These claves have been played!

Is what I heard a fellow rumbero exclaim a month back at the Dio De Los Muertes rumba we have every year hear in San Francisco's own Mission District. It brings a few rumberos from  other cities in the Bay Area that I don't play with too often, which is of course where that exclamation about my claves came from.
Anyways, the Dio De Los Muertes parade I can say it is a fantastic event, with several thousand people all dressed in full costumes, and different processions of musicians and dancers, including several Escoles de Samba as they are so well suited for parades. The rumba was based in the park, and at times we had a couple hundred people around us. I myself played for nearly 5 hours, switching from drum to drum or instrument to instrument and also singing coro as best I can. The highlight for me was playing quinto while marking the steps of a woman in full "muertes" costume dancing on stilts to the rumba.
Here is my original post with my claves. You can see what a years worth of rumba does to the instruments. The dark ones are my favorite and you can see the striker/macho is worn almost half through, and is taped to avoid getting splinters. I really need some new ones, but good sounding claves are so hard to find. My old supplier is out of business, and I keep trying out the mass made ones in stores by LP and Meinl, etc. What can I say? I find their sound less than appealing.


La Rumba Es Para Todo Del Mundo.

   Rumba has it's origins in Cuba, of that there can be no doubt. It may have had influences from Africa and Spain, and from such diverse peoples as several African tribes, Andalusians, Spaniards, Moors and Gypsies, however it was created in Cuba, by Cubans and arguably for Cubans.

     However, even in Cuba there exists geographical stylistic variations. The most famous of which are the differences between the rumba styles of Matanzas and Havana. 

  Recently rumba has escaped the confines of it's island home and traveled the world. It seems at no other time has the popularity of rumba been greater, or the study of it easier. There exists several excellent texts on the subject, videos of rumba are easily viewed, modern and older rumba recordings are easily available and instruction on the music style is easily obtained either live or through online videos.

  In comparison, the great music called jazz originated in the United States of America. It also had a great many influences, and regional variations, similar to rumba. Jazz is enjoyed the world over, indeed, it has been adopted by the world to such an extent that it can no longer be called an American music, in my opinion, truly jazz has become an international art form. The fantastic jazz music performed in such countries as Japan, Italy and other world countries are just as legitimate expressions of the music as that found here in America. Each country always seems to throw their own spin on jazz music, which is only correct, as each performer should give an honest expression of themselves. Jazz has benefited from this tremendously.

  Is rumba different? Will other legitimate regional variations and expressions of the rumba musical form evolve that differ from the Cuban archetype? Or will the only legitimate form of rumba to be considered be the Cuban model?

  Rumba has traveled the world and is becoming an international music as. The evidence is here for me to see on my blog, as I receive visitors from literally all over the world. Will these rumberos place their own personalities and experiences aside and play as if they were "Cuban"? Or will these artists eventually instill their distinct personalities and experiences into the music we call rumba and play it a new way?


The Clave Matrix and Rumba Quinto

I recently acquired copies of two monumental books addressing clave and rumba. The first two books in the Unlocking Clave series: The Clave Matrix and Rumba Quinto, both written by California's own rumba researcher; the intrepid David Peñalosa. As these books are the first two in David's "Unlocking Clave" series, I assume there will be more books in the Unlocking Clave series yet to come.

The Clave Matrix has been out for a little while, and Rumba Quinto will be released soon. I was fortunate to get a preliminary copy of that book.

I'm just about through the first book "The Clave Matrix", which has been a very enjoyable study. I'll be posting a review of The Clave Matrix shortly. Later on you can expect a review of Rumba Quinto as well, but one book at a time.
   David has made a Facebook album with some of the graphics and images he used for The Clave Matrix, including some great images of Cal Tjader and Tito Puente.


A tasty little Yambu.

   I was playing a guaguanco with a friend the other day, just him improvising on a quinto and tres dos, with me holding it down on the salidor. Actually the tempo was more like a yambu. I wanted to add some strokes to my basic guaguanco to fill it out the rhythm as the other player was improvising, and I came up with adding all muff tones to the back side. I was really trying to swing it alone as we didn't have palitos. The rhythm started to really swing when I gave the phrases the feeling of starting with the open (O) tone on one side of the clave ending with the either the last bass (B) or muff (M) tone on the other side, and then starting a new phrase with the next open (O) tone, etc.

   Actually, this is exactly the way Michael Spiro teaches it in his book. What do you know? It works!

    The different tone quality of the muff tones on one side and bass tones on the other created a sweet little call and response feel, like a quick little conversation. Anyways, I really dug the feel of it. I tried it out later with when we had a third player on the tres dos, and it works with that part as well. The tones of the muffs sort of accent the higher pitch of the tres dos open tones that coincide with them, working with the tres dos, instead of playing over it.

So here's the transcription. I haven't seen the part written like this anywhere before. Try it out and let me know how it goes. Just click on the image a couple times to enlarge it. Feel free to print it out and play.


Aqui, Entre Las Flores

  Well I finally got some pictures of the bajo cajon I built a few days ago. A very fun project. I ended up going with the "Clave y Guaguanco" model. I originally wanted to go with a different size, but as I was making one for my friend at the same time, the economy of the wood made me change my mind.
My friend wanted a slightly larger model for more bass. Oddly enough, the two cajons sound very similar, with the bigger one being a bit louder.

Anyways, I was going for a kind of retro look, what with the leather trunk handle. I originally got the handle for an old drum restoration, but it didn't look quite right. Two years later the handle finds a home. The drawer pulls for the feet were also a fun idea to kind of complete the look. I'm planning on keeping this cajon around the living room, so that is the main reason for the look. Nothing wrong with plain cajons at all.

So this is my "Yambu setup". The bass cajons really add to a nice yambu. The dry and low cajon sounds don't get in the way of the vocals at all, which are so important to yambu. Just listen to some Carlos Embale to see what I mean. Yambu also has a quinto, often a cajon as well, but one cajon is enough for me. The funky look and quieter sound of my Isla quinto is the perfect companion for this cajon. I'm also planning on going to some flea markets and getting some old tarnished silver spoons for playing "cucharas" (palitos) on the top as well.

The artwork is some art nouveaus  flash I had. I enlarged it in Photoshop, printed it out and then traced it onto the wood using graphite paper. I dug out my old architecture school supplies for the painting and drawing and such. It was kind of fun to combine my college architecture education with my construction experience to make an instrument for my musical hobbies. I hadn't done this kind of graphic work by hand in a while so I was a little nervous and rusty, but it was very enjoyable. I wasn't sure how it was going to come out, I was hoping for a masterpiece, but expecting a disaster.

I was going to write a big article on cajons but there are others that I've used for inspiration and information that have written much better articles than I'm capable of. First without a doubt would be Thomas Altman who has very a wonderful article on cajons. Thomas' article also contains detailed construction directions.
Cajons by Thomas Altmann

Another great resource is the article by the percussionist Jorge Santos, who has written an article called "The Cuban Rumba Box". Available as a free PDF download.

Also Barry Cox has a beautiful article on Guarapachangeo, Los Chinitos and the cajons they use.
A cajón used by "Los Chinitos"
Photo: Antoine Miniconi

I also referred with Patricio Banchereau, who is an associate of Barry Cox's and runs several blogs on rumba mentioned here before. The beautiful decorations on the cajons he made for his students inspired me to decorate my own cajon. Patricio shared with me some excellent advice on cajons, a portion of which I will paste here:
One last things I'd like to add: the main sound element is your hand!!
You may be aware of that already, but in every style of Cuban percussion you have to stick your strokes and keep the hand on the instrument until you give another stroke. 90 percent of Cubans play like that (not everyone) - clave, timbal, bongo, congas, bata, catá, even bells, whatever, that's what I teach - nobody ever talks about that obviously, in some cases you can't (open strokes with stick in hand like timbal or arará or bembé) and the faster you play, the more impossible it becomes to do that to me the cajón is one of the instruments in which this method is very important - especially for bass tones but even for open strokes and slaps on the corners. Once you understand that, you have more chances to get a good sound - this is my theory and no Cuban ever taught me that - only careful observation for years just watch and you'll see - did u see El Niño from Muñequitos tocando clave (he just caresses the clave)
Patrico's cajons.

 There are others I'd like to thank as well. Marc Hough for his excellent cajon. Dan Callis for sure, sharing all the information on his cajon from Pancho Quinto.
Cajon by Marc Hough

I'm looking forward to playing this instrument. It was a lot of fun to make. I may be making more some time. I'm still interested in making a "Pancho Quinto" model as well.


an afrocuban discography

Well it looks as if the indomitable Barry Cox has done it again. Barry has begun a new blog an afrocuban discography , an online catalog of exactly what you'd expect, Afrocuban music with beautifully scanned album covers, print dates, track listings, reissues, artists, recording company, etc.

This new blog is very nicely done. In addition to Barry's other blogs Vamos a Guarachar , El Cancionero Rumbero and his colleague Patricio's La Rumba no Es Como Ayer we have a veritable online encyclopedia of rumberos. songs, histories and now musical recordings of Cuban rumba and folkloric music.


Cajon Construction and Dimensions

I'm gearing up to be making a Cuban style bajo cajon soon, maybe even this week, or possibly next. I've been fortunate to have corresponded with several individuals that either own or have measured cajons owned by notable rumberos. Also other individuals have taken the time and posted dimensions of cajons they have made on the web.

I've always liked the simplicity and versatility of the older style boxy cajons. I like how they are a chair and an instrument, you can play them with hands, sit on them, use spoons and play palitos. Also you can stick stuff inside it and carry things around in it like, well, a box!

Seems like some of the manufacturers are charging quite a bit for cajons, which doesn't seem right, to me at least. I mean cajons were originally free, or nearly so. Still not everyone is crafty, so there is nothing wrong with spending $300 on a wood box if you are so inclined. The Peruvian style is most common variant, probably because of it's association with flamenco. Seems like there are all kinds of curious cajon configurations; round, octagons, trapezoids, batajon's, conga cajons, bongo cajons, etc.

Me, I want a deep bass cajon. I want a instrument that is completely different than a conga, so I'm going for the sit on the top, played between the legs, suitcase shaped bajo cajon.
 In preparation for my new project, I made a documentation of all the cajon dimensions I have collected, with the source and pictures when available. I'm posting this document here for free download to any rumberos out there in the blogosphere that may be interested in making their own bajo cajon, or just in the cajons in general.
Bajo Cajon: Construction and Dimensions.  

construction and dimensions
Compiled by Geordie Van Der Bosch


Interview with "Dr. Clave"

A friend of mine, David Crowder, recently attended the Humboldt State University  Explorations in Afro-Cuban Dance & Drum workshop. He took the opportunity to interview one of the instructors, David Peñalosa, while he was there.

Among some of us, David Peñalosa is affectionately referred to as "Dr. Clave". David Peñalosa is known for his in depth analysis of clave and research on the inter-connectivity of Afro-Cuban and African rhythms. In this interview David Peñalosa gives a brief description of his involvement and study of percussion.

David Crowder in addition to the interview also has an excellent website with several resources for rumberos and folkloric music.


Choosing Conga Skins for Rumba.

The skin or head on a conga drum is a very important part of the instrument. The type of skin and it's thickness paired with the shell of the drum, it's material and shape determine the sound your drum will make. A good skin on your drum will be a pleasure to play, but a bad skin or the wrong skin can be an unenjoyable struggle.

There are several reasons you might be looking for a new skin. Maybe it's a used drum that doesn't have a skin, maybe the old skin broke. The current skin might not sound good, or the skin on the drum hurts your hands. There are also several choices of skin available. There are thick and thin skins, there are cow skins, mule skins, plastic skins and pre mounted water buffalo skins.

In rumba you typically have 3 drums: the quinto, the conga, and the tumba. Those drums themselves go by many names, I will use the names that are in the most common use presently. The quinto is the highest pitch and smallest drum, the conga is pitched in the middle and is the mid-sized drum and the tumba is the largest and the lowest. Because of their pitch and size each drum might get a different skin.

The most difficult scenario in choosing a new skin is putting a new skin on a drum that doesn't have one. It is hard because you don't know what the drum sounds like yet and have little to base your decision on.

For rumba there exists a basic rule of thumb; typically the thicker skin will go on the smallest drum. The idea is the quinto plays short staccato tones and the thicker skin resonates less and creates this sound. On the other end the tumba benefits from a thinner skin as the thinner skin is more pliable and produces the bass tones you want to hear from that drum. What makes this decision hard for a drum that doesn't have a skin is that you don't know what it sounds like, and it is easy to put a skin that is too thick or too thin on a drum.

There are of course exceptions to this rule. I've been having success with some thinner skins on quintos than I've used before. However I've had the advantage of hearing and playing the drum with one type of skin before replacing it with another.

When the drum already has a skin it is a much easier decision. If the drum sounds too flat or choked, it probably could use a thinner skin. If the drum has a ring to it or the note sustains too long a thicker skin can be the solution. Rumba congas typically get thicker skins than congas for other music. Mainly, in rumba the drums want less sustain so the drum tones don't step on each other. With shorter tones the drum melodies can stay clear and distinct, even at higher tempos. If the drum tones have a long sustain the tones would flow into each other making the melodies less distinct., as if they were talking over each other.

For rumba, the best skins are cow and mule. I use cow on all my drums and on drums I re skin for others.I think I've skinned about 25 congas and maybe 10 bongo heads. Mule is a tougher skin than cow. It seems to produce a drier tone with a short sustain. It's stiffness is good for slaps as well. Mule can be hard on the hands and hard on the drum because of it's general toughness and stiffness. Anyways, I prefer the wetter sound of cow, it's a little easier to work with, and I'm more familiar with it's characteristics.

Water buffalo skins are okay, their sustain is a little too long for my preference for rumba, and the sound a little off. But I've been to some great rumbas with drums using these heads. The main thing about them is they are typically pre-mounted and sized to a certain manufacturer's drums. Anyways, water buffalo is not my preference.

Plastic skins for rumba is where I draw the line. I don't even like plastic skins for salsa. Actually, I don't like them at all. I hate the way they feel and think they sound way too bright for anything in my opinion.

Getting hold of some new skins can be a task as well. My local store, Haight Ashbury Music used to stock some great local skins at a good price. Recently they've switched to skins imported from Pakistan that are just not the same quality. I doubt Guitar Center has anything except pre-mounted skins in water buffalo and plastic.

Lately I've gotten all my skins from Land Hand Percussion, or L&H Percussion . Mike deals in cow skins for congas and bongos and bata. He is a musician that is knowledgeable about the instruments and the skins used on them. He works with the customer and provides them with the skin to meet the sound they need. I've gotten about 12 skins from Land Hand, they have always been quality skins and mailed to me quickly and without any hassle. If I can't pick out skins myself I order from there. Mike has also written a great article on skins in his blog.

"There is much debate about skins for Tumbadoras and Bongos and other drums. The questions I get all the time are around thickness, type of animal and a few others. One other issue I have seen raised is a question of buying from a “hide house” or a custom drum maker as opposed to buying from a company like L&H.
People have been questioning  if its ok to buy from the likes of Ritmo, Isla, SoS, ECT ECT… I saw leave them to what they do well build drums. They don't need to spend 30 min on the phone with you for a $40-$50 Skin when they have 8-10 month waiting periods.   This is just my opinion BUT  I'm sure some of the craftsman would agree…
Now on to selection of a skin. The answer can be as simple as people play on what ever is readily available and they make it sound great.  But lets be honest we all want the best. L&H Percussion strives to provide the best. Its a very long and complex discussion around why some skins are very even and why some are not. Some hide houses use “ splits” and plane and buff to a very precise measurement. That's all well and good but we at L&H believe that this creates other issues that take the “ life” out of the skin.  We start with raw skins that are only stretched and dried to our standards with a slight bit of finishing to make them feel ok to the hand. We then hand cut each round doing our best to ensure that there is little to no variation in thickness. Normal variations that do not affect tuning or the life of the drum or head are typically around .5mm.
There are a number of wrong opinions online being shared and I would caution anyone reading this take your questions to the experts. Call L&H or call another person who deals with the hides and the animal.  We are the “Pros” when it comes to this.
If you ever have questions or what to get some help feel free to call us. We can offer you what we have seen work and help you formulate what should be best for you. We also stand behind our product and will work hard to satisfy our customers big or small."

A final consideration in regards to thickness is the toughness of your hands and the strength of the drum. A thick skin is going to be harder to hit and more demanding on your hands. Also it is going to put greater stress on the drum. These issues become the most pronounced with the quinto as quinto skins are pulled the tightest.

More than anything, choosing skins is an intuitive process. That is why it is easiest when you know the drum. Knowing the drum and knowing the sound you want to get will go a long ways towards getting a good match. It can be a journey to find the right skin, sometimes it takes a couple tries to find just the right one.


The new Isla Percussions

Check out the latest from Isla Percussions. Bringing back the mahogany conga for the most authentic sound. They must sound phenomenal. I know I love my Isla quinto in cherry wood. Maybe I'll have to get a new quinto in mahogany too!


John Santos Lecture - African Spiritual Practices and Retentions in Latin Music

    Last year I had the opportunity to attend the incredible lecture series by John Santos called La Rumba No Es Como Ayer, a wonderful 7 part lecture series on rumba; history, styles, instrumentation, influences, etc, etc.

    Well it seems this year Mr. Santos will be continuing his participation with SFJazz by offering another interesting 6 part lecture series August 4-September 8 called African Spiritual Practices and Retentions in Latin Music. I found John's lectures to be very high quality, entertaining and educational . An added bonus is he permits audio recording for future reference. I'm certainly planning on attending this upcoming lecture series. If you happen to live in the area, or are going to be visiting, why not take in a lecture if time permits. It is bound to be fascinating. Highly recommended.

SFJAZZ, the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival and The Museum of the African Diaspora present a unique and distinct series presented by Bay Area lecturer, band-leader, percussionist and educator, John Santos.

Music is the richest source of African culture in the Americas. And musical practices throughout Latin America have preserved a wealth of African spiritual content. This six-part series will reveal several elements of African spiritual origin that form the basis of popular Latin music and Latin jazz, including instrumentation, rhythm, melody, lyrics, mythology, oral history and language. During the series, participants will listen to and analyze a broad cross-section of recorded examples from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Republica Dominicana/Haiti, the United States and Brazil that span the last century.


6/20/10 Sunday Streets Rumba on Valencia Street in the Mission, San Francisco

   San Francisco has been starting a tradition of closing different neighborhood streets to automobile traffic on the weekend, called Sunday Streets It really is a great event, with thousands of people coming out and enjoying themselves. Cyclists, pedestrians, roller bladers, etc fill the street. Local shops and restaurants pour out onto the sidewalk. Performers, bands and musicians perform in the street and on the corners.

   It just so happens that this weekend, Sunday June 20, the street our local rumba spot is on,  22nd and Valencia, will be closed. Last year we had a great rumba right out in the street. During the 4 or 5 hours I'm sure at least 10,000 people passed by, with a large circle forming around us when the dancers were doing their thing. Anyways, tomorrow we are going to continue the tradition and have the rumba in the street starting at 10:00 and ending around 3:00. I'm looking forward to it.

   Last year a reporter I know caught the event on video and there is actually a decent amount of footage of the rumba featured in it. Check it out!


Conga "Master' Class

    I recently acquired an account at percussionist Michael Spiro's instructional website "Conga Master Class" . This is a fantastic new resource of instructional videos for Afro-Cuban percussion instruments and rhythms. It is a large and extensive site, with frequent new updates. Video lessons include, Guaguanco, Columbia, Quinto for Rumba, Arara, Bembe, Abakua, etc, etc. Guest artists include Jesus Diaz and Karl Perrazzo 

    Anyways, I plan to explore the videos on offer there and write a review,  which might take a little while, so stay tuned. In the meantime you can check it out for yourself. Conga Master Class offers a few freebies, which can be viewed here:  


Now for some "Real" Instruments

   I recently sold my wonderful set of Isla Percussions bata drums to an acquaintance in England. This rumbero already had an early set of Isla Percussions congas so it seemed to make sense to sell them to him, especially as the canoe wood is no longer available. Now he has an incredible set of 6 matching Isla drums; congas and bata. What a lucky guy, huh?

  Not to worry bloggers, I have not given up the bata. I have made arrangements for a new set, and the apartment just is not large enough for six bata drums.

  Some of you bloggers may recognize a few of the other instruments in the photo. I've sold this fine English gentleman 3 of my shekeres for a full guiro set and also two of my early guaguas, which I am happy to see seem to have held up rather well. Certainly a fine collection of instruments, for a truly dedicated musician, if I say so myself.


Strangest looking bongo I have ever seen.

Cruising Ebay and Craigslist for bargains on instruments as I do, I frequently come across some truly unfortunate versions of these drums. There are of course the clumsier Mexican drums, some strangely evolved fiberglass ones and of course the truly awful modern budget versions with their strange shapes, anemic hardware and bulbous comfort rims.

But these bongos are truly the weirdest version I have come across.... of course now that I have said that something weirder is going to come along...


Mas Que Nada!

I've been completely in love with Brazilian music for a while now. It started with Bossa Nova and then Samba, Maracatu, Brazilian Jazz and even some Baile Funk. Mas Que Nada originally by Jorge Ben, and covered so famously by the Tamba Trio has been one of my favorites and is a standard from Brazil. Hearing the chorus sing the opening refrain always gets me going:
O, Ariá! Raió!
Obá! Obá! Obá!
O, Ariá! Raió!
Obá! Obá! Obá!...

I'm sure it is well known among my readers that a rumba version of Mas Que Nada exists. Famously performed by Virgilio Martí  on Patato and Totico's seminal album. Listening to Jorge Ben's soulful and simple singing of this song, I can understand how Marti may have been inspired to sing this song as a rumba.

I've been wanting to sing this song for years at a rumba. It's such a catchy tune and famous. The problem is the lyrics are in Portuguese, which is a beautiful language, but not really appropriate for rumba.  Virgilio twists things up and sings his version with some funky Spanish lyrics more appropriate for rumba. I've probably sat down 3 times to try and piece Martí's version together, but my Spanish vocabulary just is not that expansive. I really did not want to be singing some gibberish that I thought was Spanish at the next rumba you know? Sadly, Patato, Totico and Virgilio left the lyrics out of the liner notes.

Luckily, we have the great rumba song lyric website El Cancionero Rumbero so I consulted it's huge archive to get the lyrics. Surly all the songs to this famous album would be there. Aaah, no such luck.
I've had the good fortune to correspond with Barry Cox who runs that site and Vamos a Guarachar and La Rumba No Es Como Ayer , so I sent him a request for the lyrics which he so kindly provided me with.

I'm very happy to have these lyrics now, I've been kind of butchering the song with a strange mix of half remembered parroted Portuguese and Spanish lyrics during my private practice. Not pretty! I like this song as a Columbia. Anyways, Caranaval is this weekend here in San Francisco, so I'm going to try and get it down for our rumba performance there.

Okay, so here are the lyrics to Mas Que Nada:

Mas que nada

Compositor: Samba de Jorge Ben; Adapt. Virgilio Martí
Estilo: Guaguancó
Grabación: Patato y Totico

E bele bi bele bele be, etc.

Oh la di a, ay Dios
Opá, opá, opá

Mas que nada
sálgase de frente
que quiero pasar
esta samba está animada
lo que quiero es sambar

Esta samba
con ritmo de maracatu
es un algo nuevo y bello
tan bello como tu

Mas que nada
un samba como esta es pa' bailar
Você la va a querer
y você la va a gustar

Coro: Y você la va a gustar

and here is the incredible video of Virgilio singing the song.


Francisco Aguabella - IBAE

Sadly I have heard the news that Francisco Aguabella passed away today, Friday May 7, 2010

Francisco Aguabella was a personal favorite of mine. As a musician he could do it all. Afrocuban Folklore, Rumba, Bata, Jazz, Latin Jazz, Salsa, etc. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to see him perform. A look at my music library shows an extensive collection of his works.

Francisco Aguabella:
  • Agua de Cuba
  • Cantos a los Orishas
  • Cubacan
  • H2O
  • Hitting Hard
  • Ochimini
Francisco Aguabella y Su Grupo Orishas
  • Bembe y Afrocuban Music
Not to mention the several albums he  played on for Mongo Santamaria and Tito Puente among others.

My favorite quote regarding Francisco comes from Dizzy Gillespie:
"Aguabella is the John Coltrane of the Conga Drums.” -- Dizzy Gillespie
 I was fortunate to see Aguabella play at Yoshi's on Filmore a couple of years back. An incredible show. The pictures in this post are from that show. I remember something Francisco said that night, which made me very happy
"Now I live in L.A., but San Francisco, is my city!"

We'll miss you terribly Francisco. Thanks for all the great music.


My shekere.

I'm keeping this one. It came out really nice.


Bembe Agwe

This rhyhtm is an adaptation of Bembe Agwe played on three drums by myself. Bembe Agwe is a bembe played when singing songs for females. Zoom H2 and Alesis SR-16 on bell.

Bembe Agwe


Another recordingI made playing three drum adaptations. This one is bakoso, even though a lot of players around here refer to it as bembe, I've been told by my instructor that it's actually bakoso. It's the first rhythm I learnt to play on 3 drums. Again, the Alesis Sr-16 plays bell. Recorded by Zoom H2.




    A short recording I made using my Zoom H2, what a convenient device. Anyways I'm playing an adaption of Abakua on 3 drums with my Alesis SR-16 drum machine playing the bell pattern.


Latest Shekeres

   I've just nearly finished up a couple more shekeres. The one on the left with the wood beads is a birthday present for my father. He doesn't play percussion at all, but he is a rather good guitarist. He just wanted to own one of my instruments. Shekeres are also good looking enough to have around as decoration, but of course they should be played. At any rate I'll be able to give this one a couple of shakes whenever I visit. Who knows, mabe my dad will pick it up.

   The red and white one was meant to be sold, but it didn't work out that way. The deal fell through. But not to worry, the more I thought about it the more I liked this "candy cane" shekere and to tell the truth it is a very good match with my other shekere. This red and white one is now the mula to my black and red caja. Just got to get to work on the cachimbo. I'm lucky because I have two very nice cachimbo sized gourds to choose from to round out my set.


Jiribilla and Tahona/Tajona

  I recently made another trip to the library and came across this excellent book "Rites of Rhythm The Music of Cuba" by Jory Farr. Jory makes several trips to Cuba and other Cuban music hotspots in America and interviews several key Cuban musicians including Miguel Anga Diaz, Jesus Alfonso Mira, Orestes Vilato and Chucho Valdes.
   Anyways I was reading the book and came across this paragraph where Juan Bautista Castillo Mustelier describes Jiribilla as a kind of dance related to a rhythm called Tahona. Juan Bautista is from Santiago and from mixed Cuban and Haitian background. This is what the book says.

When Bautista arrived in Santiago, he danced the rumba-but in the Tajona tradition...

"Many people think there are just three kinds of rumba. But there is really a fourth style, and I introduced this style into the repertoire of Cutumba and Conjunto Folklorico de Oriente when I was the directore of both groups" Bautista said.

In Tajona, the force of the music powers the dancer into what is called the jiribilla, where the man must create, very quickly and very powerfully, certain improvisations. The dancer reacts to the repique drum, which is akin to thee quinto but comes from dahomey. In fact I'd seen this the night before at Teatro Marti: a spectacular eruption of dancing that seemed like a controlled convulsiuon"

~Rites of Rhythm, pages45-46

   Anyways I have heard very little concerning exactly what Tahona is beyond the term being used in the title of this Chavlonga recording. Chavlonga is certainly an elder in rumba, and the rhythms in the recording sound different when compared to Los Munequitos for example. However I have not really done any in depth analysis of Chavlonga's record, assuming I even have the skill for such to be meaningful in any way. Still it's a fascinating subject, these old and obcsure rumbas.


Gon Bops Handle Project

A slow day like today is perfect for tinkering on drums. Today's project was putting a handle on my DW Gon Bops.  The maker of Gon Bops, Akbar Moghaddam, is very experienced and makes an incredible drum. However they have these ugly holes drilled into them in case the owner wants to mount them on a rack. They also have 2 metal labels and GB stamped into each lug plate. That is a lot of stuff on my sleek little quinto, so something had to be done.
I bought the Gon Bop to go with my set of Resolution Drums. My 9 3/4" DW Gon Bop is a smaller size than Resolution makes, and is the "requinto" for that set. However the main reason I bought it is because it matches them so well.  The red oak and hardware of the DW Gon Bop is very similar to the Resolution Drums, no big surprise there as both Ralph Flores and Akbar Moghaddam made Valjes at one time. Ralph Flores' father Tom Flores was the founder of Valje, and Akbar Moghaddam made Valjes here in San Francisco, prior to making his own Sol drums, which Akbar made before contracting to DW Gon Bops.
Okay so enough history. I called Ralph Flores and ordered a handle so I could put it on the Gon Bops. I like handles on my drums, and a Resolution handle would help the Gon Bop match even more. I positioned the Gon Bops label over the holes drilled for the rack mount to cover them up and hide them. Then I put the handle below that, similar to the way Resolution does it. Luckily the order of the staves was good, meaning I did not have to drill holes into a seam and weaken the drum. The handle for the Gon Bop had to go a little lower than the Resolution drum because the Gon Bop drum was taller.
A simple project really, even though it is always a little daunting to drill holes in a perfectly good drum. I think I have improved the look of the drum a bit by covering those holes, made it easier to move around and now my Gon Bop drum matches my Resolution drums just a little more. Certainly it should be obvious to anyone that it is part of the set.