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Review: Instructional Material, Part 3

by David Peñalosa

Jerry Gonzalez
Conga Mania: in the Tradition
Video - Alchemy

Conga player and jazz trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez's Fort Apache Band has been on the cutting edge of Afro-Cuban jazz for the past decade. In his first instructional video, Gonzalez broke down the basic conga drum tumbao used in salsa and jazz, and then demonstrated his own development of it.

In this, Gonzalez's second instructional video, we are treated to a demonstration-performance by Jerry Gonzalez, Richie Flores and Milton Cardona on congas, Steve Berrios on traps and Jerry's brother Andy Gonzalez on bass.

Richie Flores is a conguero in the Changuito, Giovanni tradition. He has amazing technique and speed. Flores has been a part of Eddie Palmieri's band for the past several years. Milton Cardona is a well respected band conguero, as well as an outstanding batá drummer. He has sung orisha songs and played batá on many records by artists such as Eddie Palmieri, Jerry Gonzalez, Papo Vasquez and Daniel Ponce. Cardona has been playing the role that Julito Collazo once played on records by Mongo Santamaria, Patato and Tito Puente. When a New York recording artist wants to incorporate the music of Santeria, they often call on Milton Cardona. Steve Berrios is an excellent folkloric drummer and trap drummer. He has his own instructional video which was previously reviewed by yours truly in the pages of this newsletter. Andy Gonzalez is probably the best bass player who does both jazz and salsa in this country. He can play both genres and blend them with great adeptness. Both the Gonzalez brothers and Berrios are members of the Fort Apache Band.

Jerry Gonzalez breaks down some of the drum parts in Conga Mania, but I wish that he demonstrated them against clave. This is especially true when he demonstrates the lead drum part for guaguanco on the quinto drum.

Although titled In the Tradition, the arrangements to these folkloric rhythms are original. If someone were to attempt to pick off the basic drum parts from this video, they could have a difficult time if they didn't already know something about the rhythm. Another critique: Andy Gonzalez's bass is often too low in the mix to hear.

In the segment on Puerto Rican rhythms, we get introduced to the rhythm orisa. Years ago, the New York cats used to play an Afro-Cuban iyesa-like rhythm they called 2/4 bembe. It was used for the 4/4 songs and dances when conga drums were used in Santeria ceremonies. Once the use of bata drums spread and the authentic Cuban iyesa was brought back by people visiting Cuba in the late 1970s and early 80s, 2/4 bembe began to disappear. I always assumed that this 2/4 bembe was the creation of Julito Collazo and/or Francisco Aguabella, but orisa, as demonstrated on Conga Mania, seems to be the same rhythm. The lead drum part for orisa, as played by Milton Cardona on this video, is basically the same as the lead drum part for the Afro-Cuban rhythms iyesa (Yoruba origin) and macuta (Congolese origin). It is also very simular to a tumbao part played on bass cajon for yambu. Fascinating stuff.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of Conga Mania is the opportunity to witness three outstanding congueros, each with their own distinct style, playing their butts off.

David Garibaldi, Michael Spiro, Jesus Diaz
Talking Drums
Video - DCI

This video is similar in approach to the one by Jerry Gonzalez, but spends more time breaking down the individual parts for the viewer. This breakdown, coupled with the booklet which has the rhythms notated, makes the rather complex material presented here quite accessible to intermediate players.

Talking Drums is a performing percussion trio that does original arrangements of traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms. David Garibaldi is a much respected trap drummer, famous for his work in Tower of Power. His blending of funk and Afro-Cuban is seamless. Michael Spiro is as adept at folkloric Afro-Cuban drum systems, such as batá, as he is at band percussion. Jesus Diaz is the conga drummer and percussion section leader for Conjunto Cespedes. One of the things I enjoy about Jesus' playing is his emphasis on phrasing. The restraint and taste in his solos reveal a grounding in the folkloric traditions.

Even though the issue of clave is addressed, I would prefer it if everything was played against this all-important pattern. One clave discrepancy I noticed was that Spiro counted in the Iya bata part for ñongo in 3-2 clave, while Diaz counted in the Itotele bata part for ñongo in 2-3 clave. Since the rhythm is demonstrated with both parts together though, it's not such a big deal.

The arrangements this group came up with are quite clever and the performance is fun to watch. If you're an advanced enough drummer to play these arrangements, you'll probably get your own ideas for putting together original arrangements of Afro-Cuban folkloric rhythms after you watch this.

Giovanni Hidalgo
Conga Virtuoso
Video - DCI

Giovanni Hidalgo is one the most phenomenal congueros of all time. Steeped in the techniques developed by Jose Luis "Changuito" Quintana, Giovanni has taken the conga to new heights. Some of the groups this young master has played with include Batacumbele, Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, Paquito d'Rivera, Dizzy Gillespie and Micky Hart's Planet Drum.

This video gives you a close-up look at Giovanni and Changuito executing their mega chops and superb phrasing. Other musicians featured on Conga Virtuoso are Ignacio Berroa, Ray Romero, Eric Figueroa, John Benitez, Danilo Perez, David Sanchez and Michael Spiro. Some real pluses are the bi-lingual aspect and the camera staying tight on Giovanni's hands throughout much of the video.

Giovanni starts off with the basic band conga pattern from the 1940s which used only one drum. He then moves on to the two drum style that was developed by Mongo Santamaria, Tata Guines and others in the 50s. From there, the melodic three drum style of Carlos "Patato" Valdez is demonstrated. I really appreciate the emphasis here on the historical development of the conga drum.

At this point, Giovanni interjects the use of drum rudiments on the conga drum. This is cutting edge stuff and takes hours of practice to master. It might feel that, within minutes, this video has gone way over your head. Don't worry. Relax and enjoy the performance.

Before long Giovanni is breaking down the Puerto Rican jibaro, bomba and plena, juba. The basic parts are demonstrated, then expanded upon.

The final section covers advanced techniques. And when they say advanced, they mean advanced! This is what puts Giovanni in a class shared by very few other congueros.

Ignacio Berroa
Mastering the Art of Afro-Cuban Drumming
Video - DCI

Cuban trap drummer Ignacio Berroa first appeared in the United States in 1980. He and Cuban conguero Daniel Ponce played around as a team quite a bit back then. They could be seen frequently in Ponce's group Jazzbata as well as in Paquito d'Rivera's band. This was the first time many American audiences got an opportunity to witness first hand, the modern style of band drumming that had been happening in Cuba. This new style is most often called songo. Songo has tended to be too busy and syncopated for dancers in this country, so drummers like Berroa have had most of their work in jazz groups since coming to America.

Other artists featured here are Changuito, Giovanni Hidalgo, Danilo Perez, David Sanchez, John Benitez and Michael Spiro, who directed and helped produce the video.

This is the best instructional video on Afro-Cuban style trap drumming I've seen yet. A lot of credit must go to Michael Spiro. He brings the focus right to those things most important in this style of music.

Spiro interviews Berroa about some of the critical fundamentals of Afro-Cuban music, starting with the all-important clave. Not only do they cover the essentials, but they also get into some of the more common misconceptions about clave. This conversation is one of the most valuable parts of the video.

As in the Giovanni video, the older historical rhythms are first shown in order to demonstrate where today's hip stuff came from. The clave is almost always present for reference.

After spending a good deal of time on songo, Berroa demonstrates some of the other band rhythms from Latin America in order for the viewer to understand the difference between them and the Afro-Cuban rhythms. This is important because for a long time, trap drummers in this country would play what they called their "Latin groove", which was either samba, a rock cha cha cha or a hodge-podge of both. This lack of understanding was further perpetuated by charts which listed their feel as "Latin." Today, with all the instructional materials available, there is no excuse for such ignorance.

One of the treats in this video is a close up look at Changuito playing a groove on the traps that he created for a Los Van Van song. In addition, Berroa interviews Changuito about the history of songo. In a previous review I stated that Changuito invented songo. That statement was incorrect. As Changuito stated later in an interview here in the Descarga Newsletter and in this video, he did not invent the rhythm. Rather, he developed it while playing in Los Van Van. While in Van Van, Changuito's innovative approach to songo caught the attention of the musical world.

Alan Dworsky and Betsy Sansby
Conga Drumming
Book/CD package - Dancing Hands

Conga Drumming is a user-friendly instructional book by a professional couple who got interested in conga drumming as a hobby. If this sounds like you, then this book will probably have a lot of appeal.

The style here is casual and chatty, encouraging the student all along the way. It makes sense to have a book such as this, since most conga drum students will pursue this path as a hobby rather than a profession.

Whenever I come across a book like this, written by relatively new players, I always find some information I disagree with. Conga Drumming is no exception.

While son and rumba clave are accurately transcribed, they show something they call the "one bar clave." At one point in my development, I had a similar name for this pattern. John Santos was the one who hipped me to the fact that clave is by nature two bars. Clave has two distinct parts. What Dworsky and Sansby call the one bar clave, is known in Cuba as the tresillo pattern. Tresillo is the smallest cell in 4/4 African music. Tresillo is the result of grouping eighth (or sixteenth, depending on how you write it) notes in groups of three, cycled over two downbeats. The 6/8 equivalent of the tresillo is 3 against 2.

When the authors covered 6/8 time, they wrote clave as:


I would have preferred if they wrote 6/8 clave like this:


...and 4/4 clave like this:


In the way I've written clave, a four count is the basic pulse. In this way, both the 4/4 and 6/8 versions of clave have the same relationship against the four pulse. Clave (in this case rumba clave), is:

"one" "ah" "ah" "and" "four".

(1 e + ah 2 e + ah 3 e + ah 4 e + ah)

The four pulse is a common denominator for rhythms in African and African-derived music. This is the pulse that you should be tapping your foot to. How else could one shift smoothly from 6/8 to 4/4, or vice a versa? The four pulse within 6/8 is introduced in Chapter 11 ("Interweaving four and six"), but it is presented as some advanced abstract concept rather than the basic building block that it is. Four against six (two against three) is the most basic rhythmical cell from which clave and tumbao are born. The most fundamental feel under Afro-Cuban music in 6/8 is that of two against three. If you do not feel the underlying four pulse within this meter, you are not feeling the music correctly.

The Afro-Cuban iyesa is offered as a rhythm that is commonly played with the low drum part from the Puerto Rican bomba. I haven't heard of such a thing, but it could be fun. One problem I do have is that the example they call iyesa is something I have never seen from either the Habaneros or Matanceros.

Lesson 25 is titled Rumba Quinto. Rumba quinto like clave, is a two-bar phrase. The problem with the examples in this book is that the first half of quinto is repeated in both bars.

Having warned you of these drawbacks, I can safely recommend this book if you are starting out in the fun pursuit of conga drumming. The text is well written with helpful hints throughout. One very good aspect of Conga Drumming is the CD that is included. Short samples of all the drum parts and combined rhythms are played in the order in which they appeared in the book. Because this recording is in CD form, you can call up the examples quickly by punching in the track number on your CD player. A nice touch.

The chapters of the book are entitled "Learning To Hit the Drum Using Rhythms in Four," "Bembe Rhythms in Six," "The Clave," "Heel-toe Patterns," "Advanced Rhythms in Four," "Advanced Rhythms in Six," "Playing on Two Drums," "Interweaving Four and Six" and "Sources for Further Study."

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