Shekere Project

    This little shekere is turning out very well and progressing quickly. It is going to be the cachimbo, or okonkolo to an 3 shekere agbe set for guiro I am making. The tones of the gourds I am using for this set match so well it is unbelievable. It's like the intervals were tuned. I think the set is going to turn out very nicely. There is a good chance I'll be selling that set to bankroll the other 9 gourds waiting to be made into shekeres I have lying around.
    So why am I thinking of letting this set go if it has such great potential? Well, I'm kind of an oddball in the fact that I prefer my shekeres on the large side, larger than usual, big actually. This set is a little more regular and manageable in size for the typical player. One never knows, I may end up changing my mind and keep this set, if it sounds as good as I think it will. But I've got to let go of most of these, the last thing I need is 12 shekeres cluttering up my little San Francisco apartment. Could you imagine the noise I would make as I bump into these things while trying to eat my breakfast?


Quinto or Requinto???

   The little drum in rumba is the quinto. It is the highest pitched drum for rhythms like Guaguanco , Rumba Columbia, Guarapachangeo and Yambu. For  Guaguanco , Rumba Columbia and Yambu it is the main improvising drum, responding to the dancers movements, the singer and the other drums. Frequently during the montuno of a song the lead singer may cry "Quinto!!!", which is a signal for the coro to stop and for the quinto player to really let loose and play a solo. Guarapachangeo is kind of a different story with all the cajons and multiple drums being played sometimes.

   There can be some confusion regarding this drum, mainly in the terms quinto and requinto. When we look at big manufacturers like LP we see the quinto and the requinto in their catalogs. However when we look at this album by Grupo Afro-Cubano and look at the quinto player, we see what Lp would call a requinto. To Grupo Afro-Cubano it is the quinto, and they credit Giraldo Rodrigues with playing it.
   LP is mainly referring to the requinto as a size of drum, their smallest. While in rumba the names for the drums mainly refer to their role or position in the ensemble. I've also heard the quinto referred to as "a fifth", assuming the fifth drum. I don't know how accurate that really is, but if you have claves, palito, tres dos, salidor then quinto, that makes five. Also quintet means five, thus quinto???
   So why requinto? I'm assuming LP adopted the name for size purposes again. An LP quinto is not really different enough in size from the conga and tumba be an authentic sounding quinto for rumba. You need something smaller, with a different shape to sound like that. Listen to an old Los Munequitos album and hear how high pitched the quinto is. Look at the examples in this blog and see how small the "quintos" are. 
From Wikipedia
The term requinto is used in both Spanish and Portuguese to mean a smaller, higher-pitched version of another instrument. Thus, there are requinto guitars, drums and other instruments.

     It doesn't look like Jesus Alfonso needs a smaller version of his quinto here does it?  An 11" LP quinto just isn't going to compare with Jesus's drum there, so they've got to have a requinto. We also have Nolan Warden saying:
The words quinto, conga, and tumbadora are now used as a practicality among performers and retailers to indicate size. Quinto, the smaller drum, traditionally refers to the lead part in rumba......
Some manufacturers now produce requintos (extra small) and/or supertumbas (largest). It should not be inferred, however, that drums with these names were ever used together in a traditional ensemble. ~(Warden pg.2)

    You never see Jesus Alfonso Mira credited with playing the "requinto", he plays quinto, he is a quintocero. You also never hear the gallo call out "requinto!" when he wants to hear the solo, it's always "quinto!". As Nolan Warden says, you really don't hear the word requinto used referring to a traditional rumba ensemble at all, unless your referring to drums that have been sized along the newer LP "standards". This old Gon Bops ad doesn't use the word requinto, even though their "Super Quinto" size is what we might think of as requinto nowadays. Actually super is the name of the line, along with the Voodoo, and International lines, which also feature the 9 3/4" size. What's even more confusing is the new DW Gon Bops feature a "super quinto" as well, but it is a size in their California series, it's a smaller quinto, what others call a requinto, however DW Gon Bops call it a super quinto, perhaps in reference to the older Gon Bops.

   The only rhythm that I have actually learned that calls for a drum part with the name of requinto is a Comparsa taught to me by Sandy Perez. In that rhythm the quinto is still the main improvising drum with the highest pitch, and the requinto drum plays a repeating rhythm and is described as being the 3rd highest pitched drum.

   I've also heard that the music Plena from Puerto Rico uses a drum called a requinto.  However I know so little about that music, that all I am going to do is mention it and post this little image I found describing what a requinto is in Plena. I assume it's accurate. There is also this from Wikipedia
The requinto drum is used in the Puerto Rican folk genre plena, wherein it is a small conical hand drum that improvises over the other drum rhythms.
    I myself have 3 quintos, or  2 small quintos or "requintos", and a quinto. My largest quinto is by Resolution drums and is 10 1/2". I use this drum as a cachimbo for folkloric rhythms like Bembe, Palo, Makuta, etc. It is a fantastic little drum, but it is not quite the right size to get that high, high pitch that your really want for an authentic sounding rumba. I mean, I can and I have used it for rumba, and it works fine, but I was after a different sound. In folkloric rhythms it works great, because in that music the cachimbo, or high drum typically plays a recurring rhythm that forms a melody with the other drums. The larger size makes a pitch that is closer to the middle and low drums and makes the rhythm more melodious. In most folkloric rhythms the low drum is the improvisor. In contrast, a rumba quinto is so high pitched it occupies it's own realm in the music, along with the other drums and the voices.

   The other two quintos (requintos) are 9 3/4" by Isla Percussions and a 9 3/4" California series Gon Bops. They both have the high, high sound you can hear in rumba recordings from Cuba.

   I'm assuming the LP sized quinto is intended for a Salsa or Latin Jazz 3 drum set up, as it's range would be more compatible with a conga and tumba. However, many of the guys I play with use that size as part of their rumba set and that is perfectly fine and acceptable.

  Then there's the Guarapachangeo. It's not unusual to see the quinto player for that rhythm to be playing a quinto cajon between his knees, a quinto to his right and then requinto or smaller quinto to the right of that. Not only that, but it's entirely possible for the quinto player to be playing very conservatively while the big bass cajon's are going off all over the place.

  So what can I say? Confusing isn't it? A quinto really isn't a quinto, a requinto is a quinto, unless of course you have a quinto and a requinto, but then you have a quinto and a smaller quinto. Oh, and a fifth isn't a bottle, it's a drum.


Radio Havana Rumba

    This is the rumba I go to regularly. If you happen to be in town come check it out.  Yesterday I provided the drums for the first time. Everyone had compliments on them, which was great to hear. I had built this set specifically for ocassions like these. Like I tell my friends, I have drums that travel and some that stay at home. These are the ones that travel to rowdy rumbas, park practices and conga classes. Isla, Gon Bops and Valje.
   So if you're around one Sunday, come on by and take a turn on a drum or sing a rumba with us.


The History of Jazz Piano

Okay, I know it's not rumba instruments, or even rumba, it's jazz and piano. However I did attend a similar lecture series by SF Jazz on rumba by John Santos and it was very good. I intend on attending a few of these lectures as well.

Rumba and jazz share similarities as they are both improvisational musics. In the words of Mario Punchard of Isla Percussions "Jazz and Rumba are on the same plane". Also an interesting fact the late and great Miguel 'Anga" Diaz was influenced by the incomparable Thelonious Monk; stating as much in the videos on the making of his phenomenal album Echu Mingua. Incidentally the second lecture of the series covers the great Cuban pianist and composer, Chucho Valdes, who also appears on Diaz's album Echu Mingua.

Anyways, I love jazz as much as I love rumba. I can say that it was actually jazz that led me to discover, appreciate and learn rumba. So if you happen to be in San Francisco during September and October, or live here, I recommend attending one or more of these lectures.

Non-Members: $25/class| $100 full course (5 classes) buy tickets
SFJAZZ & JCCSF Members: $18/class| $75 full course (5 classes) buy tickets
Jazz has played an integral role in opening ears to “world music,” and the piano has played a central role in much of that progress. In our fall Discover Jazz course, students will learn about some of the most significant pianists on the global stage. The five-class series will create a vivid picture of the musical diaspora of jazz, using the compelling musical histories and personal biographies of the great jazz pianists to shape our journey.
  • Sept. 17: New York, Monk and Modern Jazz The aptly dubbed “genius of modern music,” Thelonious Monk and mid-century Manhattan, when all the modern giants of jazz came out to play—features guest artist Adam Shulman. buy tickets
  • Sept. 24: Cuban Piano and Latin Jazz A close look at the Cuban piano greats, from Chucho Valdes to Gonzalo Rubalcaba and young upstart Alfredo Rodríguez—features guest artist The Nina Ott Trio. buy tickets
  • Oct. 1: From Jelly Roll to Modern New Orleans Trace the vibrant piano legacy of the birthplace of jazz through legends like Jelly Roll Morton, Professor Longhair, Fats Domino and Allen Toussaint—features guest artist Mitch Woods. buy tickets
  • Oct. 8: European Masters Take the Stage The old world welcomed early jazz players; now European pianists like Bobo Stenson, Nik Bärtsch and Marcin Wasilewski are becoming increasingly important—features guest artist The Peter Horvath Trio. buy tickets 
  • Oct. 15: Great Jazz Pianists of Africa Jazz returned to its African roots with a fury through pianists Abdullah Ibrahim, Hotep Idris Galeta and Bheki Mseleku——features guest artist Dee Spencer. buy tickets


Special Discount to Rumba Instruments Readers

Hello blogosphere. I have very generously been offered a discount to present to all my readers from a local internet percussion store; California Percussion.
The intent of my blog is education, information and entertainment. However I also believe in supporting local businesses and artists, so I am taking this opportunity to promote California Percussion as a local company, and also California Percussion's proprietor; James Lee "Trey" Wyatt III.

I find it very pleasing and reassuring that a professional percussionist of Trey's caliber has extended his passion as a percussionist and a performer to being a provider and promoter of percussion instruments as well.

Let me paste the biographical information I have found here:
James Lee Wyatt III, also known as "Trey", joined the San Francisco Symphony in 2001 after having served as Principal Percussionist of the Honolulu Symphony from 1997-2001. A native of Princeton, Kentucky, Trey began playing percussion at age 10 and was primarily interested in the high school marching band drum line. With Trey as section leader, the Caldwell County High School Drum Line won first place in the Kentucky State Drum Line Competition.

The summer before his senior year in high school he attended the Interlochen Arts Camp where he played with a full size orchestra for the first time. He remembers, “The first piece we rehearsed was Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 and the string entrance after the opening brass fanfare was like nothing I’d ever heard before. From that point on, I knew I wanted to play in a professional orchestra.” Working toward his goal, Trey received his Bachelors of Music from The University of Michigan under Michael W. Udow, Principal Percussionist, Santa Fe Opera and Salvatore Rabbio, retired Timpanist, Detroit Symphony. He received his Masters of Music from Temple University under Alan Abel, retired Associate Principal Percussion, Philadelphia Orchestra.

Trey has performed at The Santa Fe Opera, the Ojai Festival with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Britt Festival as Principal Percussionist, the National Repertory Orchestra, Tanglewood Music Center, Pacific Music Festival, National Orchestral Institute, the US and Italian Spoleto Festivals, and with the Sun Valley Summer Symphony in Sun Valley Idaho. He performed Joseph Schwantner’s Concerto for Percussion with the Honolulu Symphony in March 2002 and the Stanford University Symphony in May 2003. Trey enjoys playing occasional concerts with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and exploring the percussion ensemble repertoire. He has recently started taking Taiko classes with the San Francisco Taiko Dojo and finds it to be a diverse musical experience.

He is Co-owner of California Percussion, LLC Rental/Sales/Service with his San Francisco Symphony colleague David Herbert. “It’s great having a warehouse housing a huge collection of standard and exotic instruments that David and I have found all over the world!”
Anyways, back to the discount. I have been provided with the discount coupon code of: RUMBA. It is a discount for Congas and Bongos and Accessory Percussion (which includes claves, bells, etc.) for my blog's readers. At the checkout page, just use this coupon and click on the 'Apply Discount' button. I can say that California Percussion's reperesentatives have been very professional and a pleasure to deal with.

I think the most interesting product the company has is the "Gon Bops" 55th aniversary model. This is the only company I know that offers this model. I can recommend Gon Bops, having one of their California Series drums myself, and also having experience with Akbar Moghaddam, a past San Francisco resident and master drum builder.

Maybe we'll be seeing Trey and California Percussion at the rumbas soon!


Mystery solved: LP 320 Tube Shekere

Well the mystery has been solved by Brother Mike from the Funksploitation blog. It is an LP product. The mystery instrument is the LP320 Tube Shekere. The concept is a bit like a homemade instrument a friend of mine proposed "the hebitere", that we fabricated a while back, a pandeiro shekere hybrid thing. I'll post about that instrument next. For now I leave you with the LP literature on the ignonymous LP320.

The shekere's history begins in Africa where this unique instrument serves as a shaker, a rattle, and a drum. Traditionally made from hollowed gourds wrapped in a lattice of stones, the instrument was, and is, played by shaking or twisting it to get shaker and rattle sounds or by hitting the bottom of the body with the palm of the hand to get drum like bass notes.
LP has created a number of different versions of the shekere all with excellent durability and a variety of sounds. Synthetic cord provides a great deal of flexibility allowing the beads to move freely, but controlled. This is great for faster playing and the execution of more complex rhythmic patterns. We also use very different materials for the bodies of our shekeres. Whether metal, plastic, or fiberglass, we have a shekere for every need.

The LP Tube Shekere takes much of its patented design from the original shekere concept but goes a step further. A lattice of glass beads surrounds the metal shell delivering crisp, tight shaker sounds. Its tubular shape makes it easy to grasp and play shekere bead patterns faster than with the original instrument shape. Long tails on both ends of the tube add to the stage presence of the LP Tube Shekere.


What is this instrument???

Hello readers in the blogosphere. Today I am posting a request for a little assistance in identifying this instrument that I recently inherited from my cousin, who sadly passed away last month. His name was Steve Spodak and he was a very talented jazz guitarist from New Jersey. My mother brought this instrument back for me to remember him by.
Anyways, the instrument is kind of like a shekere, but it isn't. It's a metal tube with a net of ceramic beads attached to it. It is very well made and the sticker on it says "Hand Crafted in Thailand". The manufacturer is unknown, but it strikes me as something LP might make. It seems to be best played by holding an end in each hand and shaking back and forth.

This instrument reminds me a little of the samba instrument; Chocalho de Platinela or Rocar. Like a rocar/shekere hybrid or something.
Any help identifying this instrument is greatly appreciated.


Guemilere: Study Guide for Afro - Cuban Percussion (Jimenez / Wardinsky)

I've gotten a lot of music over the years from various blogs that post out of print and rare albums and tracks. Two of my favorite are on my list to the right of this page: ¡Vamos a guarachar! and Fidels Eyeglasses . So now it is my turn to return the favor. The intent of this blog is not really for music sharing like so many others, however I feel the educational nature of the tracks I'll be making available fits my blog's purpose of education and information, but I won't be making a habit of public file sharing.

I am posting the sound files to a now out of print and very hard to find music education book . It is the music education book; Güemilere: Guide For Afro-Cuban Percussion by Regino Jimenez/ Scott Wardinsky, which I can only find the barest of information on, but the sound files are an excellent educational resource. They approach the rhythms by adding each instrument one at a time, building it, so the student can hear the parts and how they go together. It is a very original approach.

Download Guide For Afro-Cuban Percussion by Jimenez/Wardinsky

(I'm using a free rapdishare account so the downloads will have to be uploaded periodically. Please make requests for re-uploads in the comments. Link last updated 12/13/10 as mp3 files)

Scott Wardinsky is still active, sadly Regino Jimenez is no longer with us, however his music is still available on Descarga.com. You can honor both of these musicians and educators by studying their work and learning to play these rhythms.


Rumba and Folklore

The terms rumba and folklore are used almost interchangeably when speaking of Afro-Cuban conga rhythms. However there is a distinction between the two. In general rumba describes the rhythms that were developed in Cuba for secular purposes. These rhythms include, but are not limited to the following:
  1. Yambu
  2. Guaguanco
  3. Columbia
  4. Guarapachangeo
  5. Comparsa (though not strictly rumba, it is related, Comparsa is intended for Carnaval)
A rumbero would typically know all the parts to these rhythms, sing choro and and probably dance as well. The conga is the main drum for rumba, their predecessor the cajon is also quite commonly used, especially for yambu and guarapachangeo.

Generally I would describe rumba as a sub-category of Afro-Cuban folkloric percussion music. Their basic similarity is that they are all primarily vocal and percussion ensembles.

Folkloric rhythms are typically those rhythms that have their origins in Africa, and/or are based on religious themes. Commonly these rhythms were historically played on very specific and specialized types of drums; however modern adaptions are frequently played with congas.
These rhythms include:
  1. Arara
  2. Abakua
  3. Bembe
  4. Guiro
  5. Iyesa
  6. Makuta
  7. Palo
  8. Bata Toques
So when one refers to folkloric Afro-Cuban music, potentially they are referring to all the rhythms and musics mentioned. However typically, when one refers to rumba, they are probably referring to those rhythms listed as rumba.

While primarily one plays rumba specific rhythms at a rumba, it is not be unusual for some of the other folkloric rhythms to be played periodically by the rumberos, particularly bembe.


My Isla Bata Drums / Bata Rumba and Guarapachangeo

Just yesterday I finished "roping" my set of bata drums from Isla Percussions , I think my Isla bata came out very well, so I have been inspired to write this post on bata rumba (and to show off my endeavors a little).

The main reason why modern aberikula bata are tied or wrapped as I have done to my Isla bata drums is for appearance. The original bata drums and specifically fundamento bata, were tightened and tuned with ropes and straps. The wrapping of modern metal tuned drums helps the drums resemble the original bata.
The wrappings also help keep the drum from sliding around on your lap, as they tend to do sometimes. The ropes can also keep your drums from becoming scratched through use. I had these three reasons in mind, but I also just enjoy tinkering with my drums.Bata drums were once solely used for the liturgy of the Yoruba, and their history in Cuba and the Lucumi was steeped in secrecy and taboos. In modern times the bata drums, and specifically aberikula bata have evolved to encompass other styles of music in their repertoire. Specifically bata rumba as originally developed by Grupo Afro-Cuba de Matanzas and even more recently by the gurapachangeo of the late Pancho Quinto and Yoruba Andabo.
Pancho Quinto and his highly stylized, individualized and unorthodox playing of the gauarapachangeo is something that resists any sort of classification, and is really just beyond my skill to even analyze in any kind of meaningful way. Bata rumba, however, is more easily analyzed, and I have compiled a small article on the subject, mostly gathered from correspondences with percussionists and musicians more learned and experienced than myself. I offer what information I have, incomplete as it is, to those interested in the subject:

Bata rumba combinations
Chachalokuafun + Guaguanco
TuiTui + Columbia

Inle + Guaguanco
Chenchekururu + Guarapachangueo

Odua por derecho + Palo Rumba
Obatala + Guaguanco

Ñyongo + Columbia
Rumba Iyesá with Guaguancó

Pello's Mozambique with the batá adaptation known as Rumba Iyesá

Usually in a batarumba, you'll have an iya player basically playing the iya part to chachalokuafon, and the rumberos playing guaguanco. Or there will be the battery of bata drums (i.e. iya, itotele, okonkolo) playing chachalokuafon with guaguanco. AfroCuba de Matanzas is known for batarumba, but they play it differently, or maybe i haven't heard enough recordings, but i can't really tell what exactly they are doing. Yoruba Andabo played batarumba on the "El Callejon..." album mixing bata w/ a columbia, and i've heard recording where they will just use the okonkolo against a guaguanco such as the okonkolo part to "tui tui" and use it as the main theme in a columbia like in the album by Roman Diaz y el Ven Tu rumbero "Wemilere" ....correct me if i'm wrong anyone....

you have to listen to the song "OYA" on "Wemilere" - Roman Diaz y Ventu Rumbero
it starts off an abakua and goes into the okonkolo part for tui tui, and keeps that through a columbia song...its great!

Clave Y Guaguanco is doing a different style batarumba on "La Voz del Congo" from the Dejala en la puntica album...The title "La voz del Congo" is accompanied in the beginning by the first section of the toque batá for Inle "Tani tani cho bí". Then they change over to Tui-Tui

Then you have Pancho Quinto's "En El Solar" where they play tui tui to an old standard "La Media Vuelta"...i hope i am on track here...they are playing "tui tui" are they not?..Tui-Tui on "La Media Vuelta".

I can't say I really know how to play any bata rumba combinations yet. I'm still just learning the traditional bata toques and playing rumba the usual way. I do really like the density and complexity of bata rumba, which I prefer over the highly improvised guarapachangeo. However I am very very lucky to be studying bata and rumba with Sandy Perez of Grupo Afro - Cuba de Matanzas (pictured above between the yellow and blue bata), so perhaps one day bata-rumba will be in my repertoire.