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07/01/93
Conjunto Guaguanco Matancero and Los Papines, Guaguanco, Volumes 1 & 2 CDs

Review:

Conjunto Guaguanco Matancero Con Papin Y Sus Rumberos, Vol. 1
Conjunto Guaguanco Matancero Con Papin Y Sus Rumberos, Vol. 2

by David Peñalosa

These two CD's are re-issues of the first LP's to feature a modern Rumba Guaguancó, performed here by two of Cuba's first professional Rumba groups: Los Papines and Los Muñequitos (formerly Grupo Guaguancó Matancero). Recorded in the early 1950's, these discs are considered classics for their virtuosity and establishment of a style that became the standard for decades to follow.

Rumba is a Cuban hybrid of African and Spanish music and dance. There are basically three forms of Rumba: Yambú, Guaguancó and Colombia. Yambú and Guaguancó are partner dances that evolved out of the Cuban-Congolese fertility dance, Yuka. Rumba Colombia is a solo dance (usually done by men only) with strong musical ties to the male secret society in Cuba known as Abakua. Abakua comes from the Calabar (present day Cameroon) region of West Africa.

The text of the Rumbas are mostly in Spanish. Singers improvise lyrics in Decimas, a Spanish poetic form. A song will usually begin with verses, followed by a call-and-response chorus section. The call-and-response element is without a doubt African in origin, and, in fact, many choruses consist of lyrics in an African dialect borrowed from sacred Afro-Cuban liturgy. One can learn a lot about the Cuban people by studying the text of the Rumba.

The instrumentation of Rumba typically consists of three congas (called tumbadoras in Cuba), claves, a shaker and palitos (two sticks played against a piece of bamboo or anything else that will give a dry, cutting sound.).

These recordings were the first in which the modern Rumba sound was used. They were also the first recordings of Guaguancó where the middle-pitched conga (called Segundo) played its fundamental beats on beat "three" instead of beat "one". These two developments created a new Guaguancó that was far more syncopated. Nearly all the recordings of Guaguancó to follow interpreted the rhythm in this way, and today it is considered the "correct" way to play Guaguancó.

Rumba began in the western provinces of Havana and Matanzas. Los Papines are four brothers from Havana. Papin, the older brother, plays the high pitched lead drum known as quinto. Papin's mastery of the quinto is legendary. This group puts on a great show with lots of clowning around. Over the years they have experimented with expanding their Rumba ensemble to a full-fledged dance band complete with horn section. These early forays were important contributions to the development of modern day Songo.

Los Muñequitos from Matanzas, meanwhile, have taken a slightly different route, performing as a large extended family that incorporates master drummers, singers and dancers. If you were lucky enough to see them during their historic tour of the United States last fall, you witnessed representatives from three generations of Muñequitos. This group originally called themselves Grupo Guaguancó Matancero. One of their earliest hits was a tune called Los Muñequitos which was based on newspaper comic strip characters that were popular at the time. Their fans were calling out the name of this song so much that they changed its name to "Los Muñequitos de Matanzas".

In these first recordings of this remarkable ensemble one can hear all three drums conversing together, but never stepping on each other. This is the style which developed into the amazing drum conversations one hears on recent recordings by Los Muñequitos.

One common misconception concerning Guaguancó quinto (even among professional percussionists), is that it solos independently of the other drums, much like a conga solo during the montuno section of a salsa tune, when in fact, the quinto plays a specific part. The individual parts of the three drums are combined to collectively make up the Guaguancó melody, a melody that has repetition and change existing simultaneously. Rather than soloing, the quinto drum follows the steps of the dancers. Each quinto variation corresponds to certain dance steps. The rich drum melodies captured on these two CD's are timeless.



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