Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A dance that swept Cuba in 1953 and became a fad in the USA later, developed c.1948 by Enrique Jorrín (classically trained violinist, composer, arranger, bandleader; b 25 December 1926, Candelaria, Cuba; d 1987, Cuba) from a passage in the final part of the danzón (itself derived from European contradanza, late 19th century), the name from a shuffling 'cha cha chá' sound the dancers' feet made responding to the new rhythm. Jorrín, who had played in the popular danzonera Arcaño y Sus Maravillas, was director of Orquesta América (founded '42 by Ninón Mondéjar; Jorrín joined '45) when he wrote 'La Engañadora' '48 ('The Cheat'): when recorded '53 it became a craze. The instrumentation remained the same as that of the danzonera: strings, piano, bass, congas, timbales, guiro (scraper) and lead flute; Jorrín employed unison voices to create a lighter, brighter, sweeter sound. Significant cha cha chá hit-makers of the day included Orquesta Aragón (still recording in Cuba) and Fajardo y sus Estrellas (Fajardo moved to NYC '60s).

The cha cha chá is said to have been introduced to the USA at a Carnegie Hall Latin concert, 20 February 1954; big bands in NYC emphasized the horns to suit the city's sound. Tito Puente covered Rosendo Ruiz Jr's 'Rico Vacilón' ('Having A Ball'; included on Dance The Cha Cha Chá) and Aragón's '54 'Pare Cochero' (on Cha Cha Chá For Lovers); other noteworthy cha cha chás included José Curbelo's 'El Pescador', Machito's 'El Campesino' (on Asia Minor). The biggest hit was Pérez Prado's 'Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White', no. 1 in the USA for ten weeks '55 (the tune was played as a cha cha chá by other bands; Prado actually played it as a slow mambo). Non-Latin bands diluted the music for American dancers: the fad was such that TV sitcoms joked about mother dragging tired businessman father to dancing lessons; the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra charted in 1958 with 'Tea For Two Cha Cha' etc; Stan Kenton's Viva Kenton featured three cha cha chás. Jorrín founded his own orchestra and relocated to Mexico in 1954; returned to Cuba c.1959; toured Africa and Europe in 1964; continued to perform and record on the Cuban state label Areito into mid-'80s; he was featured in performance/interview on BBC 2's Arena programme What's Cuba Playing At? '84.