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Learn to Play Rumba Guaguanco

This rhythm is probably the most popular and well known of the three forms of “Rumba”. Unlike the “Yambu” which is traditionally played on boxes (cajones) at a slower tempo, or the brisk tempo of the rhythmically complex “Columbia”, the guaguanco is the rumba that most people recognize as the center piece of folkloric conga playing. It consists of a quinto (lead drum), a segundo  (the middle drum), a salidor (the bottom drum), a stick part (gua-gua), a shaker (maruga), claves, and very intricate vocal parts.  All three drums in this style have an opportunity to significantly improvise within their patterns, and so the resulting percussion conversation can be very beautiful and complex.

It is important to remember that all forms of rumba consist of three distinct elements—singing, dancing and drumming. A good rumbero must understand all three of these components, as it is essential to accompany the singers properly during the verses, and in turn support and inspire the dancers who will enter during the call and response section (the estribillo or montuno) that is coming after the verses. In turn, the dance form of guaguanco is a beautiful interplay between a man and woman, acting out a “courtship” in which the woman tries to resist the advances of her partner, who attempts to “possess” her through a movement known as the “vacunao”. The drummers must understand these movements in order to play  properly, as the quinto in particular (but actually of three of the drums) must follow along and “dialogue” with the male dancer.

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Learn to Play Timba

“Timba” is simply a name that has dev eloped to describe the contemporary style of dance music from Cuba. Although it of course has many modern elements, including electric keyboards, the drumset, synthesizers, drum loops, and so forth, it is basically just the latest iteration of “la musica popular”. To me, it is the child of salsa and songo, and differs dramatically from earlier/other styles of Cuban dance music in that the bass and piano parts are significantly more sophisticated and complex. From a percussion standpoint, it is really the dev elopment and integration of the drumset that to me characterizes timba. Young Cuban drumset players have taken Changuito’s original ideas from the songo era, and developed their own stylistic identities (this includes Samuel Formell, who replaced Changuito in Los Van Van). But the conga drum style has not changed that much. Certainly each player comes up with his own unique “movimientos”, but as a basic rule, the congueros are still playing tumbao,. The difference is that they integrate many more slaps into the basic pattern, which gives the music more drive and attack, and makes it feel very different than the tumbao of a straight ahead salsa band.

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Learn to Play Pilon

The pilon was the creation of Pacho Alonso in the 1960s, and is also a dance form with the same name, where the dancers imitate pounding sugar cane in a “pilon”, or large mortar. Alonso originally sang with Beny More in the 1950s, but then went on to have several hits under his own name that were based on this rhythm, as did his band that continued on without him, Los Bocucos.

The pilon has a unique conga drum part, as well as a timbale part where the bass drum is an integral part of the rhythm. Along with the guiro, a strong signature sound is created between the percussion parts to enable the dancers to imitate the pounding of the sugar cane.

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Learn to Play Mozambique

Although Eddie Palmieri and his New York band of the 1960s, “La Perfecta” (featuring percussionists Manny Oquendo and Tommy Lopez) played a rhythm they called “El Mozambique”, the original Mozambique was created by a Cuban musician named Pello “El Afrokan”. He invented this rhythm in the early 1960s primarily as an addition to the music of Carnaval in La Habana, and literally took it to the streets. It is the only Cuban rhythm I know of where the parts are duplicated by more than one player, and his group consisted of a large number of percussionists where many people played the same part. This is very different than a “conga de comparsa” for example, where there is one player per part, and much more like a Brazilian bateria playing samba batucada, where all the parts are duplicated. Pello eventually added bass and keyboard to the percussion, brass and vocals, and the Mozambique became synonomous with his name in Cuba.

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