Lesson Notes – Speaking of Rhythm

Speaking Of Rhythm Series – SOR vol 1-6

Speaking Of Rhythm Vol. 1 – Afro Brazilian Afoxé

(say ” Ah foh sheh “)

The word Afoxe’ means three things:

1) an instrument, a gourd rattle with the beads on the outside that is played by twisting and shaking. You may know it by the name Cabasa or Afuche.

2) a Brazilian rhythm from Nigeria more correctly known as Ijexa (ee jay shaw) and

3) a carnaval group from Bahia in Northeastern Brazil that plays the rhythm and instrument mentioned along with bells, drums dancing and singing.

The arrangement that I’ve presented here I learned from Jose Lorenzo of Bahia, Brazil when he taught dance and music in San Francisco from the late 1970’s through the 1980’s. He started the group Escola de Samba Batucaje and is one of the people most responsible for bringing Brazilian Carnaval to San Francisco.

Note: Rhythm tip #2 is on the bell pattern for Afoxé. To see the pattern written out see this post.

Speaking Of Rhythm Vol. 2 – Afro Cuban Bembe

The Bembe rhythm we are playing here is a common AfroCuban music and dance form that has made its way into American music via Latin Jazz and Rock. The word “Bembe” means different things according to context. “A Bembe” is an AfroCuban religious ceremony where participants sing, dance, experience trance state, receive consultations, make offerings, etc. as part of the tradition known as Lukumi or Santeria. The sacred Bata drums are usually played in this ceremony. The Bembe rhythm we learned here on conga drums could also be played as well as the music known as Guiro (see webnote 6 below ). According to my first teacher, Nigerian Yoruba dancer/singer/drummer A.O. Vidal, “Bembe” is a genre of rhythms from Nigeria. There is also a specific set of drums called Bembe in Nigeria and a different set by the same name in Cuba.

Web note 1:

The three evenly spaced tones of this pattern – Bass, Tone, Slap, fall in a 3 to 2 relationship to the main beat. Two repetitions of this patterns create the 6:4 feeling at the center of Bembe music and dance. Make sure you keep track of the 4 pulse as you play this pattern.

Web note 2:

Another common style of playing this pattern uses different hand work like this: ( two cycles)


The strokes are : Palm tip Tone Palm Slap – Palm tip Tone Palm Slap –

The syllables are WAKAGODMPA – WAKAGODMPA –

Web note 3:

This high drum pattern is tricky and deceptivly simple. Keep track of the 4 pulse as you play and make sure that the slap falls after the beat, and not on the beat or somewhere else. This is a common mistake with this pattern – to start correctly and dift off time into a different, perhaps more familier pattern. Learn to hear the pair of notes( tone, slap) as starting on the beat, not ending on the beat.

Web note 4

If you need help with this bell pattern and related rhythms, please check out my Clave Consciousness lesson. This patten is explained in detail in Volume 1.

Web note 5

This tumba pattern similar to the mid drum part we learned first in this lesson. When the mid drum is playing its first cycle, GN, GO, PA (bass, tone, slap), the low drum is playing GO, GN , PA (Tone Bas Slap). The slap is being reinforced and the other tones are hamonizing each other. Every other slap of the quinto part also aligns with the slaps in the other patterns.

  • The palm tip stroke that I call “waka” is done on your “other” hand in this pattern, left for most of us.
Web note 6

There is another Cuban sacred music tradition known as Guiro that uses 3 shekeres and one drum. The parts played on the gourds (guiro in Spanish) are similar to the Bembe parts shown here.

Web note 7

According to the Cuban masters I asked, this pattern is actually part of Columbia, but it is often added to Bembe because it complements the melody. Many people use it as the basic pattern in Bembe in place of the first pattern we learned in this lesson.

Speaking Of Rhythm Vol. 3 – Congolese Djesse Muloumbo

Dedicated to the the spirit of Malonga Casquelourd.

Djesse Muloumbo is a rhythm and dance from Congo in Central Africa. I learned this rhythm from Ta Titos Sompa and performed it with him and played it many times in dance class with the late Malonga Casquelourd and other master artists from Central Africa.

According to my teachers, Djesse Muloumbo is probably the name of a famous dancer/choreographer who became renown for his spectacular movement to this rhythm.

Web note One:

This combination of offbeats and Clave is central to the feeling of innumerable African, Caribbean and Brazilian rhythms. It is an excellent study for breaking ground into learning the subtleties of these great traditions.

I recommend that you try it as a two hand, or hand and foot coordination discipline, after you learn how to speak it effortlessly.

I’ll recap where the Clave strokes go in relation to the GO DO PA TA syllables:

The first one is in the space after the first “GO DO”, right on beat one of the four pulse.

The second fall on the first “TA”

The third falls on the next “GO”

The fourth stroke of the Clave falls on the second “PA”

The last stroke lands in the space after the last “PA TA”, right on beat four.

Speaking Of Rhythm Vol. 4 – Afro Haitian Yan Valu

If you haven’t read the study guide for “Speaking Of Rhythm” Vol. 1 through 6, click here.

Web note one:

Yan Valu is an Afro Haitian Rhythm and Dance which has become famous the world over through the work of such artists as Katherine Dunham and Jean Leon Destine’. Its ancient origin is the region of Benin in West Africa. Yan Valu’s elegant movements are a prayer to the Rainbow Serpent deity known in Haiti as Damballa. Some of the movements have been stylized and incorporated into Jazz dance in the US, particularly in New York City.

As with many of these rhythms, there are many styles, arrangements and ways that master musician perform the music. Another style of Yan Valu has been disseminated by the well – known New York drummer John Amira. In that style, the drums are played with sticks, and the bell, shaker and high drum parts are the same as what I show you here.

The style that I’m presenting to you comes to me from the renown Caribbean artist Marcus Gordon who taught extensively in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s and 1980’s.

A unique feature of this arrangement is the use of hands rather than sticks, and the palm tip stoke (“WAKA”) found in the middle drum part. These characteristics suggest that it is a Cuban way to play the rhythm.

Cuban and Haitian music have mixed since slavery. During the Haitian Revolution (1794 to 1804) some rich French/Haitian slave owners moved their entire estates to Cuba with all their slaves, implanting Haitian culture on Cuban soil. Several Haitian dances are known in Cuba, including GaGa, Tumba Francesa, and Vodun. They are particularly prominent in Oriente province, the side of the island nearest Haiti. Cuban musicologists tell us that elements of Haitian music gave birth to the famous Cuban Son, which also originated in Oriente province.

In later years, people from all the Caribbean islands mix and share culture particularly in the port cities, while other traditions are kept relatively unmixed in the inaccessible interior parts of the islands. All of these factors help us understand how various styles of the same dance rhythm originate.

Web note two:

In Clave Consciousness I break down the root of this bell pattern: the Clave pattern that I ask to you clap in this lesson. If you learn this 12 clave pattern, the Haitian bell pattern will be easy. You can practice and play this Haitian bell pattern starting with or without the pickup note, the stroke right before beat One. I do it both ways in this lesson.

Web note three:

Playing these two parts together, one on each hand is a great exercise and is not difficult if you understand the bell pattern together with the four pulse. Try it sitting and play the rattle part with your “other” hand and play the bell with your strong hand, while tapping your foot on the four pulse.

Speaking Of Rhythm Vol. 5 – Nigerian Highlife

Web Note One:

I learned this arrangement of Highlife in 1976 from my first teacher, Nigerian Yoruba drummer/singer/dancer Augustus Olatunji Vidal when he taught at Sonoma State College in Northern California. At that time I was his apprentice drummer, teachers aide and workshop teacher.

There are many styles of Highlife in Africa, with the center of the movements being in Ghana and Nigeria. It is an urban music form that is sung in several languages, sometimes within the same song. During the 1970’s in Nigeria, Highlife was supplanted by AfroBeat , a style created by Fela Kuti.

Strictly speaking, Highlife is an ensemble based rhythm with the addition of guitars, horns, electric bass and singers. The rhythm I present for you here is one base of the style. Try adding your own guitar, vocal, bass and horn parts, and respect the clave!!

Web Note Two:

If you need help integrating the Clave pattern and the four pulse, please check out my Clave Consciousness lessons.

Web Note Three:

This same pattern can be played standing by moving the rattle forward and back at shoulder height. You can strike your opposite palm and shoulder, though this is not absolutely necessary. The movement becomes “out -in-out” rather than “down-up-down.”

Web Note Four:

Make sure you pay attention to where this pattern starts. Many people make the mistake of starting on beat one rather than beat three. This causes the rhythm to “go flat” and lose it’s correct polarity to clave and the other drums. Just make sure you listen to the bell before starting.

Web Note Five:

This combination of patterns perfectly illustrates one principle of clave. The drum part is rhythmically the same on both sides of clave, but in the first half of clave, the points of conjunction are the second stroke of each pair : do GO do GO. In the second half of clave, the point of conjunction is the first stroke of the pair: PA ta pa ta.

Speaking Of Rhythm Vol. 6 – AfroCuban Makuta

AfroCuban Makuta (pronounced Ma ku ta)

This arrangement of Afro Cuban Makuta comes to me from the late Cuban Master Drummer Regino Jimenez.

Web note 1:

This pattern of five strokes is common throughout the African Diaspora. It has been called cinquillo (pronounced “sing key oh “) which means quintuplet. To hear another way that this pattern appears in music, check out Vol 5 of Speaking of Rhythm, Nigerian Highlife. The conga part to Highlife is based on cinquillo.

Web note 2:

It is extremely important that you remember to use muff tones in this pattern. “Ku” and “Tu” are my names for the muff tones.