July 4, 2019

POSTED BY

Rafael Esquer

CATEGORY

75 Cha-Cha Album Cover Art: The Ultimate Collection

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In the early 1950s in the Silver Star Club, a lively dance club in Havana, famed Orquesta America started playing the new compositions of Enrique Jorrin. At the time, Mambo had been dominating the dance floors not only in Cuba, but across the globe. The new compositions played that night …

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In the early 1950s in the Silver Star Club, a lively dance club in Havana, famed Orquesta America started playing the new compositions of Enrique Jorrin. At the time, Mambo had been dominating the dance floors not only in Cuba, but across the globe. The new compositions played that night were based in the rhythms of the danzón and mambo yet they were different. Mr. Jorrin’s take was slower and less syncopated than mambo. Dancers, delighted in the new tempo, began to improvise a triple step in their footwork, which produced the sound, “cha-cha-cha.” This marked the beginning of the dance phenomenon informally known as cha-cha. Where do this funny name comes from? “The name of the dance is an onomatopoeia from the shuffling sound of the dancers’ feet when they dance the three consecutive quick steps that characterize the dance.” Wikipedia says.

In 1953, Orquesta America released the first cha-cha-cha compositions ever recorded. The album was a huge hit in Cuba first, then it spread to Mexico City, and eventually cha-cha went on to became popular in Latin America, the United Stated and Western Europe. The world said good-bye to mambo and embraced the more sensual rhythms of cha-cha-cha.

For designers and artists working on album covers at the time, cha-cha-cha presented a welcome opportunity to experiment and create new aesthetics. The look of cha-cha records has influenced many generations of designers from the 50s to the present. Like the music itself, the art produced was playful and fun and sometimes odd; it ranged from beautiful typographic compositions to new ways of using photography and more. Designers around the world created an extensive collection including the weird, the wild and the wonderful.

When conducting my visual research, certain patterns emerged so I’m attempting to classify them by themes. Today’s post introduces a small sample of interesting covers from around the world. I hope you enjoy them.

The Beautiful: Inventing a Fresh Visual Language

The album art on this set is fresh even for today’s standards. I can see how some of these classic covers have influenced many brands including Kate Spade, West Elm, and Jonathan Adler among others. Pay attention to the daring use of typography, the bright color palettes, and the playful use of shapes and forms.

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The Action Oriented: Let’s Dance

Cha cha cha is a fun dance so why not just show people dancing on the album cover? No much to say here, the designs speak for themselves (or not!).

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The Sexist: A Time Capsule of the Era

These covers were done in the 50s and it shows. The rampant objectification of women is so in your face – skimpy outfits, sexually provocative poses, and ridiculous, unnatural moves – that makes me wonder how our mother feel about them today. After all, this was the era that preceded “Mad Men,” a time when the world was still very much a “man’s world.”

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The Stereotype: Bongos and Maracas

I suspect these covers have something to do with current perceptions of Latino culture. Although some of them are fun to look at, they helped perpetuate stereotypes. I’m Latin yet never played maracas or bongos. In fact, I don’t think I know many Latin people who do. If you look carefully, you will see that some of the outfits are from mambo and flamenco! “Hey, it’s all the same, let’s throw in the design some of the ethnic elements people are used to…why not?” must have said the client to the art director.

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The Tried-and-True: A Style that Won’t Go Away

This look of combining black and white photography with overlays of color or duotones has been around since the beginning of graphic design. There is no surprise to see some cha-cha-cha album cover art done with way. What can I say? They are charming, although they should have been more carefully cutting out some of the photographs.

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The Weird and Wild: Cats, Pineapples, Bullfighting, and Everything in Between

These 15 covers are so bizarre and amusing that I just had to include them. It’s fun to see how cha cha was translated into other cultures like India, China, and the Sahara. My favorites? I think I’ll go with the ‘Cha cha cha helpline’ or the cats. Actually, who am I kidding? anything with cats is always my favorite.

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cha-cha-cha!