You did what??!?

I've been playing out with my set of Skin on Skin congas pretty frequently lately and I missed the fact that they didn't have any handles. So I called up Jay Bereck and his apprentice Josh in New York and asked them about it. Jay Bereck doesn't actually make handles for his congas, but he has installed them on his Skin on Skin congas before. Jay Bereck is always an amazing man to talk to. He told me how Ray Barretto would bring him handles from whatever congas he had just broke or whatever to have installed on Skin on Skin congas Jay had made for him.

Skin on Skin congas are probably the best congas being made. The design is so clean and advanced. So to say it was a bit daunting to drill some holes into my beautiful perfect congas is a bit of an understatement; I was terrified.

Anyways, I eventually found the right handle: a stainless steel handle from Ace Hardware that matched the stainless steel bands the Skin on Skin congas come with, and after some careful measuring and planning the handles went on straight and strong. I guess all those years of Architecture school were worth it, eh?

I'm really happy with how it turned out. I had inspiration and some advice from Mark Sanders over at Fidel's Eyeglasses . He actually had owned a Skin on Skin requinto that he recently sold with a handle installed by Jay Bereck, the only picture I've seen of a Skin on Skin conga with a handle, which encouraged me with my project. I'm kind of wishing I had bought this little drum when he sold it a while back. So cool!

    So my conga project is done, the handles work great, and I'm really happy to have them. It makes moving the congas around much easier. Jay provided me with some really excellent instructions. and I kind of like how they look a little more now. They have an old school look like the Vergara and Junior Tirado congas you see in pictures.


Skin On Skin Hand Made Congas

(607) 639-2417
1618 State Highway 41
Afton, NY 13730


A moment of doubt...

Well bloggers, let me tell you something very personal. A month or so ago I was seriously considering giving up the tumbadoras. Now why would I ever consider such a thing? Well, a big part of being a musician is practice, and the congas are a loud instrument, and I was finding it very frustrating to not be able to practice any time I like, as some of my other musician friends can.

I am able to go to Golden Gate park and practice there, but I can't bring my charts or my drum machine. Also the park is a "public" zone, so I have to contend with parents showing their babies the drums, people wanting to chat, or take pictures and worse, the occasional djembe player of dubious ability sitting next to me and tapping away. At home, I wrap a towel around the drums with a bungie cord and practice away, but of course you don't get the real sound. My guitar playing friends and flute playing friends don't have that problem.

What I also found frustrating was the necessity of having so many other people to put together Afro-Cuban folkloric music and rhythms. The congas are also not in such large demand as say a trap-drummer or the guitar. So I was starting to feel limited in places, genres and musics I could play.

So I was considering a switch....to the upright bass. Now the upright bass is a beautiful instrument if ever there was one. A very versatile instrument as well, jazz, bluegrass, rockabilly, classical, Cuban son; well it's a long list. Lots of my favorite musicians are bass players; Charles Mingus and Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez. If you play an upright bass, you are in DEMAND! You have to turn people down because you have too many chances to play.

Well it looked like a good choice, beautful, versatile and quiet enough to play in my San Francisco apartment. I went so far as to join an online bass forum, researched basses suitable for beginners, etc.

So what happened? Why am I still here writing about rumba and congas? Well, I was in the park, practicing some 4/4 rhtyhms; songo and pilon, when this beautiful young couple passing by heard the drums and started dancing. This was a young white couple, dressed casually for a day in the park, but something was up. They knew how to dance! I suspect they have been taking salsa lessons and hitting up the salsa clubs around San Francisco. So there we were, playing at the Conservatory of Flowers, with the palm tress and flower beds in bloom the sound of the congas in the air and the two dancers dancing.

Well I kind of forgot about the bass. I have a lot of respect for that instrument, but in my experience, no other instrument reaches out and grabs people somewhere in their bodies and gets them moving and dancing as the congas do. I've seen it happen time and time again, from respectable businessmen to tragically cool hipsters to homeless bums. There is something about the sound of the congas that compels them, drives them, possesses them (for better or worse!). And that's really why I got into the instrument. It makes the frustration, and even what sometimes feels like persecution, worth it.

And there you have it. I was saved from years of blistered fingers, charts and scales, keys and intervals, strings and bows, and from lugging some huge beast of a bass around town by a couple practicing their dance steps as I played my drums in Golden Gate park.


RE: Guemilere: Study Guide for Afro-Cuban Percussion - A note from Scott Wardinsky

    Visitors to my blog may have come across an earlier post of mine Guemilere: Study Guide for Afro - Cuban Percussion : (Jimenez / Wardinsky). In that post I write about a recording intended for the study of Afro-Cuban rhythms. Today I just received an email regarding that recording from one of its authors, Scott Wardinsky, who asked me to post the following message:
This is Scott Wardinsky writing. The reason it is so hard to find this recording is because we decided it did not meet the artistic or technical level of what we wanted to put out. However many copies managed to leak out after we gave a few away for criticisms. It went viral.

   I have a new, much better project similar to Guemilere but in DVD format with performances as well as instructional tracks. It is called Mabague which Regino told me means Remember or Don't Forget in Lucumi. It features Lazoro Galarraga, Sandy Perez, Teresita Perez, Michael Spiro, Jose Barroso, Nengue Hernandez, Joey de Leon muself and a bunch of other great artists. There are 18 rhythms. Much more comprehensive than the first. With some killer performances that include the singing, dancing and drumming. It includes a booklet with transrciptions, lyrics and photos. It will be out in 3-6 months ( or when I get the $$$ to pay for mastering and manufacturing). In the meantime if you would like to donate to Reginos' estate in Cuba ( his wife and children) for the download available here you can contact me at odua88@yahoo.com.
                   Thanks, Scott Wardinsky

    Scott Wardinksy, also mentions that he appreciates the recognition and does not mind me making the recording available in the manner that I have approached it.

    So thank you very much for your visit and approval Mr. Wardinsky. I am sure my readers will be eager for the release of the new material. I will continue to make the Guemilere recording available for download and I hope my readers will find the generosity to make a donation to Maestro Regino's estate.


The Gourd, The Bead and The Agbe.

   I just finished another shekere for this agbe set of 3 shekeres. The one I just finished is the caja, or lowest pitched shekere. I used the large round beads that sound great. I have one more shekere to finish before this set is done. Traditionally 3 shekeres are used to play for guiro and sometimes bembe. The shekeres are tuned just like drums; high, medium and low. The size of the gourd determines the pitch of the shekeres open tone, I also try to control the pitches with the size and number of beads on the gourds to try and create a higher pitched shake sound for the small shekere and a lower pitched shake for the larger one.

  Anyways, I'm going to be selling this set, if anyone is interested please contact me. I'd like to try and sell it as a complete set of 3. These three gourds have an almost perfect set of open tones when played together, with the tones almost perfect intervals apart. They sound really cool. Also I'm kind of designing them to go together as a set as well. But if they don't sell as a set, I might break it up; or keep them, we'll see.

  This is the last gourd of the set. I know it looks like I haven't started it, but I've actually started it twice, and getting pretty far along too. However, each time there was something I didn't like, either my bead arrangement, or how the beads and net were actually laying on the gourd. There is something a little challenging about the shape of this gourd, that I have to adapt for in beading the net. That gourd really has a nice sound and feel. I'll be finishing it soon, but I was a little frustrated with it, so I moved onto the caja, which came out really well. It's a nice shekere, and this guiro set is going to come out great.


4 Guaguas, Catas or Palitos just finished

      Call them what you will, these guaguas (catas) are recently finished. They are sanded, wrapped and just waiting for the coat of Danish Oil to dry. Which might take a little while considering how gloomy and cold it is here in San Francisco.

    Sorry rumberos, but these are all spoken for. The first one on the left is off to a little island in England. The second from the left is going to a rumbero in Phoenix, Arizona and the last two are for me.

    Why do I need two guaguas? Well these instruments take a lot of abuse getting banged on with sticks; even though I do my best to make them durable, they are a natural material after all.

    Also I've been bringing the instruments to the local rumba lately. Congas, claves, campana, shekere and the guagua. Can you imagine how sad this rumbero would be if I showed up without a guagua?

   Now imagine how sad I would be when this rumbero starts playing palitos on the side of one of my tumbadoras instead of the cata because I didn't have a backup!


Domingo de la Rumba!!!

   I know it's a stretch for some of my more distant readers, rumberos in such far away places as Ireland and India. However my little site meter tells me I have plenty of visitors nearby as well.


Abakua and Rumba

In the study of rumba, the influence of the Abakua on rumba is frequently mentioned. Abakua’s origins are in southeastern Nigeria. It’s modern manifestation in Cuba originates in Havana as a secret society of the blacks living and working there.

I’ve wondered exactly how Abakua has influenced rumba. Abakua has it’s own rich music, complete with a special set of drums and percussive instrumentation, dancing and songs. Abakua rhythms also have a rich improvisation element to be heard in the lead drum known as the Bonko Enchimiya.

It is well documented that several of the most influential early rumberos were Abakua, and incorporated Abakua language lyrics in their compositions. Chano Pozo and Justi Barretto being two well-known Abakua rumba composers.

So where else are the traces of Abakua in rumba? Let’s take a look at the oldest rumbas, Columbia and Yambu:
  1. Columbia: Rumba Columbia’s origins lie in the countryside, in the worker’s barracks for the many different Cuban plantations. Rhythmically, Columbia is played in 6/8 the same as Abakua rhythms are. The same pattern is used for Columbia’s palitos/cata as is used for Abakua’s erikundi shakers. Although Columbia typically uses the common 6/8-bell pattern, it is not uncommon to hear rumba clave played. One of Abakua’s several Ekon (bell) patterns is exactly the same as clave played in 6/8 time.

Another similarity I’ve noticed is in the melodies of the drums. Abakua is typically played with 4 drums; 3 drums playing the melody and an improvising lead drum. Rumba Columbia is played with 3 drums; 2 drums for melody and an improvising quinto. When I compare the Abakua rhythm as I’ve been taught with the Matanzas and Havana Columbia rhythms I’ve also been taught, I recognize a few similarities, if I allow for the absence of 1 drum from the Abakua rhythm. The melody between Abakua’s Eroapa (high drum) and Kuchiyerma (middle drum) resembles the Havana style Columbia’s melody. Mainly you have two higher pitched tones immediately followed by two lower pitched tones as a melodic theme.

In this comparison, I am also reminded of the practice of "doble" in Columbia where each drum plays tones on different sides of the clave once per clave in the beginning of the song, then playing twice per clave in the second, or doubling.

Also the melody between the Eroapa and Obiapa (low drum) resembles the melody for the Matanzas style Columbia I’ve been taught. Here we have a low note, then a short space followed by two higher pitched notes as a common theme between the two.

I'm not saying that this is the definite case. I'm possibly projecting a bit. I do perceive a similarity between the relationship of the melodic tones. I also see the possibility of deriving the Columbia rhythm from previously known Abakua rhythms as the Abakua members were creating a secular popular rhythm from the secret rhythms they were already familiar with.

Finally, there are several motions in the dance for Columbia that appear to have their origins in the dance of the Ireme in Abakua. Frequently in Columbia the dancers use machetes as props in their dance. It was pointed out to me by John Santos in a recent lecture that several of the motions and steps employed by the Columbia machete dancers were exactly the same as those of the Ireme who holds a stick and a whisk in either hand. Also there is a hip shaking motion used by the Ireme to jingle his belt of bells that can also be seen in Columbia dancing, even though a belt of bells is not used. Columbia’s dance is also a male only solo dance where the dancers take turns which is the same as Ireme’s dance as practiced in Abakua tradition.

2. Yambu. The connection and between Yambu and Abakua seemed much less apparent to me. The musics seem so dissimilar. Firstly, Yambu is played in 4/4 time versus the 6/8 of Abakua. The instrumentation of early Yambu’s cajon ensemble is also very different from the drums, bells and shakers of Abakua.

However, it is mentioned in every book I’ve read on the subject that Yambu originated in the docks of Cuba. It is also mentioned that the Abakua societies were the ones in control of those same docks. So the early Yambuceros were almost certainly Abakua as well.

Musically the only the only similarity I can find is again, in the clave. Many scholars mention clave coming from Abakua. Early yambu uses several claves. Havana Yambu frequently uses Son clave, possibly an adaptation of the 6/8 Ekon clave pattern. However Matanzas Yambu frequently uses a different clave. When I examine this clave, I notice that this also has a strong similarity to the Erikundi pattern, perhaps adapted to the 4/4 Yambu timing from the 6/8 Abakua pattern. Of course this is conjecture on my part, but look how closely they resemble each other, if you just move the strike right after the 3 in the Erikundi pattern over a little to make up for the increased space in 4/4 time.

Examining the dance of Abakua and Yambu, again, at first glance there seems to be little similarity. Yambu is danced as a couples dance, and there are no props. The main similarity I can see is the tempo of the dance. Yambu and Abakua are both danced slowly. Whether coincidence or intention is beyond my ability to determine, however it is a similarity between the two. In addition, I sometimes wonder if the handkerchief, or scarf frequently used as a prop by the male Yambu dancer is derived from the Ireme's props as well. It often seems as if they share some common movements.

There is no question that Rumba has had many influences. Almost certainly the Yoruba / Lucumi culture has had it's influence in the music. Flamenco from the Spanish is said to be an influence as well. However I have always heard it mentioned the Abakua were the largest contributors to rumba, and so I've looked for the similarities in the music (maybe too hard!), to see if they remained to be seen. However perhaps the largest Abakua contribution can be seen in the practice of rumba itself. Regarding Abakua I’ve read “La Amistad a un lado y el Abakua separado” (Friendship is one thing, and the Abakua another.) Regarding this, one cannot deny the sense of camaraderie and friendship that frequently sweeps over a rumba as the groove of the rhythm overcomes the rumberos as they collectively create the feeling of rumba. As I have said myself “La Rumba esta una familia” The Rumba is a family.