Just finished this shekere. I like how the gourds color matches the wood beads. Very natural looking. This gourd ended up having a nice brisk action. It has a very large and wide bottom that is easy to strike with the hand for a booming tone. The crisp sound of the beads contrasts with the deep open tone very well. All in all a great sounding and easy playing instrument. As I said it's going to my friend Oliver, n excellent jazz flautists and all around nice guy.

    I've got plenty more shekeres to make, but I'll try and focus on some differnt sorts of posts in the near future.


One more shekere

    Well I seem to be turning out these instruments at a pretty good rate. This one is close to finished as you can see. This shekere uses wood beads. It is my second wood bead shekere. This one is going to a friend and fellow musician, a saxophone and flute player I play jazz with. He liked the natural look of the wood beads.

   Wood beads have a different sound. I prefer them over the typical plastic pony barrel beads, but I think I prefer the larger round plastic beads I used on my last shekere, in the post just before this.

   Anyways this is turning out to be a nice instrument. Should be completed in the nex day or two. I'm really trying to turn out these shekeres as I kind of want to get all these gourds out of my apartment. 12 big gourds do not really make for the best home decor, if you know what I mean.


Latest Shekere.

   Well here it is. Believe it or not I got this instrument done on time for the rumba. It performed very well, and sounded great. I got a lot of compliments on it. I really like its old school look and sound. It has a looser more "gravely" tone than most of the modern shekeres you hear. There are some tracks on Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Roots" CD and the Grupo Afrocuba De Matanzas CD Raices Africanas that have shekeres whose sound I was trying to emulate with this latest instrument of mine.
   This shekere turned out to have a nice response, very good action and was fairly light. I was a little concerned because the gourd was so large and I used some larger size beads that this instrument would be heavy and unwieldy, but such was not the case at all.

  I spent a lot of timing browsing images of shekeres I liked to use as models. First and foremost are the creations of Morty Sanders that you can see at the Fidel's Eyeglasses Blog by his son Mark. There are others from various resources as well. I'm going to post some up here so you can see where I got some of my ideas from.
   Anyways, this one is done, and this particular shekere is for me, I'm keeping it. I'm going to be using it at the rumbas and sessions that I go to. But I have plenty more to make, I'm still working on the agbe set, that is going to be available for sale, and I have a shekere to make for one of my jazz musician friends that I play congas with. I might have one or two single shekeres that I might sell as well. Still plenty of work to do. Eventually I'm going to have to make one like this guys SUPER funky gourd. Love it!


Shekere Factory

   I've been busy working on this shekere. I went by General Bead here in San Francisco and picked up a whole bunch of nice beads to get my next shekere projects going. This one pictured here is going to be for me to take to rumbas around town. I'm trying out some new techniques on this instrument, which were a little challenging but I've got it under control now. I'm hoping to get it done for the rumba tomorrow at the Radio Havana Social Club. I'm looking forward to seeing how this shekere turns out.


Rhythm Transcription Sheets

          Hopefully this works out. I've attached a couple of image files that hopefully my readers can drag to their desktop and print out. What these files are, are sheets that I take to classes and seminars to write down and make a record of what I am learning there. 

    I've done this for over a year now, conga rhythms and bata. I started off with just the sheets which was very effective, writing down the rhythm's notes, sequence and hand sticking through direct observation of the teacher's demonstration. I now combine this with digital audio recordings I make with my Zoom H2, which is an extremely convenient little device. The two methods, direct observation and the audio recordings, combined with direct experience and memory of playing and hearing the rhythm in class combines to make the most effective and accurate recordings short of video. Many instructors do not permit video recording of classes.

    There are several methods of notation that would be suitable for charts like these. I myself use an adaptation of "The "Stoned" Hand-Drum", which is a very cool method itself adapted from the venerable  Stone-Stick Control for the Snare Drummer.

    The 'Stoned" method uses letters and such for the different tones.
     I use a version of this method of letters for the tones of the drums, and I place a letter "R" or "L" for the hand underneath the tone to show the sticking. These methods are similar to tabs for guitar players. Here is an example of one that I have used.

    Another method that is very common is to use a row of squares for each hand; dominant hand on top, the other hand on the bottom. Both methods have their advantages. I prefer it written in one row, as I feel it's easier to vocalize the rhythm in one line, the letters end up forming a kind of sentence that I can pronounce

   Writing rhythms for hand drums in  standard music notation has one big problem, mainly how to represent the different strokes and the sticking, there has not been a standardized way to represent that in music notation. I often wonder why the different strokes can't be represented on the different lines of the staff, like for a piano. Usually a whole series of little symbols are used, which are always clumsy and differ from book to book. I think you could use a treble clef to represent the higher drums and the bass clef for the lower drum. The note lines would represent the tones, G for slap, E for open tone, B for bass, etc, etc. The sticking would still need to be addressed.

     Anyways, it's a debate that is going to go on for a long time: how to transcribe rhythms for hand drums. Hopefully you'll find these little sheets useful, they work well for me. The best way to transcribe them is whatever way works for you best. Of course there is the whole discussion about whether or not rumba and folkloric music which was originally passed down orally can be accurately represented on paper at all, but that's a whole different subject for another post.


Caxixi.com - Cabello Organic Percussion

 (from caxixi.com -Cabello Organic Percussion)

   A little while ago I wrote a post on erikundi , which are little shakers made kind of like little baskets. I know of them mainly for their use in the Afro-Cuban Abakua rhythm, but in Brasil they are called Caxixi, I'm familiar with them being played with the Berimbau, the instrument famous for accompanying Capoeira.
(from caxixi.com -Cabello Organic Percussion)

Wikipedia has this to say about caxixi and erikundi:

A caxixi is a percussion instrument consisting of a closed basket with a flat-bottom filled with seeds or other small particles. The caxixi is an indirectly struck idiophone. Like the maraca, it is sounded by shaking. It is found across Africa and South America, but mainly in Brazil. Natives believed the caxixi to summon good enchanted spirits and to ward off evil ones.
In Capoeira music, the caxixi is played along with the berimbau. In West Africa it is used by singers and often alongside drummers.
An erikundi is a kind of basket woven maraca, a percussion instrument. It is of African origins.
 Anyways, why the double post? My friends over at Sentimiento Manana posted this great picture from the percussionist Gene Golden, showing the variety and quality of his instruments. He has some fantastic stuff, including some incredible erikundis (caxixi).
(from http://sentimientomanana.blogspot.com)

  So I did a little browsing and came across a beautiful site called caxixi.com which belongs to Cabello Organic Percussion. Imagine that! A whole website named after this humble little instrument! I'm very impressed. That is just the thing I like to see. I wanted to put the word out there for any Afro-Cuban folkloric players that can't go to a flea market and buy erikundis from Ghanaians like I was lucky enough to. Cabello Organic Percussion not only seems to make fantastic and quality caxixi, they seem to have that secret ingredient: passion! I'm sure it won't be long before I have some of their instruments. They are so beautiful.

(from caxixi.com -Cabello Organic Percussion)


All done.

   Well this little guy is done now. Two more to go. This shekere ended up having a nice tight responsive action with a crisp sound, but not too loud. That's perfect for a cachimbo for guiro, even for rumba, but I don't think this gourd quite has the presence for rumba. In a guiro this size shekere basically keeps the time, playing the pick-up just before the downbeat and the downbeat and . Ki-la, ki-la, ki-la: just like the cachimbo for bembe or the okonkolo often do.

  I've heard this particular size go by a couple of names. Cachimbo is one, okonkolo like the bata drum is another, and I've even heard it mentioned as an "uno" (one), I assume because it's the smallest, or first shekere somehow?

  Cachimbo and okonkolo are obvious names as a 3 shekere agbe (or agwe) set plays guiro. From what I understand a guiro is similar to a bembe with drums and a toque with bata; the guiro uses primarily shekeres. From what I have seen and heard the songs for the orishas are sung at each. Just to be clear, I'm not a santero, though I know several. I enjoy the music and I enjoy educating myself on it's backgrounds and traditions.

  So this little guy is done and now onto the other two. It's always a pleasure to finish one of these instruments as one is never quite sure how it is going to come together in the end; the sound, the action the appearance.