Rare Drums!

I have been very lucky recently to acquire some of the rarest drums around. First is a beautiful quinto made by Akbar Moghaddam. At one time Akbar Moghaddam ran a drum building company right here in sweet San Francisco called Sol Percussion. Sol Percussion was born out of the fire that destroyed the San Francisco Valje factory. Sol Percussion was not in business very long because Akbar Moghaddam was hired by Drum Workshop to resurrect Gon Bops and build congas for them. Now Gon Bops is run by Sabian.

It is obvious that Akbar Moghaddam put everything he knew into his Sol congas and this resulted in several innovations. Notably, Sol was first to use a half round section for the rim, apparently to help prevent some of the injuries that occur when your thumbs and palms hit the corners of the typical square section you see on conga rims. Also Akbar Moghaddam coated his hardware with a striking black and gold powdercoat pattern which is more environmentally friendly than chrome plating.

Other features of Sol Percussion drums greatly resemble Valje construction, not surprising as Akbar Moghaddam used to make Valjes. The lug loops resemble Valje and also the cuts made on the interior of the drum to help curve the staves are a feature of Valje that Sol Percussion drums share.

My favorite characteristic of Sol Percussion congas are the highly stylized lug plates. They are round with a serrated edge to resemble  the sun - Sol!

This particular quinto used to belong to the one and only Sandy Perez, my teacher, world class conguero, monster rumbero and all-round excellent guy. Sandy was endorsed by Sol percussion back in the day, and has followed Akbar Moghaddam over to Gon Bops, his current endorser. This drum has a very thick skin, which is the fashion in rumba circles here. Sadly it does not have the original lugs, but has some beefy LP replacements. I'm not sure if they are going to stay or go, because they don't match the original hardware. The skin will stay however, as it sounds incredible with this solid little quinto. I'm very happy to have Sandy Perez's old drum and am hoping some of his 'anya' will rub off on me.
The other drum I am writing about today is a phenomenal Valje bongo. These are very rare indeed. Actually I have never seen this model for sale anywhere and I was lucky that the previous owner contacted me directly and asked me if I wanted it. Did I!?!

This model is referred to colloquially as the 'concert model', however I am going to be calling Ralph Flores over at Resolution Drums to get the low down. This model is known to have been the preferred ax of Johnny 'Dandy' Rodruez Jr , bongocero for Tito Puente and Ray Barretto.

These incredible bongos are the only bongos I have seen where the shell extends beyond the bottom rim. No other company has a bongo like this. One of Valje's most unique and innovative drums. It is a large bongo with an 8 1/2" hembra and 7 1/2" macho. Compare it to my other Valje at 8" hembra and 6 3/4" macho. The concert model also stands a full 1/2" taller as well due to the extended shell.

To tell the truth, I'm not 100% sure what this drum truly sounds like yet as these are the original skins and they are quite dry and a little rough, not surprising for 30-40 year old skins.  It does sound very nice right now even with the old skins, but I'm looking forward to getting some fresh cuero on the bongos.

Well what can I say? I'm very happy to have two examples of some very rare and innovative drums; Valje and Sol Percussion made in California! I'm looking forward to playing these drums for a long time.


Carlos Aldama Performance and Biography

A few years back I used to attend Carlos Aldama's class in the Mission District of San Francisco. It was held in the very colorful playground of Cesar Chavez school. Carlos Aldama was always so passionate and humble at these classes.

Carlos Aldama is of course famous for his role in the renown Conjunto Folklorico de Nacional, particlularly as a bata player in the Havana style.

 Recently an educator at my hometown of Monterey, CSU Monterey Bay's Umi Vaughan, has written an incredible biography about Carlos Aldama; Carlos Aldama's Life in Bata. Umi is an anthropolgist and specializes in subject of the African diaspora. He is also a student of bata and has been studying under Carlos Aldama.

Next week, on June 20th, my good friend Matt Leffel who works at the famous City Lights Bookstore here in San Francisco, has arranged a performance on bata by Carlos Aldama in conjunction with the release of his new biography. Carlos Aldama rarely gives public performances nowadays, and even less frequently does he perform on bata, so this is a rare treat and not to be missed. If you are in the area I recommend visiting City Lights and seeing the maestro perform on bata.

Here is more info on the performance from City Lights and other links.

Who: Carlos Aldama with Umi Vaughan

What: An evening of Music, Storytelling, and Discussion

Where: City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, California

When: Wednesday, June 20, 2012, 7:00 P.M.

 Afro-Cuban master drummer Carlos Aldama will appear at City Lights with his student and co-author, Umi Vaughan, to celebrate the release of their collaborative book Carlos Aldama's Life in Bata: Cuba, Diaspora, and the Drum.

 Dr. Vaughan will present the book, which follows Carlos' life from Havana to the East Bay and documents his experiences becoming and living as omo Añá : one sworn to drum. Readings and anecdotes will alternate with performances from the sacred repertoire of the bata drums by Carlos with accompanists.

Carlos Aldama has made significant contribution to the richness and livelihood of Afro-Cuban music and spiritual traditions. Born in Havana, he was a founding member of Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba, studying under its original musical director, Jesus Pérez (Oba Ilu), and later serving as musical director himself. He is omo Añá (sworn to the drum) and a priest of Changó in the Santería religion.

 Umi Vaughan is an artist and anthropologist who explores dance, creates photographs and performances, and publishes about African Diaspora culture. He is also omo Añá and is a priest of Ochun in the Santería religion. He is Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Monterey Bay, and author of Rebel Dance, Renegade Stance: Timba Music and Black Identity in Cuba.