Salutations to all in the blogoshpere!

Looks like I'll be receiving the 1000th visit to my rumba blog today. I want to thank all my readers and visitors. I hope you have found something enjoyable and educational on this blog about rumba. I know I enjoy posting.

I started this rumba blog about a year ago, but really only started posting a few months ago. I think I installed the blog counter in June.

Anyways, I plan to keep it up. I've got plenty of posting material planned. Please feel free to comment on any post you like. Comments are always greatly appreciated and make the effort more worth the while.


John Santos - La Rumba No Es Como Ayer. ( The Rumba is Not Like yesterday )

In June I had the opportunity to attend a 7 week lecture series specifically on the subject of rumba presented by the very accomplished musician John Santos . This lecture series was presented by a partnership of the MOAD (Museum of the African Diaspora) and SF Jazz. I was fortunate to have the available time to attend each lecture of the series.

Here is the official description of the La Rumba No Es Como Ayer (The Rumba in Not Like Yesterday) lecture series copied from the website:
Presented in partnership with Yerba Buena Gardens Festival and the Museum of the African Diaspora, La Rumba No Es Como Ayer (The Rumba is Not Like Yesterday) is a seven-part lecture series that delves into the evolution, anatomy, and relevance of the Cuban rumba, one of the most important and influential musical/dance genres in the history of the Americas.

The series will trace the rumba's Kongo/Spanish origins, its birth in 19th century Havana and Matanzas provinces, and its subsequent choreographic, musical and lyrical development as it became the integral part of American music that it is today.
  • 5/5/09 Introduction
    In the first class, participants will look at the African and Spanish roots of rumba, as well as define the rumba's role as an indispensable traditional/contemporary element of Afro-Latin artistic expression.
  • 5/12/09 Yambú
    Born in the docks of Havana and Matanzas, the Yambú is one of the oldest styles of Cuban rumba. In the second session, participants will learn the specific musical, choreographic and poetic elements that identify this beautiful style.
  • 5/19/09 Columbia
    Also one of the rumba's primordial styles, the Columbia is the most African of all the rumbas. Class participants will examine the slave barrack environment where the style originated and the all-important function of coded resistance that it has always represented.
  • 5/26/09 Guaguancó
    The Guaguancó evolved to become the most popular rumba among working class Cubans. In class four, participants will study the Guaguancó—the musical voice of the barrio, representing historical affirmation, love, patriotism, sarcasm and politics.
  • 6/2/09 Rumba-son/Jiribilla/Rumba de cabaret
    In class five, participants will examine the 1920s - 1930s marriage of the two most influential styles of Cuban popular music and dance: the rumba and the son. Racism, prohibition, radio, Hollywood and New York City all play urgent roles in this chapter.
  • 6/9/09 La Rumba in salsa and in jazz
    Rumba continues to be a formidable contributor to contemporary music. In class six, participants will see how the Rumba lent form and style to Salsa and jazz.
  • 6/16/09 Guarapachangueo y la rumba moderna
So why am I posting about an event that already happened? Good question. Mainly I want to recommend this lecture series in particular and John Santos as a lecturer in general to any musicians out there that may have the opportunity to attend a similar event in the future.

Not only was the subject matter of rumba well presented and researched by John, but he was also able to add personal anecdotes, experiences and illustrations from his point of view as a musician and rumbero, in addition to being a researcher.

I've been doing quite a bit of research on the subject of rumba myself. While the lecture series accommodated people new to the subject, there remained a lot of material that was new and educational to those already quite familiar with the subject.
What I found very fascinating was the nature of the audience in attendance. I recognized few that I would call rumberos, but there were many that were accomplished musicians and dancers. A few were pointed out to me as composers and symphony directors and one interesting man was able to tell the exact interval of the tuning of drums in various music clips and videos after listening for just a few seconds. I had always kind of assumed that rumba was a very esoteric musical form. It was a nice surprise to see the quality and diversity of people and musicians interested in rumba.


Two new guaguas / catas available and for sale.

EDIT: These guaguas have been sold.
I should have a few more available

I've got two completed guaguas / catas for playing palitos available for any rumberos out there that are looking. These two are made from some nice solid ppieces of bamboo.

The one on the left has two large holes as you can see in the picture and the one on the right has 4 smaller holes. They sound more or less the same. Very similar. Maybe the one with 4 holes is a slightly lower pitch, but it's a small difference.
They are both right around 12" long and 4" wide for comfortable seated playing. I don't use a stand myself, but I've been told by a previous customer that my guaguas fit on a stand. Which stand? I have no idea. I'm sure an inventive person could rig something up. Usually I see cymbal stands modified, and I guess Pearl makes a stand for guaguas too, but I don't know anything about it really.
I've been selling my guaguas for a while now. Price is $24.00 + shipping. I take PayPal. I've shipped to other countries before, that's not much of a problem. Raphael over at the Sentimiento Manana blog wrote a review of my guaguas. Also in case you missed it, I described how I make my instruments here in my previous post on the subject. There is a small review from a customer in the comments that you can read in that post as well.

Anyways, feel free to contact me through this blog if you want one.

p.s. and I finally figured out the proper way to post images so all of them will enlarge now.


Jiribilla - ¿Que es eso?




Pronunciation: \ˌhe–re-be-ya\

Function: noun

spin, act of causing to spin; twirling movement, rotation.

A person that shakes and shimmies while they walk. They seem to be grooving to a song in their head.

!Deja de moverte tanto... pareces jiribilla!

Stop moving around so much, you look like a jiribilla.

The jiribilla is a style of rumba. When I first read the name in the book Rumba: Dance and Social in Contemporary Cuba by Yvonne Daniel, I became very interested in this obscure rumba form. However information was very scarce. I remember digging up a very cool video on youtube title Jiribilla with a great dancer performing in an old hall in Cuba with two drummers, but I can never seem to find it again. I wish I could. I remember the dancer jumping over a purple drum with a handkercheif, like a jump rope. The other drums were yellow and purple and the dancer was wearing white pants and took off his shirt.

Anyways, I wanted to learn to play Jiribilla, but I couldn't find the rhythm pattern, either online or in any rhythm books. The book just described the rhythm in terms of speed, saying it was extremely fast and comparing it to BeBop. So maybe it was a dance, but there was only the one video. Also I had only one song classified as "jiribilla": Cantaremos y Bailaremos [Jiribilla] by Raices Habaneras on their album Raices Habaneras, which I would call a guarapachangeo.

This excellent page from La Bijirita had this to say about the jiribilla:

"Other Rumba styles are The Rumba del tiempo d'España, the Reseda, the Jiribilla, the Rumba teatral, among others."

Not that much I know. I asked my instructor, Sandy Perez, about it, but he didn;t have much to say, basically saying it was very fast.

Finally I asked John Santos about Jiribilla, at a lecture series he was giving about rumba. I asked him what the rhythm was. He answered that Jiribilla is not a rhythm, it could be any rhythm. Jiribilla is a style of playing for exhibition, so it is something played and danced very fast as a demonstration performance.

Well that matched the above definition for the word Jiribilla and also explained why I could never find that much information about it. Again it wasn't much, but at least the question was answered for me. Jiribilla is rumba performed in a manner specifically for demonstration and exhibition.

Buying a set of congas: Corporate Congas for Rumba.

Sorry about the tongue in cheek title for the post, I couldn't resist. Anyways this is going to wrap up the posts about getting yourself a set of congas to play rumba with. The subject of this post is going to be about the large manufacturers of congas and other instruments, namely; LP (Latin Percussion), Toca, Tycoon, Pearl, Meinl, etc, etc.

I would like to start of with a positive note and describe the advantages of getting these kinds of drums. The big one is availability. You can find these drums anywhere, online or in stores. The big music stores usually have several models and makes and the little stores almost always carry a few examples of these drums. You can buy them with little or no waiting period. "Corporate congas" are also relatively cheap, especially for the quality you can get. The mass manufacturing and overseas fabrication keep the prices down, and sales and discounts are all over the place, especially for web shopping. With these kinds of drums it is a simple thing to try out the model you want in a store and then buy it for hundreds less online. However don't forget to support your local music store in other ways, if you use this tactic. We need those music stores.

Corporate congas are almost always well manufactured and durable. In addition spare parts are easy to come by should you need them. Every conga player has seen these kinds of drums, played on them, heard and are comfortable, experienced and used to them.

Now for the disadvantages. First is sound: while mass produced congas don't sound inherently bad, it is my opinion that artisan drums sound better. It's like comparing a Chevrolet to a Porsche. They both drive well, but one gets you there with a little more performance. Good sound can be a very fickle thing. Sometimes an LP with the right skin or a few adjustments can just sound phenomenal. If your playing outside, concrete can make your Skin on Skin not sound as great anymore. So sound can be fickle. Also most mass produced drums are designed more for salsa, latin jazz and other more mainstream types of music that use congas. Sometimes these kinds of drums just don't have the folkloric sound.

There are the exceptions coming out however. Toca and Pearl seem to be making some models with the "traditional" player or rumbero in mind. Pearl has their "folkloric" series and Toca is making their traditional models. They have some different features that are supposed to appeal to traditional players over their other models and be better for traditional styles of music. However, they are still just new and different models put out by a mass producer of instruments.

I always put a lot of stock in feel, how the drum feels to your hands. The mass made congas will feel a little "off-the-rack" to your hands versus a "well-tailored" feel of other kinds of drums.

Many, many rumbas and rhythms are played on mass produced drums. Most of the rumba and conga classes provide these corparate congas if they supply drums and many of my friends own them. You can produce fantastic music on them. You do see them everywhere however, posters, cd covers, and sometimes they seem a little generic, look a little plain and usually have a sound that just doesn't seem to recall the solars and barrios, streets and tenements, of old Havana or Matanzas in Cuba.


Buying a set of congas: Vintage Congas for Rumba.

Vintage congas are truly wonderful. They are like musical pieces of history. The most well known vintage brands of congas here in America are Valje and Gon Bops. Both Valje and Gon Bops were made here in California. On the East Coast they had Junior Tirado making drums and also Martin Cohen making LP (Latin Percussion) in New Jersey before he sold out and LP moved it's production overseas.
There are other brands such as King Congas , which is trying to get back into production. Sol Drums have been out of production long enough to approach vintage status. Echotone or Ecotone congas. Also there were several varieties of Mexican made drums with La Playa and Zim Gar being the most common. There are also the rare Cuban congas made by Vergara, Requena and SONOC. You can also see all sorts of unknown vintage congas available from to time on ebay.
What is meant by vintage drums? That's kind of a hard question. In my opinion, the term vintage when applied to congas usually means a drum around 20 years old and/or made by a company that is no longer in business. LP drums qualify, because after they sold out, they weren't really the same company any more. Other companies, such as Meinl have made great products in the past, but have discontinued them. The older style Woodcraft series comes to mind. Also the Raul congas that later became Bauer congas. They modified the drums a bit when they changed names as well. Also Fat Congas in Santa Barbera; they stopped making congas and make cajons now, but they may restart the conga line again.

The distinctive feature of most vintage drums is their sound, and also the reason they are sought after. Typically the vintage drums have a sound that cannot be recreated by modern drums. Reasons for this are many, but most commonly it has to do with construction techniques and woods. Modern drums are often made differently, utilizing different techniques and can be made mostly by machines. Also some species and ages of wood are just no longer available or used. Mahogany, Caoba and the Phillipine Luan wood used by Gon Bops comes to mind. Also companies discontinue model styles, or change specifications, like changing rims from traditional to modern "comfort" curves for example.

These vintage drums are often desired for rumba because of the sound. There is often a certain nostalgia attached to these drums. Vintage drums can sound older, and resemble the older recordings more. Also for some rumberos vintage drums were the only drums available at the time they first started playing and an old Valje or Gon Bops may remind them of times gone by. Perhaps less subjective is that older drums often have a "drier" and "woody" sound, with less sustain and resonance. I have heard it expressed that this kind of tone produced by congas is ideal for rumba. The shorter tones keep the drums from speaking over each other; the tones of the rhythm are more distinct. Also this quality of sound just has that folkloric feel.
There are disadvantages associated with these older drums. They can be hard to track down, and when they are found they are rarely in perfect condition. Most have had repairs and modifications done to them, and many require further repairs or new skins. Replacement parts are frequently impossible to find. Usually they come with scratches, dents, maybe a little rust, call it a patina of use or "character". Personally I consider that an advantage; if I have a drum with a few scratches I don't worry as much about giving it another, so for me they make good drums for playing outside, at public rumbas and that sort of thing. However some vintage drums can be very valuable, like Junior Tirados or some of the older Cuban drums, and some people like to restore them to as near perfect as possible and collect them.
Another disadvantage is it may be difficult to find or build a completely matching set of 3 drums from vintage stock of the same manufacturer, model and condition. Often you see mismatched sets of vintage congas. I have such a set with a 40 year old Valje tumba and a 30 year old Gon Bops tres dos. I use an Isla quinto with this set.

The JCR representative Isaac Gutwilik has written an excellent article on the subject and I'm going to paste it here.

by Isaac Gutwilik
Tradicion Percussion / Percussionist / Instrument Design /
Authorized Rep.
JCR Percussion

Once in a while a rare percussion treasure can be found on
ebay. A lot of sellers use the word "vintage" to attract sales to their item. This does not necessarily mean that much. If it's Vintage it should have an old label shown, or some of the identifiable unique hardware designs. Some of the older pieces may have cracks and are in bad need of new heads. Consider the real costs of these repairs. Be sure to ask a few questions. If you get no answer, stay away. If you're handy with some carpentry skills, that's a big plus. A good repair project can be very rewarding and even therapeutic for some individuals with the proper tools and workspace. Be wary of sellers with no feedback or too many negative feedbacks. Sometimes good older percussion items end up being sold by people who know nothing about what they're selling. (They often incorrectly refer to them as Congos or large "African" Bongos) They may be sitting on a treasure.

Here are some questions to ask: for bongos, does the hardware still fit? Wood will always shrink over time, rendering the hardware or bands too loose. Replacement lugs are easy to obtain to replace rusted or abused old ones. Head diameters are often incorrectly measured, for example, and the age & type of wood may be unknown. Be sure to ask about cracks. If the crack is on a seam line, it can be repaired with the proper glues and clamps. A crack that runs at an angle however may be more of a problem, but any problem can be addressed if you're able to do it or pay someone else with experience. For steel bands, welding may be required. There may also be a need for an internal steel
alma ring to reinforce and put a drum back in "round" if it's been warped. Cracks in other areas can be dealt with but the sound of the drum may never be the same. In any case, always ask the questions beforehand. It usually takes a minimum of 7 years of solid welding experience for a welder to artistically
repair bongos or congas. It's more challenging than the wood repairs. Many older fiberglass congas may also be
considered vintage. Fiberglass repair kits are cheap, come with easy
instructions and available at Lowes or Home Depot, etc.

For vintage bells, similar questions should be asked - any cracks, rust, does the mounting bracket still work? For
timbales - are they still in round? are the lugs lubricated or stripped? Are there undamaged skins? Very important - is there a stand? A new stand can cost 1/2 the price of an entirely new set ! Why people buy or sell timbales without stands I'll never understand. Each set has it's own specific mounting system, so you'll be searching for a particular stand which may be next to impossible to find. Older Timbales also had no mounting brackets for bells, so you'll need to get
an attachable mounting rod.

If a piece has no cracks, investing in a new set of skins like calf, steer or the best - top of the line imported mule skins will elevate any drum' sound. Some humid climates or working situations may call for a synthetic head...which isn't a vintage sound but very practical on the road. Many pros have more than one set just for different performance styles or performance spaces, or recording. The skin is a major part of your instrument's sound and old skins usually will sound lifeless. Rest assured, the mules are not killed for skinning, but culled from the old retired work animals which are abundantly used in traditional mountain farming regions. They are available on a very limited basis only twice a year. . . . Thicker skins also enhance fiberglass congas, eliminating some of the ringing tones. The newer stock
asian water buffalo skins on todays mass produced congas & bongos may be OK for beginners, but are not the way to go for a true vintage sound. The sounds they produce are not the authentic ones, and will not do justice to a wood handcrafted instrument. For an authentic sound experience, new players should listen to some old school players like Mongo Santamaria or Tito Puente to hear what I'm talking about! Vintage isn't just a matter of looks or style - it's also a quality of sound that's hard to find new in a stores or online today. He is required listening for the beginner player. I wish you luck if your an aspiring player or an experienced player & collector.

A well made percussion instrument from an old artisan - priceless. ( They deserve their own
Mastercard commercial !)


I myself have a couple of vintage drums and have completely refurbished another that I sold to an artist, Max Kelley, in Florida. I love owning these old drums for the history and character they possess. They also serve as excellent conversation pieces when playing with other older rumberos who love to recall stories that these older drums remind them of. Restoring an old drum and then playing it yourself or passing it along to another to enjoy is an incredibly rewarding experience that I wholeheartedly recommend to those that are so inclined. Of course they sound wonderful as well.