The challenge of creating a Latin-rock Salsa song

Undeniably one of my favorite kinds of both dance and music in the Latin genre, is salsa. Fast and energetic, its unrelenting rhythmic pulse is irresistible. However, trying to translate this style into a rock band format turned out to be quite a feat.

The process of writing and arranging Angelina

As is often the case, writing and arranging were bound together in this song. The easiest part to come up with, ironically, was the chorus. I had that from the very beginning, as far as the chords, lyrics, and vocal melody.

And, the arrangement for the piano and bass parts flowed fairly smoothly, as well. The guitar part, however, proved to be elusive for quite some time.

In addition, I struggled with the verse. Experimenting with various chordal patterns as well as rewriting the melody multiple times, it took months and months of work to arrive at the final version.

For the guitar, simplicity was the key

After attempting a number of different melodic lines with a guitar, I finally achieved success by paring everything back and focusing on the rhythm.

In the verse, the guitar (with only a bit of distortion) plays a syncopated pattern built on a single note: E. However, I do switch between octaves, to accentuate the rhythm. In between the vocal lines of the verse, the guitar incorporates two different simple motifs, alternating back and forth. This gives the verse some structure, without breaking up the rhythmic drive.

For the chorus, the guitar part is even simpler: playing a comped rhythmic pattern on a single note (A, in octaves), it stays there the entire time.

Pedal tones and contrast

What makes the guitar parts work in the song is the fact that although that instrument focuses on a single note (E in the verse and A in the chorus), the bass and piano play moving chord progressions set against the pedal tones provided by the guitar. This not only creates an interesting harmonic dynamic, but also allows the guitar to carry the rhythm, unencumbered by the need to maintain the movement of the chord progression.

Key changes add interest

While the verse and chorus stay in a single key (A natural minor), the guitar solo initially modulates to D minor, before going back to the original key.

The other key change is one of my favorite parts of the song: At the end of the second verse, the piano ends on an A major (rather than the A minor used throughout the rest of the song). It’s the only time that chord comes into play, and it delivers a harmonic tension that resolves nicely into the second chorus. To make it even richer, vocal harmonies outline an E minor chord, which expands the full cord to an A Dominant 7+9.

Not surprisingly, because it is so subtle, this song is the hardest one on the album to re-create live. And for the same reason, it is my personal favorite on the album, Moviendote.