The Rolling Stones in Cuba: Better for the Oldies than the Youth?

Written by

The thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations is finally happening, and I am glad and grateful for it.

On the musical front, I heard NPR’s recent story on the Stones’ free concert in Havana before hundreds of thousands. Apparently only the older people will know the band; many of the younger folk interviewed had never heard of them. It isn’t surprising, given the embargo as well as limited internet availability and decent broadband.

The generational gap is ironic because much rock and roll is infused with clavé, the ubiquitous 2/3 and 3/2 Cuban rhythm. A lot of the rhythm and blues and pop music coming out of New Orleans in the 1950’s had Cuban rhythms inside. Little Richard, Fats Domino, Lee Dorsey, Professor Longhair, second-line marching bands and other artists had Cuban rhythms embedded in their songs. Jelly Roll Morton called it “The Spanish Tinge,” a syncopated rhythm that spiced up 4/4 rhythms typical of most pop music. He should have called it the “latin tinge” or the “Cuban tinge.” Just listen to Bo Diddley’s classic “Mona,” and you’ll hear the clavé rhythm right away. So when the Beatles and especially the Stones started making big hits, their music had Cuban inflections as well. The NPR story cited the Stones’ “Satisfaction,” which has a cha cha rhythm.

When I visited Cuba twenty years ago, I was working for Quango Records and brought a bunch of trip hop CDs with me. When I played the CD’s while sharing glasses of Havana Club with some locals, they asked me where the beat was, saying they were falling asleep.

Listen for the clavé in this scratchy old 45 rpm Checker single of Bo Diddley’s “Mona”:

And finally, the Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”: It can either be in 4/4 but if you listen carefully you’ll hear the cha-cha rhythm: count 1,2,3, cha cha cha, 2,3, cha cha cha.

RP Logo