Rock-a-Cha-Cha: The Erased Impact of Latin American Music on the Rhythmic Transformation of American Popular Music

  • Samuel Flynn

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis interrogates the eminent Afro-Cuban musical director Mario Bauza's claim that the impact of Afro-Latin musics on a fundamental change in the rhythm of US-American music has been written out of history. Scholars often assume that rhythmic trends towards straight-quaver subdivisions and polyrhythm occurred in US popular music between the 1950s and the 1960s. However, insufficient evidence has been provided to support this hypothesis. Moreover, Bauza's claim of Latinx erasure continues to be overlooked as do the possible meanings of the rhythmic trends in relation to Latinx Americans. A corpus analysis and reception study of rock 'n' roll rhythm is therefore conducted, focusing on Little Richard and Paul Anka as case studies. Chapter 3 establishes empirically that a rhythmic transformation from crotchet or swung-quaver 'monorhythm' (that is, a rhythmic texture comprising onbeat rhythmic patterns) to straight-quaver polyrhythm occurred in post-war popular music in the United States, culminating in 1961. Chapter 4 demonstrates that the predominant influence on this rhythmic shift was Afro-Latin musics, via the 'American-Latin' hybrid styles 'rhumba blues' and 'rock-a-cha-cha'. Chapter 5 argues that this Afro-Latin influence was erased by rock historians (who were almost all White, male, and non-Latinx) for three main reasons: the Black/White binary paradigm of race, the gendered marginalisation of late-1950s and early-1960s rock 'n' roll, and the characterisation of the impact of Afro-Latin musics on US popular music as a superficial 'tinge'. Chapter 6 exposes the assumptions behind the common interpretation of the rhythmic transformation as representing the progressive politics of the 1960s. Instead, drawing on an alternative historicisation of rock 'n' roll, the chapter interprets the Afro-Latin influence on the rhythmic change as the product of both successive mass-culture 'crazes' for Black rhythm and the mass migration of Latin Americans to the United States during the Jim-Crow era. This research demands a significant revision of popular-music historiography, which needs to acknowledge this substantial but neglected contribution of Latinx Americans to US popular culture.
Date of Award31 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRebecca Herissone (Supervisor) & Roddy Hawkins (Supervisor)


  • Black/White binary
  • Paul Anka
  • mass culture
  • race
  • hot rhythm
  • gender
  • rhythmic texture
  • music analysis
  • Latinx studies
  • death of rock 'n' roll
  • swung quaver
  • shuffle
  • 1960s
  • popular music studies
  • 1950s
  • Little Richard
  • corpus analysis
  • reception history
  • Rhythm
  • rhythmic trend
  • rhythmic subdivisions
  • straight quaver
  • polyrhythm
  • Latin tinge
  • influence
  • rock-a-cha-cha
  • rhumba blues
  • Erasure
  • historiography
  • Meaning
  • rock 'n' roll

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