Earlier today (yesterday by now) I went over to Emilio's to pay him for a recent gig. He had one of his students over (Shane). When I got there they were working over some batá rhythms. Seeing that they were only two, I picked up the okónkolo, sat down, and joined them, figuring that batá is best learned as a set of three drums. Emilio, of course, did not object to that. It was a pleasant afternoon of batá playing.
For those who might not know, Batá are double-headed, hourglass-shaped drums that are used in traditional liturgical Orisha music. Ever hear of the religion of Santeria? (La Regla de Ocha) — Well, THAT music. They are played horizontally resting on one's lap, the smaller of the two heads always on the left side. The little drum is called the okónkolo. The mid-sized one is the itótele. And the big one is called the iyá (mother).
The Orisha traditions, originally from the Yoruba people of West Africa, were brought to the Americas (they blossomed in Cuba) via the slave trade. Each orisha (an analogue to a deity) has a specific set of rhythms, dances and iconography that are used in the ceremonial calling of "the saints" (hence the misnomer of "santeria" a name that is really just a vestige from the synchretism between that tradition and Catholicism).
By itself, the rhythmic pattern played by any one batá drum is not terribly exciting. In fact it's deceptively simple. But when each drum locks in to its individual part together with the others, the individual patterns intertwine into a gorgeous and wondrous tapestry of sound and rhythm that is very complex and electrifying. It is one of the most challenging forms of music that I've had the pleasure to study.
Okay, I'm up late painting and need to go to bed now . . .
It was a good day.