Perfect Sound Forever

Rumba Bajura

Live at the Festival Plena en la Playa
Pico de Piedra beach, Aguada, Puerto Rico

Living Rhythm - Talking Drums
by James Nadal
(May 2007)

The winds and currents that blow off of the west coast of Africa would radically change the very structure of music as we know it. The Guinea current flows eastward along the country's Coast, then hooks West out to the Atlantic, and forms the South Equatorial Current. This takes it to the Northern coast of South America, into the Caribbean Basin. The Canaries Current follows this route, more to the North, right into the Antillean Archipelago.

This would become the route of the infamous slave ships.

The savannahs and wetlands of the Africa Bend, are home to a vast amount of tribes. The Africans that came to the Antilles would be from this area, the long coast that stretches from Wydah, the lagoons of Lagos, south to the Gabon. Places as Ghana, Ivory Coast, Dahomey, and Nigeria. This area is home to tribes as the Ashanti, Bantú, and Yorubá, people that had a rich musical legacy.

Upon arriving in the Antilles, many of these tribes would be mixed up and spread over the islands. There was a process of enculturation, where the habits of one generation, were passed on to subsequent ones. The period of acculturation where the meeting of cultures forms a new one, was followed by cultural diffusion, or the spread of culture by imitation and influence. While they struggled against the hardships of slavery, they became one tribe, one people.

The Puerto Rico Trench which lies along the north coast of the island is two tectonic plates the North American and Caribbean which slide past each other to a depth of more than 28,000 feet. Due north of Ramey and Isabela, there is a landslide of gigantic proportions, which drops off into the abyss.

This area is the strongest negative anomaly on earth. There exists an abnormal presence of an active downward force, an oceanic subterranean vortex of energy. This energy has through the eons of time, come in waves upon the shore. There is a constant motion of strong ocean currents, riptides, and surf.

It was there on the shores of Barrio Bajura in Isabela, near Jobos Beach, I encountered the manifestation of those currents that carried with them the rhythms and drums of Africa, blended with Antillean spirit, performed by the descendents of the Spanish. A cultural fusion, reborn again as one tribe, one people, One Love!

Live life in one moment, and feel it in a heartbeat.

The percussive ensemble of Rumba Bajura seemed to ooze out of the night and the vortex itself. Emerging as a small tribe of tropical gypsies, with Beto Torrens as their founder and director, there is a radiance of assurance that emits from the group on their ability to deliver. The gathering audience reflects the vibes with high anticipation, knowing they will not be disappointed.

They come well prepared with a vast array of percussion instruments as congas, cajons of different styles, shapes, and sounds, batá drums, shekeres, claves, a cuá and block set up, Brazilian surdos, cuicas, marching snare and large tympanis.

The arrangements were well rehearsed, and they had definitive intros, breaks and solos. Their individual abilities as players are so coordinated, that they could interchange instruments at will with several of them displaying extensive soloing on any given instrument. At times, they have three players on the different congas being the tumbadora segundo, and quinto. The repiqueros or quinteros (lead conga player) have a dramatic role in the overall sound. They have a style of a cajon/conga combo that is unique, and gives a very visual interpretation of the performance.

The 2/3 tempo clavé sets the tempo for the Afro-Cuban songs, and we are treated to guaguancó and yambú variations. These are the foundations for the Cuban rumba beats. The lyrics range from humorous, to spontaneous improvisations of the moment. The vocals are based on the call and response, with two vocalists changing lead with the others in responding chorus.

The batá drums have their origins in the Yoruba religion and are used to conjure up the different Orishas or Deities. They are three different drums: the large Iyá, medium Itótele, and small Okónkolo. To play these drums in an authentic style they were intended involves serious dedication and studying the pertaining rudiments: one does not just pick one up and start to play. Each drum has its own voice in the piece and should be played accordingly. The vocalizing is in the Yoruban chant tradition, with specific phrases and meanings. This is a very uplifting moment, and certainly one of spiritual connotation.

They bring out the barril drums for the Bomba show, the low pitched buleador, and the high pitched subidor with an exceptional soloist on the primo drum whose role is to accent the steps of the dancer. This is the part where the female dancer comes out and does the classic dancer/drummer challenge. They then pass the traditional 'falda' or skirt around for any women in the audience to come up and join in the dance. It appears easier than it is, but the man on the primo drum does an excellent job in enlivening the dancers' moves.

The last set of the evening is the Brazilian segment where all hell breaks loose and we were transported into a carnival in Rio. This calls for endurance on the part of the players as well as audience/dancers as the numbers are extended by accelerating the rhythms and beat until it reaches a frenetic level.

What I witnessed was a well rehearsed and executed performance of the musicians' efforts and expressions in a festive atmosphere, in essence the true meaning of a rumba. Totally devoid of any melodic instruments, and at times any western influence, the experience took me to another plane of space and time.

Within the Zen Zone of Now, I felt the living rhythm.
In the silent void, there are echoes of talking drums.

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