_section_3

In 1960, Walfredo de los Reyes recorded his second descarga LP as a leader, Cuban Jazz. Descarga_sentence_39

Unlike his previous album, this one featured a heavy percussion section courtesy of Los Papines. Descarga_sentence_40

In addition, Cachao performed on bass. Descarga_sentence_41

That same year, trumpeter Rolando Aguiló released two albums entitled Cuban Jam Session on Maype. Descarga_sentence_42

Although his style has been described as leaning towards "soft mambo" and cha-cha-cha, his sessions have been praised due to Juanito Márquez's performance on electric guitar, cited by some critics as a "mystery guitarist" due to the absence of credits on the LP. Descarga_sentence_43

Around the same time, another LP by the title of Cuban Jam Session was recorded by an ensemble directed by trumpeter Carlos Arado, who like Aguiló had been a member of Orquesta Hermanos Castro, for the label Sirena. Descarga_sentence_44

Cachao left Cuba in 1961, staying in Madrid until 1963, before moving to New York, where he joined Tito Rodríguez's orchestra. Descarga_sentence_45

Cachao's influence is notable in jams such as "Descarga Cachao" and "Descarga Malanga". Descarga_sentence_46

Around the same time, Cachao recorded a series of descarga-like tunes with Joe Cain's orchestra, which featured a mix of American and Cuban musicians. Descarga_sentence_47

The resulting album, Latin Explosion, was re-released on CD together with Cuban Jam Sessions in Miniature under the title From Havana to New York. Descarga_sentence_48

During the early 1960s the descarga genre was revitalized in New York by the Alegre All-Stars, an ensemble featuring the most successful artists in the Alegre Records roster. Descarga_sentence_49

The albums were produced by Al Santiago, who chose Charlie Palmieri as music director, and they would have a major influence on the development of salsa, launching the careers of artists such as Johnny Pacheco, Cheo Feliciano and Barry Rogers. Descarga_sentence_50

Furthermore, in 1965 Alegre released Puerto Rican All-Stars featuring Kako, a jam-session recorded in February 1963 and led by prolific timbalero Francisco Ángel Bastar "Kako" which featured Rafael Ithier and Roberto Roena among others. Descarga_sentence_51

Soon, Alegre's biggest competitor, Tico, launched its own "house band", the Tico All-Stars, playing the same style of "Nuyorican" descargas. Descarga_sentence_52

Meanwhile, the Alegre All-Stars project was continued by Al Santiago under different names, namely Cesta All-Stars and Salsa All-Stars. Descarga_sentence_53

In 1968, Jerry Masucci and Johnny Pacheco, the owners of New York's leading salsa label, Fania Records, decided to start another project in the vein of the Alegre All-Stars but with a different approach: the music would now revolve around large-ensemble salsa played live instead of the 1950s Panart studio descarga style. Descarga_sentence_54

The band, the Fania All-Stars, debuted in 1968 at the Red Garter in Greenwich Village with a lineup that included Ray Barretto, Joe Bataan, Willie Colón, Bobby Valentín and Larry Harlow among others, plus guests Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente and Richie Ray. Descarga_sentence_55

The concert was recorded and divided into two LPs, Live at the Red Garter Volumes I and II, which were moderately successful. Descarga_sentence_56

1970s: the peak of salsa dura Descarga_section_4

In 1970, Eddie Palmieri released Superimposition, an LP with descargas such as "Chocolate Ice Cream" and "17.1", which featured Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros on trumpet. Descarga_sentence_57

Armenteros would later join Grupo Folklórico y Experimental Nuevayorquino, an ensemble founded by musicologist and producer René López. Descarga_sentence_58

The group played extended descargas with a modern salsa sound. Descarga_sentence_59

On August 26, 1971, the Fania All-Stars were reformed with a new lineup to perform at the Cheetah. Descarga_sentence_60

The concert was recorded and filmed, yielding a documentary, Our Latin Thing, and three albums, Live at the Cheetah, Volumes I and II and the soundtrack to Our Latin Thing. Descarga_sentence_61

The performances are all in a salsa dura style and in a descarga format, which is acknowledged in the 9-minute-long "Descarga Fania", written by Ray Barretto and arranged by Barretto and pianist Louie Cruz. Descarga_sentence_62

The concert is often cited as one of the most crucial moments in the history of salsa, highlighting the importance of the descarga format in the success of the genre during the 1970s. Descarga_sentence_63

In 1977, Cachao was brought to a studio by musicologist René López to record two new albums for the Salsoul label: Cachao y su Descarga 77 and Dos. Descarga_sentence_64

Half of the recorded tracks were danzones composed by Cachao during his early career, whereas the other half consisted of Afro-Cuban descargas, as in the later stages of Cachao's career. Descarga_sentence_65

The recording sessions featured prestigious musicians including "first generation" descarga artists such as Alejandro "El Negro" Vivar, Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros, Carlos "Patato" Valdés and Julito Collazo, as well as members of the "second generation" of descarga and salsa musicians such as Barry Rogers, Nelson González and Andy González. Descarga_sentence_66

On September 18, 1977, at the Monterey Jazz Festival, Tito Puente in collaboration with vibraphonist Cal Tjader introduced descarga for the first time to the mainstream jazz audience with his closing 10-minute rendition of the classic son "Pare cochero" (written by Marcelino Guerra). Descarga_sentence_67

Starting in 1979, the Cuban all-star ensemble Estrellas de Areito directed by Juan Pablo Torres released five albums consisting exclusively of descargas. Descarga_sentence_68

A compilation of these recordings entitled Los héroes was later reissued by World Circuit in 1999 to critical acclaim. Descarga_sentence_69

1980s to present: revival and critical acclaim Descarga_section_5

In 1981, Walfredo de los Reyes, Cachao and Paquito Hechavarría came together to record Walpataca, a descarga album released by Tania Records. Descarga_sentence_70

The album was listed as number 60 in Latin Beat Magazine's "Top 100 Independent Recordings" (June/July 2004). Descarga_sentence_71

The same group (with additional musicians) would record Walpataca II (1985) and Maestro de Maestros (1986) for Tania. Descarga_sentence_72

Both albums comprise a series of jazzy jams with a variety of themes, from heavy Afro-Cuban percussion to salsa and guaracha. Descarga_sentence_73

Both albums include the tracks "Bocachaby" and "Walpataca II". Descarga_sentence_74

Maestro de Maestros featured flautist José Fajardo and percussionist Nelson "Flaco" Padrón. Descarga_sentence_75

During the 1990s the descarga format gained worldwide popularity due to the release of several highly successful albums. Descarga_sentence_76

In 1993, Cuban-born actor Andy García released a documentary about the life and works of Cachao entitled Como su ritmo no hay dos. Descarga_sentence_77

The following year, Cachao became the first inductee (together with Celia Cruz) in the Billboard Latin Music Hall of Fame. Descarga_sentence_78

Shortly after, García brought Cachao to a recording studio to record a descarga album, partly in honour of his father (who was friends with Cachao's family) and his hometown, Bejucal, where his father was known as el alcalde (the mayor). Descarga_sentence_79

The album, entitled Master Sessions Vol. Descarga_sentence_80

I, became a success, charting in the Billboard Latin 50 and winning the Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Album in March 1995. Descarga_sentence_81

The follow-up, Master Sessions Vol. 2, which featured Paquito D'Rivera and Rolando Laserie, was released in 1995 and was also nominated for Best Tropical Latin Album but lost to Gloria Estefan's Abriendo Puertas. Descarga_sentence_82

In 1995, Nick Gold (head of World Circuit Records) and Juan de Marcos González (director and tres player of Sierra Maestra) decided to record a series of descarga sessions featuring established Cuban musicians together with African virtuosos Toumani Diabate (kora player) and Djelimady Tounkara (guitarist). Descarga_sentence_83

By early 1996, the Cuban musicians had been already selected and the African musicians were about to travel to Cuba, but due to difficulties in obtaining visas they could not make it. Descarga_sentence_84

Gold then invited Ry Cooder and his son Joachim to participate in the sessions; Ry would play guitar and Joachim African percussion. Descarga_sentence_85

The recording sessions took place in March 1996 in Havana's EGREM studios and yielded two albums released in 1997: A toda Cuba le gusta, credited to the Afro-Cuban All Stars, and Buena Vista Social Club. Descarga_sentence_86

Both albums, especially the latter, included extended descargas featuring Juan de Marcos on tres, Rubén González (who had taken part in Estrellas de Areíto) on piano, Orlando "Cachaíto" López (Cachao's nephew) on bass and Amadito Valdés on timbales. Descarga_sentence_87

Buena Vista Social Club went on to become an international sensation, winning the 1998 Grammy for Best Tropical Latin Album and spawning a documentary by Wim Wenders which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1999. Descarga_sentence_88

The album directly combined classic Cuban trova and filin with intense descarga jamming. Descarga_sentence_89

The presence of laúd player Barbarito Torres, as well as Joachim Cooder's udu and dumbek, introduced seldom seen instruments into the genre. Descarga_sentence_90

Another Cuban all-star ensemble, Caravana Cubana, recorded and released two albums at the turn of the century, Late Night Sessions (2000) and Del alma (2002). Descarga_sentence_91

Described as a "serendipitous union of stellar jammers", both sessions include descargas combined with various genres ranging from son to rumba. Descarga_sentence_92

Among the artists featured were Pío Leyva, Chucho Valdés, Orlando "Maraca" Valle, Bamboleo, Francisco Aguabella and Miguel "Angá" Díaz. Descarga_sentence_93

In the 2000s, Cachao achieved three more Grammys in the Tropical Latin Album category. Descarga_sentence_94

Although the first one was awarded for a jazz album, El Arte del Sabor (2001), with Bebo Valdés and Carlos "Patato" Valdés, the other two consisted of descargas, Ahora sí! Descarga_sentence_95

(2004) and his posthumous release The Last Mambo (2011), recorded in September 2007. Descarga_sentence_96

In addition, his 2000 album Cuba linda, also made of descargas, was nominated for the award in 2001 but lost to Alma Caribeña by Gloria Estefan. Descarga_sentence_97

Structure Descarga_section_6

In general, descargas are long improvised pieces characterised by the inclusion of repeated guajeos and tumbaos. Descarga_sentence_98

Solos are often performed by the different musicians, including the singers (if any). Descarga_sentence_99

Simple choruses are usually repeated by the backing vocalists (coro). Descarga_sentence_100

Descargas often have a "cyclical harmonic structure of relatively few chords". Descarga_sentence_101

With the advent of salsa, descargas began to include elements from other Latin American traditions, especially from Puerto Rico, Colombia and Panamá. Descarga_sentence_102

An example is Rubén Blades' "Tiburón", which combines typical Cuban rumba percussion with the seis genre from Puerto Rico featuring Yomo Toro on cuatro, as well as the characteristic trombone section of salsa dura. Descarga_sentence_103

Notable performers Descarga_section_7

Main article: List of descarga musicians Descarga_sentence_104

See also Descarga_section_8


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