Cajon Reconstruction

A while back a friend of mine and I made a couple of cajons together. These were the first cajons I had made, and they came out sounding great. However they also had a couple of problems. First, unbelievably, after all the care I took with the decoration for mine, I misspelt "Aquis"! I never botherered to even check, somehow I just thought incorrectly the word had an "S" at the end of the word....oh well, sigh...

My friend decided to leave his undecorated. He did experience some problems with the construction. The top board separated from the front sound board, I believe because his design did  not have enough screws and the combination of the weight on the top with the striking on the front was too much for the glue and the few screws on the end.

So I offered my friend the trade of my misspelled cajon for his broken one, as he did not really have the tools and space to fix his. I trimmed it up, took it apart, put it back together with extra screws and glue. Another change I made was the feet. I traded the "wooden drawer pulls" as feet, for some rubber furniture pegs. Mainly because I found that the wooden feet caused the cajon to slide across the floor a bit as it was played. Finally I added a tung and danish oil finish and a handle to help with carrying it back and forth.
It is a good sounding cajon with a lot of bass. This style of cajon is also nice as it doubles as a seat for playing congas. Finally you can toss the"instrumentos pequeños" inside of it, like your claves, campana, guagua, etc,. So the cajon is a very useful musical instrument that can also be used as a chair and a suitcase!


Cuban Bongo Project

I know they aren't really a "rumba instrument" but I'm gonna post about these bongos anyways!

Just picked up these solid shell bongos made in Cuba. As you can see the hardware is junk, but the shells seem pretty good. I welcome any help identifying the wood and the maker of the drums. The drums are pretty light, no doubt partly due the the lame hardware. The macho is 6" and the hembra is 7 1/2". Anyways, it's been a while since I've had a drum project. Tinkering with old drums is almost as fun as playing them.
I plan on stripping and refinishing thee shells, inside and out, then depending on how I feel get some hardware made for them and putting new skins on. I'm thinking about having either Ralph at Resolution Percussion or maybe that new guy PM Percussion in nearby Petaluma make the hardware for these, whoever is the least expensive.

Well I've never had any drums made in Cuba, these bongos are a little on the small side, but the shells seem well made enough. I've never owned a solid wood bongo either, only staves. I'm curious to see how they turn out and of course how they sound


The Cuban Rumba Box

Percussionist Jorge Santo has written quite a nice paper on the humble rumba instrument known as the cajon, which seems to be enjoying a resurgence in popularity amongst rumberos across the world. It contains some excellent information on the history of the instrument and rumba in general as well as several excellent photos. Download it for free.



¡Feliz Cumpleaños! Sandy Perez!

My friend and teacher Sandy Perez recently had a birthday concert at Yerba Buena Gardens a few weeks ago on a beautiful sunny San Francisco afternoon on July 17th. On this day his continuously evolving line up of Sandy Perez Y Su Lande included his mother visiting from Cuba, Lazarro Galarago, John Santos and Jesus Dias and more.

Sandy is just so innovative. His stage set up included the usual congas, cajons, but he also had a beautiful bembe drum and an electric bass, not to mention a full and sweet sounding coro section of singers. That is what I love about Sandy's music, he is so willing to mix the traditional with the modern and indeed he is a master of both.

As this was Sandy's birthday I presented him with the gift of my favorite shekere. I am happy to say he was quite pleased with it. Actually just after I gave it to Sandy Perez, John Santos came over to check it out and proceeded to play it for the entire set! I was really happy to see my instrument played by one of the best musicians in the Bay Area and a multiple Grammy nominee.

I really liked that shekere and considered it one of my best, but the truth is, that shekere was just a little powerful for the smaller venues I play at, even though it had a beautiful sound. After hearing that shekere cut through the mic'd drums and the electic bass completely unamplified as played by John Santos, I knew my shekere had found it's new home.


Drums and friends and friend's drums

These past two weeks has seen quite a bit of drum trading for me. Something I haven't done in a while because I enjoyed all my drums and was quite attached to them. But perhaps there was a reason I decided to do so at this time.

First I got an incredible deal on this vintage set of Cosmic Percussion Matadors. Matadors are like the de facto beginners drums, and they can be seen on a professional stages as well. Matador's are now made by LP who bought out Cosmic Percussion. This pair was the original and for the price of $150 for the set from a guy just 6 blocks away, I couldn't pass it up, even though the last thing I needed was more drums. So I kept them for about two weeks, and they were a nice set of drums. The skins were the original and made from cow. In the end I just did not have room or the need for the set, so I sold them to a man who bought them for his 13 year old son to learn on.

The next trade saw me selling my old vintage Gon Bops conga. It was a nice drum, in very good shape, oak, but the 10 3/4" inch head was just a little small for me. It was a little hard playing this drum with two hands; my hand would overlap playing tumbao and such, though it was fine for rumba. Anyways I put this one up for sale and wouldn't you know it, but the conguero I bought it from, my friend Will Perez, contacted me and wanted to buy it back. Seemed Will had gotten a perfectly matching quinto for it. So the drum went back to it's previous owner, probably the best place for it as Will takes better care of his drums than anyone I've ever seen.
Will's Gon Bops quinto with the conga I sold back to him.
Well as Will was picking up his returned Gon Bops conga, we started talking and I asked him if he was interested in my vintage Valje bongos, and he was. I needed to get rid of some drums to make room for my Isla bata, and this little Valje bongo just did not see as much playing time as my others. I knew Will had a nice pair of vintage Valje congas and he would give these bongos a good home, but I was hesitant because these bongos have a story.......

Seems this pair of bongos used to belong to Mala "Mana" Rodrigues who used to be the bongocero in a kind of San Francisco girl salsa band called "Orquestra Sabrosita". I had bought these bongos from Mala's partner in Oakland who told me the story. Sadly Mala had been killed riding her bike in San Francisco about 20 years ago. The bongos had been sitting in  the closet since then and I guess the current owner decided they needed to be played so she sold them to me. Coincidentally my friend Maria Medina was the conguero and singer for this same band and knew Mala well. I mentioned I had Mala's old bongos and had her play them one night at Club Deluxe here in town where I play jazz to poetry at The Word Party. Maria Medina was also a mutual friend of Lisa Forman who recently passed as well, there is a picture of them together on my post about Lisa Forman.

While discussing these bongos with Will, he mentioned he had a vintage Valje conga made in the 60's. Well that piqued my interest because the most prized drum in my collection is a vintage Valje tumba. The Gon Bops I had just sold Will used to be the match to my Valje tumba, and now I had a chance to replace it with a perfectly matching Valje conga, for the trade of my Valje bongos.

Well the deal was done and I couldn't be happier, though I was a little sad to see the bongos go and to no longer have a vintage Gon Bops. I'm just so partial to California congas being a Californian and all. However unkown to me at the time the Gon Bops would be quickly replaced.... 

My new Valje conga with my Valje tumba.
Will's Valje's with the bongo I traded.
 Now this is where the story takes a spiritual turn. I recently wrote about my friend Lisa's death and I wondered about the fate of her beautiful Gon Bops quinto. Well I was able to see, and play this sweet little drum at her memorial. My friend Oliver Hunt was there and brought his flute and a woman named Kristen was there who played didgeridoo. I gathered Lisa's drums, Kristen and Oliver and we played Afro-Blue in memory of Lisa; I had recorded this song with Lisa on didgeridoo and Oliver on flute about a year earlier.
Playing my friends drums at her memorial.
After this memorial I ran off to the rumba we were having for Lisa at Radio Havana. It seems I left a little early though. The next day I got a call from Lisa's friend Jungle who was in charge of Lisa's belongings. Jungle was trying to reach me because at the memorial he felt that I was supposed to receive Lisa's quinto. Jungle asked everybody how to get a hold of me and they mentioned my blog post which he had not seen yet. Jungle looked it up my post on Lisa and there were my comments about the very drum he was trying to give me! Jungle wasted no time in getting in touch with me and brought Lisa's Gon Bop quinto right over. It was with with tears that I received this gift. I was glad to have this memento of my friend, but very sad that she was no longer around to play it with her special touch.
Lisa's quinto is now with me.
Lisa Forman used to go by the username of Spirtdrum for her email, Facebook and forums. Looking back on all this now, it all seems more than a coincidence: I had made room in my collection for Lisa's quinto by returning one Gon Bops to my friend Will, passing on the Valje bongo of my friend Maria Medina's departed friend Mala 'Mana' Rodriguez to receive my departed friend's Gon Bops quinto without even knowing it was to be mine.  Seems I had put my Gon Bops up for sale on July 8th, the day after Lisa died.  Perhaps Jungle was right and Lisa's spirit really did want this drum to be with me.

Now I have Lisa's Gon Bops quinto, and it will be played again, by myself and her other rumbero and drum circle friends, but for right now I've put it away. It's just too soon and I need some time to heal first.


Goodbye Lisa Forman, I will miss you my friend.

Farewell sweet Lisa, I will miss you my friend.
Lisa Forman -12/8/64~7/7/2011
This is a very sad post for me to write. My dear sweet friend Lisa Forman has passed. Sadly, she took her own life on the Golden Gate Bridge. I miss her terribly and I can't stop the tears whenever I happen to think of her.
Lisa Forman was a wonderful person and a skilled and talented drummer. She began drumming in the drum circle in Golden Gate Park. She moved on to West African styles, learning the rhythms and studying their history and origins. She was very knowledgeable about the African styles and could discuss them intelligently at lengths. She owned a gorgeous set of dun dun drums and had the most beautiful djembe drum I had ever seen.

Lisa Forman was also an Afro-Cuban stylist. She studied with Carlos Aldama at his class in the Mission here in San Francisco. She attended the Afro-Cuban camp at Humboldt State University and she was a student at Sandy Perez's class at La Pena in Berkeley. Here is a transcription she passed on to me from a class at the Humboldt University camp. I am passing it on here in her name.
Lisa Forman was a huge influence on my percussion life here in San Francisco. She introduced me to Carlos Aldama's class where I met the local rumberos and she took me to Radio Havana for the rumba there. She was very supportive of me and proud of my progress as a musician and percussionist.

I remember running all over the Bay Area with Lisa Forman. We would go to rumbas together, Sandy Perez's class together, we often watched shows together, she knew all the hippest groups. She and I would meet up and study drums in the park, I remember one particularly beautiful session in the Golden Gate Park Panhandle where we studied guarapachangeo together each of us playing a drum and sharing a third. When I held a study session at my house she was always there, she used to live just 6 blocks from me at my old apartment in the Haight. Lisa Forman could play any part on any drum for any rhythm. Here is a shot of her and I at a study session in my old apartment.
And another of Lisa Forman and I at a percussion recital with Sandy Perez's class at La Pena.

 Lisa Forman was also an activist and a contributing community member here in San Francisco. Here is a shot of her at a protest against the eviction of a local latin music club she frequented called Jelly's.
Lisa Forman believed in the healing power of drums and music. She studied at a natural healing college here in San Francisco and became a certified sound healer with the didjeridoo, another instrument she played. I remember fixing a crack on that didjeridoo for her at my house. I could never accept money for a service like that for a friend, but she insisted on buying me a burrito. I was happy to have been able to do that for her.

I also reskinned one of her drums. One of the most beautiful vintage Gon Bop quintos you have ever seen or heard. She played it beautifully as well. Lisa's small feminine hands had such a nice touch; never playing too loud, always just right. I wonder who is playing this drum now? I hope it is one of Lisa's friends. I hope I get a chance to hear it's voice again.
 I remember I also got her a gourd and beads for a shekere and taught her how to tie the strings for the net. I wonder if she ever finished it? A while back Lisa Forman and I attended a class together where we learned shekere parts for guiro with Sandy Perez. It was a small class, 4 students total. I'm playing the caja drum and I think Lisa is playing the small shekere part in this recording from that class.

I also recorded another project with Lisa Forman, I posted a track before, I call it the Afro Blue Project. The earlier post was just flute and drums, but I recorded other versions with Lisa Forman backing us up with her didjeridoo, Oliver Hunt on flute with myself on congas. Just a simple recording with some friends on a sunny afternoon at my friend Oliver Hunt's house by the beach. Such a happy time for us, I never thought listening to it would ever make me cry.

Lisa Forman was happy with it too. This is what she wrote me when I sent them to her:
I love them. They sound so good and it is impressive that we all only did a couple of takes.


Love ya lisa

The last I saw Lisa Forman was at my birthday party last March, she came a little late and took a turn on a drum, quinto I believe. I hadn't seen her in a little while and it was good to see her and listen to her play. I'm glad that is my last memory of her; playing music at my home in honor of my birth.

There is an obituary page for Lisa Forman where you can leave your respects for her.

There is a memorial service for Lisa Forman at Sharon Meadows in Golden Gate Park, Sunday July 24th at 1:00 P.M. Sharon Meadows is just in front of Hippy Hill where the drum circle happens. If you were a friend of Lisa Forman please come by and remember her. And bring a drum!
Goodbye Lisa, I will never forget you.
Your friend always, Geordie Dylan Van Der Bosch.


John Santos: El Son Afro-Cubano - SFJAZZ Discover Jazz Course

Well looks like John Santos is at it again, I can hardly wait! A while back I took another one of his classes about rumba "La Rumba No Es Como Ayer" and it was fantastic. This lecture series is also put on by my cities very own SF Jazz as part of it's Discover Jazz  series.

Anyways the topic of John Santos' lecture this year is the Cuban son and is titled "El Son Afro-Cubano"

Here is a copy/paste of the syllabus:

Discover Jazz Course 1

El Son Afro-Cubano

Co-presented with Yerba Buena Gardens Festival & Museum of the African Diaspora

Taught by five-time Grammy-nominated producer and historian John Santos, El Son Afro-Cubano is an eight-part series that delves into the origins, evolution, and relevance of the Cuban Son, one of the most important and influential musical/dance genres in the history of the Americas. The Son is the quintessential melding of Africa and Spain, with a tumultuous history and unparalleled role in the development of contemporary Latin American music. The classes will include listening, viewing video footage, discussion, and Q&A. This Discover Jazz course may be enjoyed as a series or individually.
Wednesday, Aug 3, 7:00PMMuseum of the African Diaspora
The clash of cultures that distinguishes the Cuban Son also unites the Americas through the common denominator of working class dance music. Its complex evolution originates with raw simplicity and has been a unique conduit for countless other types of Cuban music and beyond - from the café to the symphony hall - and it continues to break new ground.
Wednesday, Aug 10, 7:00PMMuseum of the African Diaspora
The Son Afro-Cubano existed for several decades before arriving in Havana during the early years of the 20th Century. As with many other styles of Cuban music, the metropolitan sophistication of the capital contributed distinct traits and opportunities.
Wednesday, Aug 17, 7:00PMMuseum of the African Diaspora
Through its rise to the crest of popularity in Cuba, the versatile Son adapted to the tastes of its various audiences and adopted many other popular and folkloric musical styles along the way. The overlapping of the Son with various genres for so many decades has caused some confusion in terms of nomenclature.
Wednesday, Aug 24, 7:00PMMuseum of the African Diaspora
The Son achieved international popularity at the end of the 1920s and through the 1930s, and played a crucial role in the international movement to reclaim black artistic expression. The continued emigration of Cuban musicians to distant shores would also further the transformative nature of the Son as a primary force in international popular music.
Wednesday, Aug 31, 7:00PMMuseum of the African Diaspora
Definitive innovations within the Son during this era paved the way for modern day Salsa and Timba - truly a "golden age" for Cuban dance music. Some of the genre's greatest and most enduring stars emerged during this period.
Wednesday, Sep 7, 7:00PMMuseum of the African Diaspora
Miguel Matamoros, Ignacio Piñeiro, Arsenio Rodriguez and Benny Moré are indisputable royalty of the Son. In terms of composing, interpreting, recording and performing, they are in an elite class of soneros, contributing to a tradition that has remained in the hands of numerous descendants. Their legacies will forever endure.
Wednesday, Sep 14, 7:00PMMuseum of the African Diaspora
The Son is the foundation of the international Salsa phenomenon that emerged from New York's Puerto Rican community and preserved essential elements of the traditional Son, even as there was a movement away from traditional dance and music styles among many of Cuba's young musicians during the 1960s and 70s.
Wednesday, Sep 21, 7:00PMMuseum of the African Diaspora
The Son remains the unofficial national dance of Cuba and forms the basis of any impromptu fiesta. It did not leave the island with the exile community as many would have us believe. Cuban dance music maintains one foot in tradition and the other in a never-ending quest for reinvention, the Son being the most important element in that evolution.

I'm planning on attending the full series. I expect this series on son to be just as good as John Santos' series on rumba. If you happen to be in San Francisco during these dates August 3-September 21 I highly recommend that you stop by and take in a class.


My new Isla bata drums in MAHOGANY!

Just received the Iya for my Isla bata set the other day. What can I say? These drums are awesome. The Honduran Mahogany is just the most beautiful wood. It has great depth and a wonderful color. But looks don't mean anything when it comes to musical instruments. These bata sound incredible. The tones are so clear and clean and the slaps crisp and sharp....well except for the enu on the iya, it needs fardela for sure. My new iya is bigger than my old Isla Iya , it's a  13" head and needs the fardela to control the thinner skin and give the iya the solid thump it's supposed to have.

The mahogany wood is lighter than my old Isla bata set, which I sold to a great guy and excellent musician in Manchester, England.
 I'm not sure if I'm going to rope these like my old bata, the mahogany is sooo nice. I am going to make a chaworo (bells) for the iya though. Actually I already have 2 nice big bells for it I received as a gift from my mom for my last birthday. I'm not sure why she had them or where she got them, but they are going to be great for the chaworo. They sound awesome.

This is the first set of bata that Isla has made in mahogany and also the first set of Isla mahogany bata in the USA. I'm going to be keeping these for a long time. The only reason I sold  my old set was to make room for this set. No way do I need two sets of bata! I'm glad my old set went to an excellent new home.

Anyways, it's been a while since I had or played any bata. Guess it's time to get the study group back together for some toque practice. Ki-la, ki-la, ki-la....