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The Artistry of Afro-Cuban Batá Drumming

Aesthetics, Transmission, Bonding, and Creativity

Kenneth Schweitzer

Publication Year: 2013

An iconic symbol and sound of the Lucum'/Santer'a religion, Afro-Cuban batá are talking drums that express the epic mythological narratives of the West African Yoruba deities known as orisha. By imitating aspects of speech and song, and by metaphorically referencing salient attributes of the deities, batá drummers facilitate the communal praising of orisha in a music ritual known as a toque de santo.

In The Artistry of Afro-Cuban Batá Drumming, Kenneth Schweitzer blends musical transcription, musical analysis, interviews, ethnographic descriptions, and observations from his own experience as a ritual drummer to highlight the complex variables at work during a live Lucum' performance.

Integral in enabling trance possessions by the orisha, by far the most dramatic expressions of Lucum' faith, batá drummers are also entrusted with controlling the overall ebb and flow of the four- to six-hour toque de santo. During these events, batá drummers combine their knowledge of ritual with an extensive repertoire of rhythms and songs. Musicians focus on the many thematic acts that unfold both concurrently and in quick succession. In addition to creating an emotionally charged environment, playing salute rhythms for the orisha, and supporting the playful song competitions that erupt between singers, batá drummers are equally dedicated to nurturing their own drumming community by creating a variety of opportunities for the musicians to grow artistically and creatively.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

TItle Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

There are many, many wonderful people who have supported and guided me through this project. I express my deepest gratitude to my family, teachers, colleagues, and friends for their words of encouragement, unquestioning faith in my abilities, and patience through what seemed like an endless endeavor. To this, I add a few specific thanks. ...

A Note on Typography and Word Usage

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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. 3-20

Afro-Cuban batá [bàtá, bata] drumming is among the most sophisticated, intriguing, and elusive of the world’s drumming traditions. An iconic symbol of the Lucumí/Santería religion,1 the batá are talking drums that explore epic mythological narratives of the West African Yorùbá deities known as orisha [oricha, ocha, òrìṣà, òòṣà, santo, orixá, oxa]. ...

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1. The Lucumí Religion and Its Music

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pp. 21-49

In the first half of the nineteenth century, a booming sugar economy in Cuba was spurred by a void in the global market left by the Haitian revolution (1791–1804). This boom led, in part, to a voracious appetite for African slave labor to work on Cuba’s many plantations. ...

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2. Omo Añá: The Fraternity of Batá Drummers

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pp. 50-65

Forced to migrate to Cuba in the early nineteenth century as a by-product of the transatlantic slave trade, members of the Yorùbá Àyàn cult struggled to preserve their practices and beliefs in the face of a variety of cultural pressures. Among many others, these pressures included efforts from the Spanish government and Catholic religious leaders to repress African culture; ...

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3. Overview of the Batá Repertoire

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pp. 66-96

The batá repertoire consists primarily of multi-sectional compositions called toques. Within any given section of a toque, drummers are permitted a range of variations, usually referred to as “conversations.” By making a change in his drumming pattern, the iyá (the lead drum) drummer indicates that at least one of the other two drummers ...

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4. Learning the Basics: Experiential Learning

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pp. 97-116

While in many music traditions the act of performing and the act of teaching are distinct, in batá drumming they occur simultaneously. The mechanisms that permit batá drummers to play alongside one another for upwards of five hours and provide a successful drumming for the orishas and the community without rehearsal are the same mechanisms ...

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5. Pancho Quinto: Rumbero and Batalero

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pp. 117-142

Batá drumming, like many of the world’s other great musical traditions, exists within a tremendous paradox. On one hand, batá drumming is a complex musical form, requiring years of diligent and devoted study with a competent master. During apprenticeship one hopes to absorb much of their master’s technique, style, and aesthetic. ...

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6. Traditional Ñongo: Musical Analysis

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pp. 143-166

While the ritual repertoire of batá drumming can be admired for its expansiveness, it is equally important to appreciate the depth of the repertoire that is reflected in the unique performances of each toque. This chapter offers an in-depth exploration of a single batá toque, the “traditional” ñongo.1 ...

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7. Modern Ñongo: The Evolution of a Toque

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pp. 167-192

Musical genres are in a constant state of evolution. In the world of batá drumming, the rate of change is not uniform across the entire repertoire. While some toques easily absorb progressive influences, others resist change. As discussed in the previous chapter, the rules that guide conversations in ñongo, in particular, are flexible enough to allow substantial variety between artists. ...

Appendix 1: Transcriptions of Ñongo Excerpts

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pp. 193-206

Appendix 2: Musical Examples Available on Website

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pp. 207-208


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pp. 209-212


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pp. 213-226


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pp. 227-236


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pp. 237-242

E-ISBN-13: 9781621030065
E-ISBN-10: 1617036692
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617036699

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 13 b&w photographs, 72 musical examples, 3 line illustrations
Publication Year: 2013