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Bara-rumba’s Dances & Percussion Instruments, 6/04




Bara-rumba is an Afro-Cuban Folkloric Percussionist/Dance and Song Troupe from Baracoa, Cuba. Baracoa is situated on the east coast of Cuba, and because of its isolation, this folkloric group has developed a unique style.  Vibrant, pounding rhythms, sensuous, sexy courtship dances, fire breathing, glass walking and glass eating, are only a sample of the variety of their performances. From the courtly son to the pulsating congo, Bara-rumba performs over 35 dances.

The group in Baracoa consists of 7 percussionists/ singers and 11 dancers. Four of the group have day jobs,(teachers, welder, & pharmacist) and the rest are professional musicians and dancers employed by the government of Cuba. The troupe varies from 11 to 15 on the road.

The percussion section consists of three drums, the bass (bajo), middle drum or segunda, and the highest pitch solo drum, called the quinto. Other typical instruments are the marimbula, a combination of a drum box and an African finger piano, cowbell called a cencerro, claves or sticks, guagua,  made from bamboo, maracas or shakers, the osero or bongos and the tres, or Cuban guitar.  Juan Evelio Jr. is the star drummer and sometimes performs with 4 congas, pounding out complicated poly-rythmic beats.

Everyone sings in Bara-rumba ; the dancers as well as the musicians.  The call and response  style of singing and their spine-tingling harmonies are derived from their Congolese roots.

Of the male dancers, the twins Eider and Hector are the stars.  They are real crowd pleasers with their big smiles, feats of athleticism and powerful dances.  The  beautiful female dancers, Maria, Iala, Iliana and Magdelaine perform dances that vary from sensuous swaying movements to pulsating, foot stomping rhythms.    Bara-rumba is "goosebump" material.

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Bara-rumba’s Dances & Percussion Instruments, 6/04


Cencerro Cowbell played with a drumstick.

Marimbula Wooden box with metal keys which are plucked. Percussionist sits on the marimbula, which has a circular hole in the middle, and plucks the three metal keys to provide a bass accompaniment.

Osero Small double drum similar to bongos, played resting on the calves of the seated musician.

Batá Double-headed drums, sacred to the Yoruba religion of Nigeria.

Conga Also called bajo or tumbadora, drums of Congolese origin.

Second, or middle conga is called segunda or tres golpes

Highest pitched conga drum is called quinto, from the Spanish requinto.

Claves Sticks struck together, usually made of the granadilla wood

Maracas Shakers made from the dried fruit of the calabash tree.

Palitos A pair of sticks used to strike the sides of drums (cascara).

Palitos are used to strike the guagua, or cata, a piece of bamboo.

Guagua/Catá Large piece of bamboo struck by a pair of sticks called palitos.

Guataca or Asadon Originally the head of a hoe, struck with a piece of iron.

Caja China Percussion instrument that is a hollowed out block of wood. Struck with stick or mallet


Changui The Changui sound emerged in the East of Cuba at the turn of the century. It was the first contemporary music to merge the Spanish guitar sound with African rhythm and pre-dates son to which it is closely musically related. The tres guitar interacts with the percussionists and voices to develop themes in four line verses. Changui dance is characterized by slides, hip movements and small steps closely following the musical line of the tres and the os.

Son Originating in Eastern Cuba in the 1910’s and 1920s, son is a mixture of Spanish and Afro-Cuban rhythms. Son’s two part format is the basis of salsa. The more aggressive forms of Afro-Cuban salsa are salsa caliente and salsa gorda. The rumba also is derived from the original son.

Rumba Rumba, like son, is a truly Cuban music. It is party music, collectively enjoyed and produced by the lower strata of Cuban society. It is believed that rumba was born in the suburbs of the main urban centres after the abolition of slavery in 1886. The freed slaves, who were mainly to be found in the countryside, did not possess any land and were forced to go to the cities to find work and shelter. In the courtyards (solar) of the overcrowded slums of the cities, they created their collective feasts, called rumbas, tumbas, macumbas or tambos. Of all those denotations, the word rumba remained.

Guaguancó are dances of seduction, courtship and desire (vacunao). The couples engage in a game of attraction and repulsion, of joining and separating. Guaguancó songs use improvisation, and are generally narrative in nature. They tell about the everyday life of the Afro-Cuban, love, death, patriotism, friendship, and social protest.

Yambú is an older, slower form of rumba. The percussionists use claves, cajones (wooden boxes) and palitos. This practice is derived from the early years when drums were forbidden. Yambú features a dance of the old people.

Columbia-three drums are generally used, with call and response singing. These rural dances is usually for men only and feature rapid, purposeful movements.. The name Columbia derives from a station on the Havana-Matanza Railway line where the groups of dancers gathered to enjoy themselves. In these country dances, the men can use machetes or knives.

Chancleta Dance of agility with "Dr Scholl’s" sandals originating in Eastern Cuba and created by the African slaves.

Yoruba Each goddess, deity or orisha has his or her dance.

Oshun-goddess of love and of the river. The women move seductively, patting honey on their bodies , showing off their jewelry, imitating the soft whirlpools of the river. They bath in the river, and then adorn themselves for the saint’s party. Her Catholic equivalent is the Virgin of Charity and her lover is Oggun

Oggun-deity of strength and persistence, god of iron and war, of the blacksmith and the farmer. In the Santeria religion, Oggun is connected with Saint George. The dances, utilizing machetes, are of both work and of war.

The courtship of Oggun and the goddess Oshun, is one of the couple’s dances of Bara-rumba.

Eleggua-he is the guardian of the crossroads and the messenger to God. His dance, using a hook, represents the opening and closing of the road. Also known as a trickster, he especially loves children. His day is Monday, colours are black and red, and offerings to Eleggua include candy, cigars and rum.

Bembé A party for the orishas, each dancer representing a deity, such as Yemaya emulating the motion of the waves, Oggun’s machete chopping, and Oshun’s primping in front of a mirror. The stylized movements become a prayer. Everything present at a bembé whether it is song, dance, rhythm or colours used, becomes part of an intricate fabric of prayer, saluting, praising and calling to the orishas and asking them to be present.

Haitian Papa Guedé-like Orpheus, is the lord of the dead. He is manifest as a jokester, poking fun at people, especially stuffy ones, and he is especially kind to children. Saturday is his day, his colour is black, and his favourite foods are salt herring, roasted peppers, corn and bananas.

Gagá-dances of the slaves. The pace varys from resignation and suffering to revolt and violence. Firewalking, glasswalking and eating are part of gagá dances.

Congolese Palo-Cuban religion involving ancestor worship and spellcasting derived from the Bantu religion. Palo songs are full of insults, conflict and goading. The dances use tools such as machetes, hooks and sticks. Religious elements include spirit possession of the dead and magic.

Tawiri-This song describes a tradition in the Palo religion that originates in the Congo region of Africa. Palo practitioners, like espiritistas, also believe in working with spirits. The dancers perform steps to the music of "Tawiri", paying tribute to Madre de Agua and Siete Rayos, They perform the legend of El Guije, the orisha, or " boogeyman" of the river.

Abakuá Rhythms of the secret, men-only leopard society of the Negbe people of the

Calabar region of present day Nigeria.. The dances are also based on forest deities. Abakuá inspired the creation of the mambo. Ireme-hooded dancer represents a "little devil." Ireme lives in the earth, and appears at the beginning of Abakuá ceremonies to give faith to the participants. In his left hand he carries a broom to cleanse the brotherhood members and in his right hand a stick to chastize the unfaithful. The songs are in the Efik language.

Makuta The makuta drums, also brought to Cuba by Congo or Bantu people, are yet another forebear of the conga drums. These drums may have a tubular, cylindrical or barrel-shaped body. They have a single head with the lower end open. The head is tensioned by the heat of a fire since the membrane is tacked onto the shell of the drum. Recently produced models are commonly tensioned with a more complex system of lugs and turnscrews. In Cuba, the word makuta indicates a festive gathering. The term also refers to a kind of ritual staff . This staff or makuta is used at certain moments in the ceremony to strike the ground in a rhythmic accompaniment to a song or dance. The staff houses the supernatural power on which are centered all the activities of the Palo Order.

Drume Negrita A Cuban lullaby ." Sleep, little black one. Mother is going to buy a larger crib for you that has a fine baby rattle. If you sleep, you will receive fruit ( a memey). If not, the Santeria priest will give you power." The words contain Afro-Cuban references such as a babalao (Santeria priest ), and mamey or the mammee apple, South American apricot and Saint Domingo apricot.


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