From the 17th to the 20th century, the Americas and the Caribbean islands were colonized with a immense blending of race, language, religion and music. Drumming being an integral part of very day life in Africa, the Latin music we hear today mostly originate from the rhythms the African slaves brought to the new world.


Cuba (from the Indian word "cubanacan", meaning center place), is the island where most of the rhythms covered in these pages originates. That's why they are called "Afro-Cuban" rhythms.

Members of the Indians tribes Tainos and Caribs were the first slaves brought to the island for the sugar production. Under Spain, they were were forced to speak Spanish and accept Christianity, slaves gave their African gods the names of Christian saints and continued to worship them in their native languages. This form of worship is known has "Santeria", it preserves many African religious, ritual and musical traditions and is still practiced today. In those ceremonies, you can hear West African rhythms in their nearly original form. The hourglass shape bata drum is used in Santeria to contact the orichas (deities believed to represent and control the forces of nature.

The son, one important form the the merging of African and Spanish influences resulted in, it is the root of most familiar styles of Afro-Cuban dance music. A blend of the music of the Spanish farmers (campesinos) and African slaves, it is believed to have originated toward the end of the 19th century slavery was abolish in 1878), in Oriente, the eastern province of Cuba. It was played by small bands, using guitar or tres, maracas, guiro, claves, bongo, a marimbula and a botija. The more urban style played in Havana at the beginning of the century became a national style in 1920.

In the '20s, the addition of a string bass to replace the marimbula and botija and a trumpet were the main additions to the son. A great blind tres player, Arsenio Rodrigez revolutionized the son in the late 30s. He expanded the form by including tumbadora (conga drum), a cowbell, a piano and two additional trumpets. With Rodrigez, the escribillo section (call-and-response) became a full blown montuno or mambo section, with heavy rhythms to backup solos. This later gave rise to the dance we know as the mambo.

During this time, tumbao was also developed, the guaguanco was worked into the son style, the tres became an important solo instrument and (most importantly for these pages) there was greater use and adherence to the clave rhythms. The Cuban sound provided the basis for the Latin jazz styles of the '40s, the dance orchestras and the salsa bands we still hear today.


Clave patterns Bell patterns Stick patterns Conga patterns Drumset patterns

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Afro-cuban rhythms for drumset, By Frank Malabe and Bob Weiner. Drummers collective series.