Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Martillo

Solares had been using the conga's tumbao moderno as its reference rhythm for three years, since inception. Along the way the rhythm's near-ubiquity has served us well, being simple to understand, easy to pick out, and straight-forward to vocalise. We'd also added another string to our rhythmic bow: the regular son montuno rhythm interpreted on the maracas.

To progress further, the time has come to introduce another older (relative to secular Cuban music) reference timeline: the 'martillo' ['hammer'] as interpreted on the bongó. The rationale is that being able to reference the martillo allows gives participants:
  • resoluteness - the ability to synchronise to an alternative timeline should one (or more) disappear;
  • cultural depth - the possibility of exploring salsa's antecedent genres;
  • rhythmic stability - an additional component to the compound rhythm stream;
  • complementarity - a sense of how layers of rhythm fit together; and,
  • freedom of expression - a further choice of tonal cues for movement.

I introduced participants to the basic martillo on bongó indicating the relevant tones and their vocalisations, using African perceptions of rhythmic cycles (not the European)
  • African beat 1: open tone on hembra (large drum) vocalised as 'tok'. (European beat 4)
  • African beat 2: closed tone on macho (small drum) vocalised as 'tik'. (European beat 1)
  • African beat 3: open tone on macho (small drum) vocalised as 'tuk'. (European beat 2)
  • African beat 4: closed tone on macho (small drum) vocalised as 'tik'. (European beat 1)
Thus the full (dancer) vocalisation is: 'tok-tik-tuk-tik-'

Maracas as proxy
The next step was to show participants how to interpret the martillo using maracas. This would free up their vocals and allow them to dance while playing. The vocalisation tones were used as a mediator:
  • 'tok' - single shake, hembra (low pitched) maraca.
  • 'tik' - single click, maraca handles.
  • 'tuk' - single shake, macho (high pitched) maraca.
  • 'tik' - single click, maraca handles.

Caribbean sway to martillo
Participants were already fluent with dancing the Caribbean sway atiempo, and playing the maracas as a proxy for conga and cowbell, as well as the son montuno maraca rhythm itself. With the solid foundation already laid, it proved a simple process to assemble the exercise through drawing on their previous experiences.
  1. Vocalise the martillo: 'tok-tik-tuk-tik-'
  2. Add a single shake of the hembra maraca on 'tok'
  3. Perform the Caribbean sway on 'tik-tuk-tik-' as a response to 'tok'
  4. Add a single shake of the macho maraca on 'tuk', coincident with the second step of the Caribbean sway
  5. Add the single clicks of the maraca handles on 'tik' 
I'm looking forward to a brave new world.