Rumba and the Shakuhachi flute

What does the lively boisterous Afro-Cuban rumba have with peaceful tranquil zen flute music. Actually very little, but for me there is a connection.

Several years ago while studying architecture in college I was introduced to folkloric Japanese music, the biwa, the taiko drums and the shakuhachi flute. I was interested in playing the shakuhachi but with my tuition was never able to afford one. Then after college I discovered congas and bongos and rumba, and well here I am.

Not being able to afford  my own shakuhachi flute, I puchased a cool book by California local Monty Levenson who makes shakuhachis here in Northern California. The Japanese Bamboo Flute: notes on craft and construction; which basically illustrates how to make your own shakuhachi flute.. Monty is an example of one of those cool California stories you here often of people moving out to the country to devote themselves to some very esoteric craft or art and eventually becoming a leader at it.
one of Monty's flutes.

Well, I also saw that creating one of these very delicate instruments was beyond my skill at the time. However this book introduced me to a special technique of binding bamboo to prevent it from splitting. Well years later I began to make guaguas and cata out of bamboo and somehow I recalled reading about this technique. I dug out Monty's homemade and hand illustrated pamphlet and adapted this technique for flutes to percussion instruments. It has served me very well; all of the accounts I have heard of guaguas and catas I have sold report that my instruments are quite durable and hold up well. My own guagua has been used for countless hours of spirited rumba and is still fully intact.

Anyways, I bring this up now because of an unusual comment I received in my last post about a cajon. Seems like someone named SA Perillo is spamming the web about shakuhachi flutes:

SA PerilloDec 29, 2011 04:49 AM
If you are into Zen then having a Japanese bamboo flute can help you with your focus. The sounds that the bamboo flute can give could be added to the soothing feeling with the ambiance. shakuhachi flutes!
Seems like Monty Levenson is still at it and more power to him. Also it seems as if there is a newcomer to the California shakuhachi scene, a protege of Monty's, Jem Klein. Very cool indeed.

So if you are at all interested in shakuhachi flutes, or just want to visit the site of some very cool and original musical instrument craftsmen here are the links. While I never did get or make a shakuhachi, shakuhachis did help me make better catas and guaguas and for that I am grateful.

Tai Hei Shakuhachi Japanese Bamboo Flutes

Hosetsu Shakuhachi Flutes


  1. Sometimes you got to go left, to go right...

    On your guaguas, do you hollow out the membrane on the ends, or just have the sound holes projecting sound.

    1. I have done both, sometimes the bamboo comes with the membranes intact, so I leave it. Sometimes the membrane already has a hole in it, from the pole they stick in the babmboo to dry it, so I finish out the hole.

      Putting a hole in the membrane makes the sound slightly hollower and deeper, in my experience.

      I also think leaving the membrane might make the guagua a little stronger. But that is conjecture.

  2. I'm from the Philippines and I was amazed with the fact that even a Japanese bamboo flute looks simple in appearance but it is actually very difficult to play. I've read that if plays by the master this Shakuhachi Flute create an amazing, subtle, sensual music - prized as being perfect for meditation and relaxation. It’s beautiful, soulful sound made that best hear when you are taking a good rest or about to sleep. A must have shakuhachi flute!