•Cuba: Bata drumming Audio 1
•Cuba: Bata drumming Video 1
Name: Cuba: Bata drumming
Geographic Region: Caribbean
Country of origin: Cuba
Subregion: Havana and Matanzas
Climatic type: Tropical
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The batás have wooden shells, either carved from one piece of wood (traditional style), or assembled from slats of wood. All three drums of the trio have a larger head (enú), which produces a more melodic sound, and a smaller head (chachá) which produces a more percussive, less clearly-pitched sound.
The Cuban-style batá drums, and the religious traditions they are part of, were born in Cuba in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, due to the arrival there of knowledgeable, enslaved Africans from Yoruba areas of West Africa (now southwestern Nigeria and the Republic of Benin). Until the 1930s, batá drums were used exclusively in religious settings, either alone or to accompany singing and dancing, which is intended to invoke the presence of the orisha (deified ancestors/forces of nature) in the dancing bodies of worshipping priests. In the 1930s and after, sets of drums were built and left unconsecrated, for use in staged music and dance performance-both in folkloric groups that present versions of religious material as cultural performance, and in popular and art music as musical materials. Both types of playing continue up through the present. Due to migration, cultural tourism, and the international availability of an increasing number of recordings, Cuban-style batá drumming is practiced at a highly proficient level in many locations outside Cuba.
There is no uniform tuning for sets of batá drums. Tuning of traditionally strung sets can be a time-consuming process. Tuning lugs on contemporary, non-consecrated sets of drums facilitate frequent and more precise tuning as desired by players. One tuning mentioned by Amira and Cornelius is to match the enú of the itótele with the chachá of the iyá, and the enú of the okónkolo with the chachá of the itótele.
The player rests the drum across his/her lap, and may use a strap attached to each end of the instrument to keep it stationary while playing. The player strikes the drum's enú ("mouth" in Yoruba/Lucumí, the larger head) with one hand, and its chachá (a word for the sounds produced by that head) with the other. The hand technique used, and the sound produced in each case is distinct. The enú is struck with a flat hand to produce a sustained "open tone" with a clear pitch, while the chachá is struck using the fingertips and a whip-like motion of the wrist in order to produce a "slap tone," a high, cracking sound.
Batá drumming is traditionally learned by ear through a long apprenticeship with a master drummer, and involves improvisation and stylistic and rhythmic nuances that are difficult, if not impossible, to capture in notation. The first published notations of batá rhythms were made by Gaspar Agöero in the 1950s, who worked with Fernando Ortiz. Amira and Cornelius (see references) made the first transcriptions published in an English-language volume. Since the mid-1990s, an increasing number of detailed transcriptions of batá rhythms have been published or made available (see Coburg, Summers, in references).
Batá drumming is part of religious ceremonies for the Afro-Cuban orisha. Religious drummers are usually initiated to the spirit of the drums before they are allowed to play in ceremony. Initiation entails subsequent responsibilities for the care and feeding of the drums. Ceremonies typically begin with an instrumental (drums only) salute to an orisha shrine (usually individually owned), and next move into an extended section of singing and dancing accompanied by drumming. The drummers follow the lead of akpwon (lead singer), who sings long sequences of responsorial songs designed to elicit maximum participation from dancing worshippers. The singer, in turn, monitors the spiritual "action" in the ceremony, and in concert with drummers adjusts his/her efforts in order to provoke spirit possession, the physical presence of the orisha in ceremony. Since the 1930s, batá drums have been used in an increasing variety of musical contexts.
Amira, John, and Steven Cornelius. 1992. The Music of Santería: Traditional Rhythms of the Batá Drums. Crown Point, IN: White Cliffs Media.
Last Modified: 06-Dec-2005TOP