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.