We began by interpreted the audible tones of the conga's tumbao moderno on the (more easily accessible) shakers. That exercise is designed for participants:
- to know, actively, where the tones are located in the music; and,
- to feel where those tones were relative to the embodiment (dance) timeline.
- the conga tones become inaudible, replaced by the sound of the shaker, and
- the participant assumes the position of the conguero within the context of the song.
Visualise the stage
In an example salsa ensemble, the (in this case, female) conguero is located at the centre of the stage. Immediately to her left is the timbalero, and beyond the timbalero, the bongosero, To her right is pianista, behind-right is the bajista. The metalles are arranged in an arc, curving from the bongosero's left, on the far side of the stage, to behind the timbalero. The singers playing percusión menor are in front.
The role and relationships of the conguero
When Arsenio Rodriguez brought his brother Israel a.k.a. 'Kike' into his ensemble to play tumbadoras (congas), he discovered that incorporating the drums increased rhythmic stability. When performing as conguero, I lock with the piano player's montuno and the bass player's tumbao, facilitated by clave phrasing. Then I listen to the vocalist. The congas provide the bedrock of percussion on which the timbales ride.
The role and relationships of percusión menor in boogaloo
My personal experience of the New York boogaloo (see Commentary: 13th June 2009 Joe Bataan @Rumberos, The Wardrobe, Leeds) changed the way I listened to the genre. Joe Bataan distilled the genre down to its very essence: just vocals and piano, punctuated by backbeat accents from hand-claps or tambourine. When I'm on hand percussion expressing the backbeats (clapping hands, shaking tambourines) I put the piano and vocals foremost; letting my backbeats frame the bubbly piano, and provide percussive counterpoint to the vocal interjections. Bandleader Pucho Brown famously described New York's boogaloo as "cha-cha (sic) with a backbeat", a sentiment I agree with. If the ensemble is interpreting boogaloo in this way, then I let the accents perch on top of the conga's tumbao, and lock with the chachachá bell on the timbales.
Salsa musicianship, and some approaches to its dancing, adheres the African aesthetic of 'individuals performing in unity' (Farris Thompson, 2011). To achieve this, co-operative musicianship is exercised where each musician plays his/her part of the story, co-ordinated through the clave-pulse relationship, which all combine to present the whole. Thus:
Each musician knows his/her part relative to everyone else's.A solares participant displacing the conguero would listen to the instruments to which the conga has a keen relationship. If that same participant where then to change rhythms and displace the percusión menor boogaloo performer, then the instruments listen to and related with will also change.
State of play
Two of the participants has had prior experience in ensemble playing, neither of them in the context of Afro-Caribbean music. I expect that they will build relationships with the most obvious instruments first: those commonly present and with the most similar roles in European music. Indeed, I'm targeting those first, as 'easy wins'.
We might be high up the heirarchy in Bloom's taxonomy, but that's just with two simple rhythms. The sobering thought is how to get there with the complex members of the various timelines.
Farris Thompson, Robert (2011). Aesthetic of the Cool: Afro-Atlantic Art and Music. USA : Periscope Publishing.