Cha-cha-cha Guitar with Rudy Daquín

Cha-cha-cha Guitar with Rudy Daquin in Cuba

Fresh from being shown how to use filin to ease a bolero out of the boogie-sphere and into the realms of sentimental contemplation, Rudy is now going to show me how to do the opposite.

He’s going to show me how to play cha-cha-cha guitar, and how to energise a song’s chorus by shifting from bolero to cha-cha-cha. I wonder what a nice blend of bolero-cha will taste like?

I’ve always thought of cha-cha-cha as a dance-floor genre with no real relevance to funky latino guitar playing. But maybe I’m about to be enlightened? First, let’s dig into a bit of the background of where cha came from and see what the rhythm section is up to…

The Birth of the Cha-cha-cha

An Add-on to the Danzón

The cha-cha-cha developed far away from the guitar, sprouting from a sedate dance genre called the danzón. The danzón had been influenced heavily by French contradanza and was played by an orquesta tipica, which consisted of woodwind, brass and tympani drums.¹

As the genre was developed, the ensemble expanded into a charanga format, adding strings, flute, timbales, güiro and congas. The genre’s form also began to evolve.

As I’ve seen with the montuno section of the son genre, the Cubans like to energise the final section of a song to give it that go-out-with-bang impact on the dance-floor. In the same spirit, a faster end section was added on to the danzón in the 1930s, which took in elements from the son.

This section became so popular that it soon became a separate entity, splitting off into two distinct genres: the faster mambo and the slower cha-cha-cha. The cha got its name from the sound of the dancers feet across the floor.

These styles began to dominate the era and ensembles expanded further still with full horn sections being added. The guitar didn’t really get an invite to the party.

But please, dry your eyes – where there’s a will, there’s a way. Let’s take a look at the typical cha-cha-cha rhythm section and see if we can find a way for the guitar to gatecrash.

A Rhythmic Recipe for Cha

Put the kettle on would you please, darling…

As with most Afro-Cuban music, the rhythm section is made up of highly-organised, interlocking rhythmic parts that combine to form a polyrhythm.

We have a different set-up from the son genre, swapping bongos for congas and bringing in guiro and timbales. However, the underlying and unifying clave pattern is the same. In each sample, you can hear how each part interacts with and reinforces the clave.


Here we have the same son clave, in it’s 2/3 direction (2 strikes followed by 3).

Timbales & Cha Bell

A set of 2 tuneable drums created in Cuba, derived from the European timpani.¹ Played with a cha bell (a cowbell smaller in size and higher in pitch than the bongo-bell).

Double Bass

Plays a repeated tumbao pattern based on styles from the son and the danzón.


A Cuban drum derived from African predecessors, also known as the tumbadora


A serrated gourd or calabash scraped with a stick, of African and indigenous origin.¹

Full Rhythm Section

Let’s hear how they sound together…

What About the Guitar?

Creating a Rhythm Guitar Style

There are 3 other signature instruments used in the cha-cha-cha which may help us cook up a rhythm guitar style.

[icon_feature image=”2477″ title=”Violin”]

Plays a repeated melodic pattern called a guajeo.


[icon_feature image=”2478″ title=”Piano”]

Plays a repeated rhythmic chord pattern called a [tooltip position=”top” text=”This term can refer to either the ‘montuno’ rhythmic pattern or the ‘montuno’ section of a son genre.”]montuno[/tooltip].


[icon_feature image=”2479″ title=”Flute”]

Plays improvised, melodic leads.


Oye Cómo Vamp?

It looks as if our best bet would be to imitate the piano montuno. And perhaps the most iconic instance of this montuno rhythmic vamp can be found in the cha-cha-cha classic ‘Oye Cómo Va’. It was originally written by Tito Puente but Carlos Santana’s version took it to another level, fusing cha with rock to form, well, let’s call it cha-rock.

Here’s that famous vamp on top of our cha-cha-cha rhythm section:

So, perhaps we could take that same rhythm and transplant it onto the guitar somehow? That would certainly work inside an ensemble context with support from other instruments.

But what about cha for solo rhythm guitar? Lets ask Rudy…

'Camarera de mi Amor'

A Casa de las Tradiciones Classic

One of the songs that really engaged the crowd that night at Casa de las Tradiciones was one sung by an aficionado (an amateur singer). It was called ‘Camarera de mi Amor’ (‘The Barmaid I Adore’) and was written by Antonio Machin. The song tells the story of a man – let’s say, a hopeless romantic – who frequents a bar and ‘falls in love’ with the barmaid ‘at first sight’. He fantasises about her ‘sharing a drink beside his heart’. Ah, what a big softie.

I got the impression that this aficionado empathises with the protagonist (along with every other man in the bar). Perhaps also the women present could relate to the barmaid, and the frequency with which she encounters the advances of such dreamers.

The song had an infectiously catchy chorus with a killer chord progression. Rudy says he plays the song as a bolero in the verses and a cha-cha-cha in the choruses – a bolero-cha sandwich.

Here he is, giving us a whistle-tastic rendition of this funky bolero-cha, filling in the lyrics he can’t remember with a whistle here and a whistle there. Perhaps the fact that we are slap bang outside the Bacardi Museum helps to jog his memory towards the end when it comes to the lyric about rum…

Rudy's Integrated Cha Guitar Style

He's Got The Whole Band in His Hands

Rudy has found a way to combine multiple parts from the cha ensemble into a solo rhythm guitar style.

Percussive strikes using his fingernails and palm of his hand.

Maintains a strong bass-line which outlines the cha genre and its anticipated chord changes.

Uses upstrokes with his forefinger to imitate some of those piano montuno hits.

Uses fingerpicking to imitate the guajeo patterns of melodic instruments such the violin.

Let’s see how the Oye Cómo Vamp sounds in comparison to Rudy’s style using the Camarera chord progression.

Oye Cómo Vamp

An approach that slots nicely into the polyrhythmic structure and doesn’t interfere with the bass-line.

Rudy’s Integrated Cha Guitar

Covers the bass-line, adds percussive strikes and uses montuno-style hits to outline the rhythm.

It’ll take more digging to get to the bottom of his bag of tricks, but it’s safe to say he’s crafted one funky cha style.

I’ve enjoyed learning some novel ways that we can create guitar parts, which incorporate approaches from other instruments and give them a new expression. It seems that even within genres where guitars aren’t well-established, or are in fact absent, it is possible to create something interesting using our good old friend the guitar – probably the most versatile instrument on the planet.

Further Listening

Santana's rock-cha 'Oye Cómo Va'

Benny Moré's bolero-mambo 'Camarera'

¹ The Salsa Guidebook | Rebeca Mauleón

Icons from The Noun Project (Güiro by Scott Witthoft, Tripod by Guvnor Co, Snare Drum by Korokoro, Cowbell by Artem Kovyazin, Congas by icon 54, Piano by Boris Kiselev, Flute by parkjisun, Violin by Marco Galtarossa.

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