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The Roots of Timba - Part II - Batumbatá

While Irakere's early dance music seems to fit nicely with our fourth definition of songo, its members are adamant that Irakere's music is not songo at all. Legendary bassist Carlos del Puerto goes so far as to say that one of the biggest impediments to understanding the Cuban music of the 70s is the mistake of lumping LVV, Irakere and Ritmo Oriental under the "songo" heading. La candela is songo, says del Puerto, but Bacalao con pan is batumbatá. (sometimes written batún-batá).

Both use 2-3 rumba clave; both clock in between 110 and 120 bpm; both have drumset and melodic, rumba-tinged conga marchas; both have distinctly thematic bass tumbaos that conform to the guidelines we've described for songo. The key difference lies with the third percussionist. Los Van Van retained the güiro it inherited from its charanga ancestors, but Oscar Valdés, Irakere's third percussionist and lead singer, often played the Iyá, the lead drum of the sacred batá battery. Chucho & Co. had already used batás in jazz, but Bacalao con pan appears to mark their first use in popular music. When not playing batá, Oscar switched to another folkloric instrument, the chékere. In later years, the other percussionists would also switch to batá to complete the folkloric ensemble.

As Chucho points out on the Latin Jazz Founders DVD, when people think of the founding members of Irakere, they usually include trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, conguero "El Niño" Alfonso, and drummer Enrique Pla, but these musicians were still serving in the military and didn't join until after the release of the first LP in 1974. The founding drummer was Bernardo García, who played the snare on both backbeats like a North American drummer, and the founding conguero was El Niño's brother, Lázaro "Tato" Alfonso, who played the congas like no one before or since!

If Tato's tones and slaps were similar in spirit to Claro's and El Yulo's, his style of executing them was drastically different. He attached a large bell to largest of three congas, playing both the conga and the bell with the type of felt mallet used for the bass drum in comparsa. With his other hand he played intricate patterns on the two higher drums. Tato's unique combination of bell and congas combined with Oscar's Iyá to create the batumbatá groove that Irakere used for several of their seminal early dance tracks, including Bacalao, Takataka ta, and La verdad. Tato currently lives in Miami and we're looking for a bilingual interviewer to do a session with him.

The introduction to Bacalao con pan contains a long passage with no bass or piano tumbao, making it much easier to hear the complex batumbatá rhythm:

batumbatá - basic rhythm: audio -- MIDI
xx0x 0xxx 0xx0 xxx0 2-3 rumba clave (implied, not played)
0xxx 0xxx 0xxx 0xxx bell (played with a felt mallet by conguero)
xxxx xx0x xxxx xx0x
middle conga
xxxx xxxx xxx0 xxxx
low conga
xx0x x0x0 x00x x0x0
high conga
0x0x xxxx x0xx xxxx
Iyá
0xx0 xxxx xxx0 xxxx
kick
xxxx 0xxx xxxx 0xxx
snare

At the heart of this rhythmic creation is the batá rhythm, iyesá (source: Grupo Olubatá), which, while not part of the Oru seco is probably the second most common duple rhythm used to accompany Santería vocal music (the most common being chachalokefún).

Monday, 10 March 2014, 07:12 PM