Discovering Clave: Afro-Cuban Rhythm

Following the Butterflies through Words and Rhythm

While on tour in Mexico, Mister G talks about how his bilingual song, “Señorita Mariposa” was inspired by the famous migration of the Monarch Butterfly to the state of Michoacan. He emphasizes how close observation of nature can become the jumping off point for new songs. Before performing “Señorita Mariposa,” Mister G demonstrates the traditional Afro-Cuban rhythm known as clave.

Mister G’s song “Senorita Mariposa” was inspired by the famous migration of the Monarch butterflies each winter to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico. Like Mister G, the butterflies can’t stand freezing weather and so they fly south to a warmer climate. The butterflies return to the exact same tree every year, but they are increasingly in danger as developers cut down the forest in order for human development. To help protect the Monarch butterfly habitat, visit

“Senorita Mariposa” is a bilingual song, meaning that some of the lyrics are in Spanish and some are in English.  Mister G uses rhyming words throughout the song, such as “mariposa” and “hermosa.” Mariposa is the Spanish word for butterfly. Hermosa means beautiful, which makes good sense as the song is about a beautiful little butterfly. Curious to learn more Spanish words? Go to and type in any English word and the program will instantly translate.

The steady rhythm that plays throughout “Senorita Mariposa” is called clave. The clave rhythm is found in much traditional Afro-Cuban and Latin music and is played on two small pieces of wood called claves. Musicians from around the world have used clave, including the Beatles on their song, “And I Love Her.”

What to look forward to next month:

Next month in Under the Hat: How do tempo and dynamics affect mood in music? More than you might imagine! Playing examples from his songs, “Grilled Cheese” and “Mono en mis Manos” Mister G illustrates how tempo and dynamics are powerful tools used by songwriters to create different moods for the audience.


Mister G (Ben Gundersheimer) is an Amherst College graduate who spent 20 years as a singer/songwriter/producer in the adult music world prior to earning a Masters in Elementary Education at Smith College and transitioning to making music for children.  His most recent release, CHOCOLALALA, a collection of original, bilingual (Spanish/English) songs for children, won a Parents’ Choice Gold Award and is on the Grammy ballot for Best Children’s Album of 2012. A leading figure in the kids music world, Mister G’s 2011 bilingual release, BUGS garnered numerous national awards and was dubbed “irresistible” by People magazine.

One Comment on “Discovering Clave: Afro-Cuban Rhythm

  1. Love your music man! And you had some wonderful things to say about the creation of your music and also about the ideas that children and teachers can use from your song to hang onto… ONLY quibble is that as you talked about the clave element in the song you gave no space to simply “listen” even for only just a moment to the clave. And help people to hear what you so wonderfully described. Perhaps next time! Anyway THANKS for your “Under The Hat” writing.

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