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Bobby Sanabria, "Getting Started on Congas: Fundamento 1 & 2," Video, TL-15064.30 & TL-15065.30
Giovanni Hidalgo, "In the Tradition," Video, TL-15220.30
Manny Oquendo, "Manny Oquendo on Timbales & Bongoes," Video, TL-15359.30
Jose Luis "Changuito" Quintana, "The History of the Songo," Video, TL-15221.30
Lincoln Goines & Robby Ameen, "Funkifying the Clave: Afro-Cuban Grooves for Bass & Drums," Video, TL-11538.30

Review: Instructional Videos In Review

by David Peñalosa

There are basically two companies that are putting out decent instructional percussion videos, DCI and Alchemy.

DCI has wisely incorporated bilingual instruction. Sometimes the instructor talks in one language, while on the screen, the translation appears in sub-titled form. At other times, the instructor will take the time to explain the material in both languages. This approach occurs quite often and makes the videos drag on, unless you consider this an opportunity to become bilingual yourself.
Other differences between the two companies include the accompanying booklets which have the rhythms written out and the use of headset microphones by the DCI instructors. While the headsets may look a little funny, it makes hearing them talk a lot easier. Overall, DCI's production work is slicker than Alchemy's.

Bobby Sanabria
Getting Started on Congas:
Fundamento 1 and 2 (TL-15064.30 & TL-15065.30) / DCI

Bobby Sanabria has created the most definitive conga drum instructional video to date. From the instrument's historical background, to technique, to the most common band patterns, this one has it all. Sanabria's pacing and attention to detail reveals his experience as a teacher. I especially appreciated the fact that he covered the different names for the conga drums, even their more obscure names. When one is starting out, all this can be very confusing.

After technique, Fundamento 1 shows tumbao (the basic conga pattern) on one conga, demonstrates some breaks, then works up to playing tumbao on two drums. The last three segments of the video has the viewer play-along with a rhythm section minus congas. The styles covered in this part are guajira, mambo and son montuno.

Fundamento 2 picks up where Fundamento 1 left off, modern tumbao on two congas. From there, we are shown guaracha, bolero and cha cha cha. When Sanabria concludes with guaguanco and bembé, it is band adaptations of these rhythms that are demonstrated.

After our lesson, we are introduced to conga legend Candido Camero. Sanabria interviews Candido about some of his innovations of the 1950s and 60s. Then they get down to some playing. Band conga drumming is a relatively new development. The original trail blazers are passing on, and it's great to see some of them getting their due as interest in their instrument mushrooms.

Sanabria is thorough and clear. If you are starting out on the path of learning to play the conga drum, I recommend this video series above all others.

Giovanni Hidalgo
In the Tradition (TL-15220.30) / DCI

This video is similar to Giovanni Hidalgo's earlier tape Conga Virtuoso. With these two videos, there is some duplication of material. However, In the Tradition works best following Conga Virtuoso instead of the other way around. In Giovanni's instructional videos we are shown both the instrument's fundamental basics and the high level of artistry that is possible when one devotes one’s life to the conga. This makes the tapes somewhat uneven.

A new technique employed by DCI is their "rhythm replay," a replay of the demonstration at slow motion. This enables the viewer to observe the instructor's technique closely. Because the tape is running slower, the pitch of the drum is much lower: "blopo, blap blap," Rather amusing, but a helpful touch nonetheless.

In The Tradition starts with "Basic Sounds" and "Tuning and Technique," then progresses to conga, timbale, bongo and guiro patterns for son montuno, bolero, charanga and danzon. Joining Giovanni in this demonstration segment are percussionists Jose Luis "Changuito" Quintana and John Almendra. Changuito gets into some trippy paila (playing on the timbale shells) patterns in the bolero segment. When they perform danzon, Changuito, who's playing guiro, appears to be cueing Almendra on timbales.

Giovanni's instructional videos do teach, but their strongest trait is their inspirational performances by the best in the field.

Manny Oquendo
On Timbales, Bongoes, Maracas & Guiro (TL-15359.30) / Alchemy

Manny Oquendo started playing timbales professionally in New York City in the 1940s. He has over 1,000 records and dozens of hits to his credit. He is often remembered for his years with Eddie Palmieri's Conjunto la Perfecta in the 1960s. Today Oquendo is best known as the leader of Libre.

The foundation of modern salsa was laid down in the late 30s and early 40s. This era is revered by many as a classic period. I've always felt that Manny Oquendo was the keeper of the flame of the great advances in popular Cuban music that occurred during that time. Sure, Oquendo's career spans five decades, but the material demonstrated here is for the most part from pre-revolutionary Cuban. Study this video before you move onto Changuito's or Goines and Ameen's tapes. This is the important foundation from which all the modern hip styles have evolved.

Like other Alchemy instructional videos, Manny Oquendo On Timbales has a certain informal quality to it. However, the absence of slickness does not really impair the presentation. Oquendo shows us patterns, and demonstrates his straight-ahead approach to playing. His bare-bones uses of drum language in solos are classic examples of phrasing. You must understand the fundamentals of drum language before you start incorporating flashy roles. Otherwise, your solos will be all filler with no substance.

Besides the timbales, Manny Oquendo demonstrates bongos, bongo bell, maracas and guiro. There are a few interview segments where Oquendo's partner in Libre, bassist Andy Gonzalez, asks him some questions about his career. In one of these segments Oquendo claims credit for creating the rhythm Mozambique. Pello el Afrokan actually created the Mozambique in Cuba in the early 1960s, but what Oquendo plays, while similar in feel, is an entirely different rhythm. Interestingly enough, on Changuito's video there's a variation on the conga rhythm played on toms that's very close to what Oquendo is playing as Mozambique. The Mozambique that Oquendo plays was first used by Eddie Palmieri's group and is commonly called "New York Mozambique" to distinguish it from Pello el Afrokan's rhythm.

In addition to Manny Oquendo demonstrating the various instruments and patterns, we get a chance to watch the entire rhythm section from Libre perform. Joining Oquendo are Andy Gonzalez (bass), Willie Rodriguez (piano), Robert Correro (congas) and an unnamed clave player.

Jose Luis "Changuito" Quintana
The History of Songo (TL-15221.30) / DCI

What can I say about this video? This is the sh*t! Y'know, some drum teachers seem to have ambivalent feelings about showing you their "secrets." Sometimes one gets the feeling that they don't actually want you to get it. Well, on this video, they definitely want you to get it. Rebeca Mauleon Santana, (author of the Salsa Guidebook), does an excellent job of interviewing Changuito and plays clave with Changuito's demonstrations. When Changuito plays the drum set, the viewer is treated to a "picture in a picture" showing his kick bass pedal and often another "picture in a picture" showing Mauleon-Santana's claves. With the addition of the "rhythm replay" gimmick and the parts written out in the booklet, you will get it, and get it right.

The History of Songo picks up where the Manny Oquendo video leaves off. It covers the most important developments of post-revolutionary Cuban popular music. This musical revolution, which began in Cuba in the 1960s, was similar in effect to the innovations by Cachao and Arsenio Rodriguez several decades before in that it was a re-Africanization of the popular music. The post-revolutionary musical era began with Pello el Afrokan's creation, the Mozambique. After that, other bands started creating new rhythms. Many of these were based off the more syncopated feel of the rumba clave and, in general, drew a lot of inspiration from the deep well of Afro-Cuban folkloric music. Groups were coming up with new rhythms and names all the time. To be accurate, it is important to note that each band had a name for their main rhythmic style. Los Van Van called what they did songo, other bands had other names. But, in general, the music of this era played by many various bands is commonly referred to in this country as songo.

The video begins with five songo movements on drum set and congas, starting with the pattern played by Blas Egues , the first set player in Los Van Van. As this section progresses, Changuito demonstrates his contributions to this rhythm. He also plays some sparse variations that show you how these parts "talk." This is very important because it reveals much about the feel of the music, and can serve as a guide for your own creative ideas.

Section Two consists of timbale instruction. It covers Changuito’s classic two bell pattern, conga, pilon, Mozambique, and combining songo with merengue,
Following the demonstration of the various parts, there are some tasty demonstrations of these rhythms by a small combo consisting of Changuito, Rebeca Mauleon-Santana (piano), Giovanni Hidalgo (congas), Eddie "Guagua" Rivera (bass) and Angel "Papo" Vasquez (trombone).

Because of the political polarity of the United States and Cuba, and because of salsa dancer’s musical taste in this country, songo never took root in the Latin communities of the U.S. However, over the past decade, songo has been gaining more popularity in Latin jazz originating here. Finally, in The History of Songo, it's all laid out for all to see by the person most qualified to do so.

The irony is that popular music in Cuba has evolved and moved on from songo into another significant phase. This new style which I call "salsa Cubana," is built off of the innovations of the songo era, but it's a new phase just the same.

Whereas Cuban charanga groups like Los Van Van, Orquesta Ritmo Oriental, Orquesta Tipica Juventud and Orquesta Aliamen played songo, it is now horn-based conjuntos that are the present ground-breakers. The new Cuban salsa groups such as N.G. La Banda, Paulito y su Elite and La Calle are bursting with a youthful exuberance. They represent the next generation. I just hope somebody does an instructional video on the rhythm section of this style before the era passes.

Lincoln Goines and
Robby Ameen
Funkifying the Clave:
Afro-Cuban Grooves
for Bass & Drums (TL-11538.30) / DCI

Funkifying the Clave the video is laid out in pretty much the same way as Funkifying the Clave the book and cassette/CD. Lincoln Goines and Robby Ameen make it clear right from the start that they are using Afro-Cuban rhythms as the departure point from which they have taken their own musical journey. This tape shows some clever uses of songo and other Afro-Cuban rhythms in the context of funk and fusion. New York Mozambique is covered here because it is a rhythm that's gotten quite a bit of exposure through set drummers such as Steve Gadd and Dave Weckel.

Showing how the drum set and bass work together is a smart idea. It's very important for each of these two key elements of the rhythm section to work in tandem. As with all the videos reviewed here, there is a section where a small combo plays the grooves for you. On this tape, Goines and Ameen are joined by Bill O'Connell (piano) and Wayne Krantz (electric guitar).

On his five string bass, Lincoln Goines shows how to funk up tumbao patterns. This is great stuff. Bass players in the new bands of Cuba are now playing with this feel. It's a percussive approach that's very appealing.

Robby Ameen is a phenomenal drum set player, but plays very busily, often switching from bell, to toms, to cymbal and back again. This is a significant contrast to Changuito's approach. While watching Ameen's impressive playing is enjoyable, I worry about set players who are getting introduced to Afro-Cuban rhythms through this video. They may try to emulate Ameen's approach and start off by playing too busily. As the saying goes though: "different strokes for different folks."

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