Glossary of Rhythms

Aba Cua (AbaKua and Abakuá) (ah bah kwa) is a rhythm and dance from a men’s secret society in Cuba. The music, based in 6 feel, has strong elements of cross and polyrhythm, which add to its mysterious nature. Traditional instrumentation consists of three small single headed drums held on the shoulder and played with one hand, two basket rattles, a bell and one lead drum called bonko (bong koh) which is the size of a small ashiko. It is held vertically and played with two hands in the same manner as a conga. Aba Cua has strong ties to Rumba Columbia and is sung in an African tongue from a region of Southwest Nigeria.

Afoxe’ (ah foh shay) is the common name of a social dance and music from Salvador da Bahia in the northeast of Brazil. The rhythm, which is properly called Ijexa, is from the Afro Brazilian Candomble (kahn dohm bley) tradition. Groups of people bring a secular version of the music and dance to the streets during Carnaval. Afoxe’ (or afuche) is the name of a beaded gourd instrument used during parades. The rhythm and dance has became known by the name of the instrument. learn Afoxe’

Arara (ah raah raah) is a music and dance form found in Cuba which is derived from the Fon and Eve (eh veh) culture of Ghana, Togo and Dahomey, now known as Benin. The dances and rhythms are extremely sophisticated and are considered less Creolized than other AfroCuban forms, due to the fact that the Arara slaves were brought to Cuba quite late in the history of colonialism. Arara music has it’s own particular drums which are carved from logs and have a peg tuning system. The drums are played with sticks, stick and hand, and hands.

Afrobeat is a popular music style from Nigeria which was created by Fela Kuti. He brought together elements of Juju and American soul music to create the sound. Afrobeat uses large horn and percussion sections with voices, guitar, keyboards, bass and drums. Often horn players take lengthy solos in this style, in contrast to other African pop styles. Lyrics are usually in Yoruba and sometimes English.

Agbe or Guiro (ahg bey, wee roh) is the name of an Afro Cuban ceremonial rhythm and dance done in honor of African deities called Orisha (Or ee cha, Or ee sha). Agbe is the Yoruba (yor u bah) and Guiro the Spanish word for gourd, one of the main instruments in this style. Typically, three gourd shekeres are used with a bell and one to four conga drums, with the lowest drum paying the lead. The music can be played without drums, in which case the lowest gourd plays the lead. Agbe or Guiro is sung in the Cuban Yoruba language.

Ashiko (ah she ko) is name of set of drums from Nigeria which are used primarily for social music and dance of the same name. According to well known Nigerian artist/bandleader O.J. Okemode, ashiko means “the world of time” in the Yoruba language. Ashiko is now commonly used in the US to refer to any cone shaped hand drum.

Baiao (buy own) is a popular style from the Northeast of Brazil. It was created in 1946 by Luis Gonzaga who used elements from older folkloric rhythms and combined them with modern instrumentation of Zabumba (bass drum) triangle and accordion. Baiao is a raucous party music sometimes played all night. Tempo ranges from moderate to very fast. The term Forro (foh hoh) is often used to refer to the Baiao rhythm, along with other related styles such as Xaxado (zha zha doh) and Coco (coh coh). Well known percussionist Airto Moreira often uses the Baiao rhythm in his compositions. Baiao is sung in Portuguese.

Bata (bah tah) is the name of a set of double headed hourglass shaped drums originating in Nigeria. These drums and their rhythms, dances and songs were recreated in Cuba by slaves and their descendants during the colonial era. Traditionally, bata drumming is part of the Nigerian religion known in Cuba as Lucumi (lu ku mee) or Santeria. (sahn tehr ee ah) The rhythms, dances and songs are used to salute, praise, invoke and give voice to African dieties called Orisha (or ee sha.) There are hundreds of Toques (toh kays) – “beats” or rhythms – that are played on the bata drums. Since the 1970’s, bata drums and some of their rhythms have become introduced into popular Caribbean and American culture through Latin Jazz. In Nigeria bata are played in sets of 4 or 5 drums and in Cuba, 3 drums are used.

Barravento (bah ha ven tu) is a rhythm and dance from the Afro Brazilian religious tradition Candomble’ de Angola (kan dohm bley djang go la). It is an up tempo 12 beat rhythm played on 3 hand drums and a bell that is used to put a dancer in trance. The name means ‘wind comes down’, perhaps in reference to how it feels to go into trance. Songs accompanying this rhythm are sung in Brazilian Angolan language.

Batacuda (bah tu cah dah) is a style of parade music made famous by the Escolas de Samba of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Instrumentation includes large bass drums, snare drums, tenor drums, bells, tamborines, shakers, friction drums and small high pitched stick drums which play the rhythmic designs of the music. Batucada sometimes is played by ensembles of up to 400 percussionists who, together with singers and guitarists, provide the music for allegorical plays with up to 1500 dancers who parade through the streets at Carnaval time. Songs accompanied by Batucada are sung in Portuguese.

Bembe (bem bey) is the name of a family of rhythms and drums from Nigeria that are also found in Cuba. Most often the word Bembe is used to refer to an Afro Cuban ceremony where the sacred Bata drums are played, and participants sing and dance in praise of African deities known as Orisha. Bembe has been used to refer to a sacred rhythm called Guiro or Agbe which is played on three shekeres and a bell (sometimes with conga drums) and also used to accompany singing and dancing in praise of the Orisha. learn Bembe

Bloco Afro (blah ku ah fro) literally means Afro block or neighborhood. It is used to describe parade groups and their music originating in Salvador Bahia, Brazil. During the 1970’s Bob Marley’s music and political views became popular in Northeast Brazil which has the largest African population outside of Africa. A new style of music was formed called Samba Reggae which combined rhythms of the Brazilian bateria (parade orchestra) with Reggae and other Caribbean beats such as Merenge. Also in the mix were rhythm from Candomble and Afoxe. The groups that parade with this music during Carnaval are called Blocos Afro. Their themes are generally about Black pride and historical Africa. The term Samba Reggae or Axe’ (Ah shay) music is now generally used to refer to this style. Grupo Ile Aye (ee lee eye eh) was the first Bloco Afro. Perhaps better known is Oludum (oh lu dume) who recorded and toured with Paul Simon. Portuguese is the language of Axe’ music.

Bomba (Baum ba) is a popular and social music and dance from Puerto Rico. Traditional instrumentation includes short barrel like drums (called Bombas) and sticks. The rhythm has been added into the standard Salsa repertoire and expanded and developed by such artists as Kako and Cortillo. One of the most famous groups playing folkloric Bomba is Los Hermanos Cepeda. Bomba is sung in Spanish.

Bossa Nova (baussa noh va) is a sophisticated, urban, guitar based sound from Rio de Janeiro. Bossa Nova was started in the early 60’s and incorporates elements of samba with cool jazz and classical European music. Guitar rhythms are usually quite off beat and the vocal style (in Portuguese) has a very warm and intimate feeling. Prominent artists include Tom Jobim, Joao Gilberto and Luiz Bonfa. “The Girl from Ipenema” is probably the best known Bossa Nova.

Bugalu (bu gah lu ) is a style of Black and Latin music popular in New York in the 1960’s. Also spelled Boogaloo, the style incorporates Rhythm and Blues chord progressions and rhythmic cries and interjections, mostly in English. Bugalu hits include ‘I like it like that’ by Pete Rodriguez, ‘Boogaloo Blues’ by Johnny Colon, ‘El Watusi’ by Ray Baretto and ‘Bang Bang.’ by Joe Cuba.

Calpyso (cah lip soh) is a social dance from the island of Trinidad, birthplace of the steel drum. Derived from and older style called Kaiso, the instrumentation can vary with ensembles such as snare drum, bass drum, triangle, and shaker, ; two or three hand drums and bells; steel drums, brake drum and congas; guitar, voice and shakers or scratcher as well as other combinations. In the 1970’s, Trinidadians fused Calypso with Soul Music (from the US) and created Soca (soe ka), an electric style featuring guitars, keyboards and horn section. Prominent artists of that genre include Arrow, Lord Kitchner, Mighty Sparrow, Invader and others. Calypso is sung in English.

Cha Cha Cha is a style of Cuban music derived from the Danzon. Violinist Enrique Jorrin is credited with inventing the style. He named it by listening to the sound of the dancers feet as they moved to the Nuevo Ritmo section he added to the Danzon. Instruments used include tumbadoras (congas), guiro (gourd scratcher) timbales, bass, piano, strings and horns. Tempo is a moderate 4 with a feeling of 8 beats to one clave. Cha Cha feeling has been used with great success in many forms of American music including Motown, Jazz, Rock and Folk. A classic Cha Cha is Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va”, which was fused with Rock and made famous by Carlos Santana.

Charanga (cha rahn gah) is a style of instrumentation in Cuban music that features the sound of flute and violins with rhythm section of timbales, bass and guiro. This sound was used to play the Danzon in the early 1900’s. Later, the congas from Rumba and the bongos from Son were added along with the piano. The Charanga sound has been incorporated into the modern Songo style.

Conga (kong gah) is a Carnaval rhythm and dance from Cuba. Sung in Spanish, it combines tumbadoras (conga drums) with bells, frying pans (played with sticks), shakers, bass drums, brake drums, and snare drums. A trumpet or double reed instrument takes the role of the solo voice and the dancing chorus responds. Conga is usually played in large batteries of twenty or more people parading in the street. The rhythm has been adapted to band music by jazz and salsa artists. Clever percussionists learn to play more than one part at once, creating the effect of a large group. A group of people playing, dancing and singing Conga is called a Comparsa (kom par sah). In the 1950’s Conga became a dance craze in the US through the influence of Desi Arnaz, a Cuban entertainer who performed in American nightclubs, on radio and on television. He is especially noted for bringing conga drums to the American public through the “I Love Lucy” show.

Congo (kong goh) is the name of a religious and ceremonial music and dance in both Haiti and Brazil. Haitian Congo is played with a bell and a set of three drums using two sticks on one, hands on one and one stick and hand on the other. Brazilian Congo is part of the Candomble de Angola and is played with hands on three drums with bell accompaniment. In Cuba, Congo refers to three rhythms and dances: Yuka, Makuta and Palo. According to renown Congolese artist Samba Ngo, Congo means “Land of the lepoard”. The leopard is a totem animal in the Central African region.

Cumbia (kum bee ah) is a popular social dance and music originating in Columbia. It is a fusion of Amerindian, European, and African elements. The rhythm is very straight forward, particularly in contrast to other Caribbean forms. Cumbia is very popular in Mexico .

Danzon (dance zon ) is an old form of Cuban music derived from the French and English Contradanza. Danzon was popular around the turn of the century and was the music of an upwardly mobile segment of Cuban society interested in becoming “Europeanized”. The instruments used were mostly of European origin and included strings, woodwinds, brass and timpani. The timpani were later replaced by a more portable Cuban invention called Timbales. The Danzon rhythm, which incorporates the feeling of clave, was played at slow to moderate tempo, so the dancers would not break into a sweat. (difficult in such a humid hot atmosphere!) The last section of a Danzon arrangement, called the Nuevo Ritmo later evolved into a separate dance called Cha Cha Cha.

Fuji (fu gee) is a modern, mostly acoustic style from Nigeria. It is related to Apala and Juju music. Sikiru Ayinde Barrister is Fuji’s prime exponent. When his music was criticized as ‘garbage’ He put out the albums ‘Fuji Garbage’ and ‘More Fuji Garbage’.

Highlife is a rhythm and dance style from urban west Africa that was started in the late 1940’s and developed in the 50’s. Highlife incorporates indigenous guitar styles with elements of Cuban and Trinidadian music and the horn section from Jazz. It is sung in several African languages and is a pan African music incorporating rhythms and languages from several ethnic groups. Prominent artists in the style include the Ramblers dance band and Jewel Acaah. learn Highlife

Iyesa, Illesa, Yesa, Yeza (ee jeh sah) is a sacred music and dance form found in Cuba and originating with people from the Illesha region of Northern Nigeria. Cuban Iyesa drums are short and are usually carried when played. They have two heads and are played with sticks, hands and stick, and hands.

Juju (ju ju ) is a word with many meanings. In the context of music it refers to a popular and social music from Nigeria. Instrumentation includes call and response voices, several guitars, bass, drumset, keyboards and a large percussion section of talking drums, congas, shekere, bells, and maracas. Giants in the field of Juju music are King Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey. I.K. Diaro was a pioneer of the style starting in the 1960’s. He is credited with bringing the talking drum into Juju music. Juju is sung in the Yoruba language.

Kpanlogo (pahn loh goh) is a social dance and music from Ghana. Popular in the 60’s, it was a social/political movement giving youth a voice of independence. With the addition of horns and other elements of jazz and Afrocuban bands it became Highlife. Kpanlogo is often sung in the Ga language.

Lambada (lahm bah dah) is a social and recreational partner dance and music originally from Brazil. It is usually at a fast tempo and incorporates many Caribbean elements, particularly Merenge. Lambada achieved brief international popularity in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Lambada literally means ‘whip’ and probably refers to the style of dancing where the man spins and ‘whips’ his partner into turns.

Latin Jazz is a blend of Afro Cuban rhythms with Jazz harmonies and form, usually featuring extended solos. The movement has been going since the 1940’s when Beboper Dizzy Gilespie hired Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo to play with his big band. Pianist George Shearing and Vibraphonist Cal Tjader were both exponents of the style and featured Cuban percussionists Armando Peraza and Mongo Santamaria, among others. Latin Jazz is primarily an instrumental (non vocal) music.

Latin Rock
was made famous by Carlos Santana in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. He added congas and timbales to his Rock band and incorporated Cuban rhythms such as Cha Cha Cha, and Mambo into Rock compositions. Latin Rock has experimented with other rhythms such as Merenge and Samba, but has mostly revolved around Cuban rhythms. Cuban percussionists Armando Peraza and Orestes Vilato have helped to shape the Latin Rock sound with Santana.

Maculele (mah ku ley ley) is a stick dance from Brazil. It emerged in the cane fields during colonial times as a means of practicing martial arts. It is closely associated with Capoeira (cah po aye rah) and the Candomble d’Angola culture in Brazil. The rhythm is an up tempo four. The dance is an exciting dialogue of sticks hitting and clicking while moving the body in challenging ways. Maculele songs are usually in Portuguese with many African words.

Makuta (mah ku tah) is a rhythm and dance from the Congolese people in Cuba. The dance is about fertility of the earth and humans and incorporates gestures of thanks and encouragement during planting and harvest. Learn Makuta

Mambo (mahm boh) is a Cuban music and dance derived from the Danzon and the Son. Arsenio Rodriguez, the great Cuban guitarist and composer is credited with inventing the style, which combined elements of Jazz harmony and instrumentation with a moderate to fast tempo Cuban tumbao (tume bau). Mambo became popular in this country during the late 40’s and early 50’s through the music of Prez Prado the “Mambo King” with compositions like “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” and “Marilyn Monroe Mambo”. Cal Tjader added momentum to the movement in the late 50’s through the 70’s with albums like “Mambo with Tjader”, “Ritmo Caliente” and “Soul Sauce” featuring Cuban muscians Mongo Santamaria and Armando Peraza. Today, Mambo is the rhythm which drives Salsa and Latin Jazz. Mambo is also a term used to refer to that section of a tune which features repeating, layered horn lines. Sometime the term is used to refer to a conga drum rhythm more correctly known as tumbao or marcha. Spanish is the language of Mambo.

Maracatu (mar ah cah tu) is a parade music and dance from Northeast Brazil in the state of Pernambuco. It originated as a parody of the Portuguese royal court processions and later became a celebration of an African king. The dance shows members of the royal court: guards, ladies in waiting King, Queen, soldiers, subjects and musicians. Portuguese is the language of Maracatu.

Merenge (meh reng gay) is a social dance from the Dominican Republic (which shares the island of Santo Domingo with Haiti). Originally a guitar style, since the 1940’s it has been played in an ensemble consisting of an accordion, a metal scratcher, and a tambora, a two headed drum held horizontally and played with stick and hand. Merengue is an exciting partner dance sung in Spanish and played at a fast tempo. The tambora rhythm has been adapted the to the congas and is often played with one stick. Merengue is often included in the repertoire of Salsa bands, perhaps because the feeling provides contrast to the typical AfroCuban Tumbao. Contemporary artists who have brought Merengue into the electronic age include Juan Luis Guerra y 440 and Wilfrido Vargas.

Mozambique (moh sahm bee kay) is a modern Cuban Carnaval music and dance invented by Pello el Afrokan in 1963. His original instrumentation was tumbadoras (congas), bells, bombos (bass drums played with one stick) trombones and chorus. He later expanded to include electric guitar and bass, timbales and other percussion. The feeling and approach of Pello’s Mozambique was an important influence in the development of Songo. Cuban Mozambique is not well known in the US Another style, which I call American Mozambique has developed and is more common in this country. Eddie Palmieri did much to popularize this style with his album “Mambo con Conga es Mozambique”. Mozambique is sung in Spanish. Learn Mozambique

Nyabingi (nye ah bing gee) is the root rhythm behind Reggae. It is a Jamaican religious drum and chant music played on bass drum, funde drum and a small solo hand drum called a repeater. Peter Tosh has featured Nyabingi drumming in his concerts. Ras Michael is probably the best know exponent of Nyabingi music.

Pachanga (pa chahn gah) is an Afro Cuban dance developed in New York in the late 1950’s. It uses the Charanga instrumentation and the congero plays a caballo (cah buy oh) pattern instead of tumbao.

Palo (pah low) is a religious music and dance of the Congolese people of Cuba. It is some of the oldest AfroCuban religious music, as Congolese slaves were brought to Cuba as early as the 1500’s. The dances and rhythms are very stimulating and energetic and were used during the slave uprisings to prepare slaves for battle.

Plena (pley nah) is a rhythm and song form developed in Ponce, Puerto Rico in the mid 19 century. Plena functions as a ‘musical newspaper’ of the people, giving an opportunity for comment on politics, social events and other topics through the medium of humorous, sometimes nonsensical storysongs. Instruments used include the guiro (gourd scraper), two or more frame drums called panderetta or pandiero (without jingles) guitar, accordion and voices. The rhythm has been adapted to congas and has become part of the standard salsa repertoire. Plena is sung in Spanish.

Rara ( rah rah ) is originally a Springtime Carnaval music from Haiti played in procession with percussion and vacines, (one note bamboo trumpets). The dance is based on a sensuous hip swinging motion and the songs, sung in creole patois (pat twa), refer to contemporary events, scandals and criticism of politics in metaphorical terms. RARA has been adapted by electric pop bands and has been combined with an older style called Compas (kom pahs).

Reggae is electric social and popular music from Jamaica. Derived from earlier forms such as Ska and Rocksteady, Reggae was created in the 60’s and 70’s by Afro Jamaicans who were influenced by American Rock and Soul music they heard on the radio. In attempting to copy the American sound of guitars bass, drums and vocals, Jamaicans added their rhythmic, cultural, and speech characteristics to create the Reggae sound. Bob Marley was Reggae’s biggest star. Originally sung in English, Reggae has become and international music and is sung in many languages.

Rumba (room bah) is a family of social rhythms and dances from Cuba. The oldest form is Yambu (yahm bu), a slow and stately dance often done by elders, or people dancing like elders. Guaguanco (wa wan ko) is a medium to fast tempo music for a playful courtship dance in which the man and woman move together and apart and the man tries to slyly introduce the vacunao (va ku now) or pelvic thrust. The woman coyly resists and finally relents and receives the man’s energy. The third form of Rumba is the Columbia (koh lum bee ah). It is played with a strong “6 feel” and is a men’s pantomime and acrobatic dance. Instrumentation for folkloric Rumba consists of three conga drums, properly know as tumbadoras ( tume bah dohr ahs ), claves (kla vehs), cascara ( kas kar rah) or gua gua (wah wah) – sticks played on a drum shell or piece of bamboo , a metal shaker called madruga (mah dru gah) and voices. Rumba is sung in Spanish with many African words, primarily from Yoruba and Congolese languages. Outstanding Rumba artists are “Los Munequitos de Mantanzas” and “Los Papines”.

Salsa (sahl sah ) literally means ‘sauce’ in Spanish. The term has been used as a marketing tool to refer to New York based Cuban and Puerto Rican dance music based on the Cuban Son. The salsa orchestra usually includes congas, bongos, timbales, bass, piano, tres guitar, horn section and lead and chorus singers. Salsa bands sometimes play bombas, plenas, and merenges, but most often play the son montuno or mambo rhythm. Spanish is the language of Salsa.

Samba de Roda (sahm bah gee hoh da) is the oldest form of samba and is played, danced and sung by a group of people in a circle clapping. A lead singer improvises on humorous or topical subjects to the accompaniment of what ever is at hand, including hand drums, pandiero, guitar, and chorus. The dancing is especially noted for the umbrigada (oom bri gah dah) or touching of navels, a move common in Congolese dance. Samba de Roda is sung in Portuguese.

Sikyi (See chee) is a social recreational dance and music of the Ashanti people of Ghana. It is danced primarily by young people in a mood of flirtation. The tempo is moderate to very fast and the dancing displays various aspects of social interaction.

Son (sown) is a partner dance and music from Cuba. Traditional instrumentation is guitar, tres (a Cuban rhythm guitar with three sets of double strings), marimbula (large bass “thumb piano”) and voices with a percussion section of claves, maracas, bongo and campana (cow bell). Son was some of the first music recorded on Edison’s primitive phonograph and received wide dissemination in America through the radio. The music was incorrectly called “Rhumba” and created quite a stir in the US during the 1930’s. The conga drums of Rumba, the timbales of Danzon, and the horn section of the Conjunto were later added to the Son by Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians in America to create the style we now know as Salsa. Son is sung in Spanish.

Songo (song goh) s a relatively new form of Cuban music that was developed in the 1970’s by such groups as Orchesta Ritmo Oriental, Los Van Van, and Orchesta Changui. Songo is a combination of many elements, starting with Son, Rumba and American Funk and Jazz. Instruments used include violins and flutes, horns, electric bass, guitar and piano, congas, drumset or timbales, guiro or maracas and voices. Songo breaks free of some of the standard approaches to Cuban music and gives the conguero freedom to improvise variations based on Rumba, while keeping the Tumbao at the same time. Important names in Songo are drummers “Changuito “- Jose Luis Quintana, Daniel Diaz, Enrique Pla, and bassist/composer Juan Formell. American drummers such as Steve Gadd, Dave Weckle and Dave Garibaldi have incorporated Songo into their repertoires and now use it consistently in American music. Songo is a style that incorporates many rhythms.

Soukous (sue kous) is the name of a popular and social music from French speaking Central Africa. It is predominantly a multilayered guitar style with horns and voices singing about love and other topical subjects. Major soukous artists include M’Bilia Bel, Franco, O.K.Jazz, Tabu Ley, Tshala Muana and Papa Wemba. French, Lingala or other central African languages are used.

Yan Valu is a ritual rhythm and dance from the Voudoun religion in Haiti. Is is one of the main rhythms in the Rada tradition and is decended from music of the Fon and Eve people of Dahomey, now known as Benin. Yan Valu is a sacred trance music dedicated to Damballa, the Rainbow serpent diety. The dance moves incorporate snake like movements. Yan Valu has been spread through the US by the large Haitian population in New York City and Miami. Learn Yan Valu

Yuka (yu kah) is a Congolese music and dance from Cuba. It is a fertility dance and is considered one of the precursors of Rumba.

Zouk (zook) is a popular and social music style from the French speaking Caribbean. ‘Zouk’ means ‘party’ in creole slang. Zouk has a high tech sound due to the use of drum machines and synthesizers. Kassav and Gazoline are well known Zouk bands. The music became an international favorite after becoming a hit in France, where most of it is produced.

Copyright 1998 PulseWave Percussion