CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: August 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Launching a new "Latin Music around the bay" Tweet!

Updates on Latin shows, dance classes, Rumbas and music Festivals in and around the SF Bay Area. Brazilian, Spanish, Cuban, if it grooves, I'll tweet about it!

For those of you who dont know what in the world a tweet is..

you go to twitter, set up a free account, and link to people who you want to hear from. They post short blerbs about whatever.. like latin music.. and the tweet can be seen on your twitter account page, or it can be sent to your phone as a text if you want.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

Old banded Valje for sale

Ive only seen one banded Valje, that was strapped by Tom Flores himself before leaving the shop.

The first one I saw was made of walnut, and had Valje like hand welded hardware.. I believe one of Toms first drums, which is owned by an older cat who lives in Oakland. He said he bought it on the street, from a guy named Tom in LA.. too funny.

I wish I could post pictures of that drum.. in fact I may have, I will look, but this is most likely a very early drum itself.. perhaps on of the first made of white Oak, a material he would run with for the rest of his life.

This drum is on up for sale on a popular auction site, good luck!

(upon further review.. perhaps these bands were retro fitted by matt smith.. here is apic of an old banded valje, and looks like he used thicker bands.. more info to come...)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Among all the incredible traditions brought to the Cuba from mother Africa, the Abakua are, to me, the most fascinating.

It is said, that there was a system of governance and nation expanding mechanism in the area of Nigeria that developed highly a ritualized process, in order to control and serve large populations of people spread over a large area.

From what I understand, when a new village was added to the kingdom, a house of Efik was built - housing the local chief, the medicine man, and the local priest. Basically a local government. The traditions of this governance tied all the houses of Efik together in a functional kingdom.

Fast forward a few hundred years, and the tradition and its nearly bizarre practice made its way to Cuba, becoming what we now know as Abakua.

here is a clip of the Ekpe people of Nigeria today, note the hooded dancer.. very similar to the Ireme, or the Cuban Abakua dancer above:

What is amazing to me, is that the goal and utility of this tradition, ie nation expanding, was not possible in the new world, as it was in Africa, yet the traditions defined in the African houses of Efik continue to thrive today as a system of social support and spiritual expression.

There is a region of Nigeria called Abakpa, and the word Abakua may have come from referring to the poeple from this region who practiced this unusual tradition in Cuba.

In Cuba, it is said that the traditions were nurtured and developed by the Cuban masons of African decent, creating a 'secret' society of Abakua that was hidden from the Colonial rulers of the island. I assume, to keep it unperturbed... as opposed to having to incorporate Catholicism, as in the practice of Santeria.

Here is an example of the practice in Cuba by my teacher Sandy Perez's family troupe, AfroCuba de Matanzas:

Only men are Abakua, and there are Abakua ceremonies that can be viewed only only by those initiated into the tradition. This brotherhood is a strong social support network, lending benefits and obligation to those who belong. The 'wives' of Abakua have an important role as well, of course, but are excluded from certain rituals, from what I understand.

The musical aspect of the Abakua tradition significantly influenced what we all know as Cuban Rumba, with the 'language' of Rumba sounding like a distant dialect of Abakua.

Here is a picture of a fascinating meeting in Nigeria, of the 'heavies' of Abakua in Cuba and the leaders of the Nigerian Ekpe - two cultural descendants of the same tradition together again. There is supposed to be a film about the congress as well.

This picture is including Roman Diaz, a high priest of Abakua, and one of the heaviest of Rumberos with whom I have had the grand pleasure of playing once upon a time - with Pedrito Martinez, Sandy Perez, Chris Walker and Carlos Aldama - probably the highlight of my Rumba life so far.. (he is in the second row, third from the right), and Roman in performance (wearing sun glasses)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Guiro - history and current practice

There is this intriguing religious and ceremonial form in Cuba called Guiro.

It is commonly played with three gourds netted with beads, a Guataca, or hoe blade used as a bell, and one conga.

Guiro is an amazing form that has roots in the 'indigenous' peoples of the Caribbean, the Taino. With what we know today about ancient human migrations around the globe, I think its highly likely that the human and gourd relationship predated this migration out of Africa, and the seed were carried around the world.

When Africans arrived in the 'new world', they were probably surprised to see the plant with which they were so familiar.

Here is a link to info about the Taino people and culture, a Taino water jug, a recreation of one of their villages:

According to this article, in ceremony, the Taino ingested the highly toxic seeds of the gourds to induce hallucinations and a deeper connection to the ancestor, and their spirits. The gourds must have been a deeply significant plant in their culture. They have so many functional uses for humans, it is said to be the oldest cultivated plant, dating back to the stone age.

Fast forward ten thousand years.. and the mixture of African, Spanish and American traditions manifest in what is now practiced as an important facet of Cuban spiritual life, the Guiro ceremony.

Here is a painting of the arrival of the Spanish, and the first cultural encounter of the Taino people, and their chief at the time, Agueybana. And a picture of women of Taino decent.

Perhaps the knowledge, and musical use of beaded netting around the gourd, was something that was brought to the Americas in the minds of Africans - manifested in the creation of the Chekere, or Shekere used today. Here is a beaded gourd called a Agbe from Nigeria, a Cubano from Matanzas sporting a sweet traditional Cuban Chekere, my Maestro Sandy Perez on Chekere, and a clip of the Guiro Ceremony practiced today in Cuba.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cajon al Muerto

So, the Bantu are a people from Central Africa who have the most amazing folkloric traditions.

a bit about the Bantu from

The Bantu people make up about 2/3 of Africa's population, and inhabit the southern and eastern part of the continent.

The Bantu migrated from Congo or Niger Delta Basin Their migration throughout Africa is one of the largest migrations in human history. This migration began in about 1000 AD -1800 AD. There is continued speculation about why they moved in the first place. One reason may be that overpopulation encouraged some groups to move away in order to practice agriculture. Another could be that they were in search of fertile land. Or, the move may have been due to internal conflicts within their communities or external attacks by their neighbors.

The Bantu were some of the first Metallurgists on the planet, knows to bring iron working to humanity.

And some eurocentric information for you: a Cheesy documentary about people of Bantu decent in southern Africa, nice to see the context, as often we get lost in the drums song and dance (note the 12/8 bell).. but the entirety of it all fits together that makes the experience deeply spiritual:

So, these traditions made their way to the islands the Caribbean, and was one of the traditions maintained through unimaginable hardship.. to survive today...

So, here is how the rhythms and song expressed in the Dominican Republic, not the religious aspect in this clip, but an idea of how these rhythms played out in the popular culture of DR, check out the rocking clip below.. and see if you can keep up with the bell!

And the Cubans have a particularly interesting homage to the Congo, the Cajon al Muerto, or Cajon Esperitual, among many other names..

It is performed in Religious Ceremony to honor the dead.. Serous business, thick with significance, and deeply spiritual.

Here is an example of a 'Cajon' in Cuba, with, I believe, "El Negro" Triana who worked with Pancho Quinto among others (;

Ok, so the Cuban version of this Ceremony is played, usually, with three Cajones, a Guataca, or bell, and often a Cata as well. Played for the worshipers, is a series of rhythms, songs, rituals that pay homage to our ancestors and guiding spirits, as well as to the Bantu people of Congo long ago.

Various forms of Palo and Macuta are the most common songs and rhythms played, and the focus of the ceremony is on the dead. Yuka and Tumba Francesa is also played in some houses, from what I understand.

Yesterday, I played my first 'Cajon' and I can tell you.. the Ceremony is amazing. Its incredible that, in the heart of Oakland, I felt like I was in Matanzas all day!

After playing at breakneck speed for hours, there is no better reward than a huge plate of Soul/Carebbean food!

I sat down to a plate stacked as high as possible with rice, beans, yuka, Platanos, Chicken, Pork, papas, greens, corn bread, mac and cheese.. please...

What a blessing to be called in. Im so overwhelmingly blessed.