Percussion in Cuban Music: A Crash Course from the WKU Department of Music

Mar 2, 2019

A centerpiece of Cuban music is the percussion section. In conjunction with Western Kentucky University's International Year of Cuba, Professor Mark Berry's percussion studio in the Department of Music spent part of its fall semester studying percussion in Cuban music and prepared some short audio features to give listeners a crash course in Cuban music. The features below are voiced by student Yan Garza. 

TRANSCRIPT: The popular music of Cuba, music such as mambo and son montuno, played a large part in the development of salsa music.  Salsa emerged in the 1960s in New York City as a blend of Cuban music with Puerto Rican music and American jazz. The percussion instruments used in salsa music have their origins in Cuba.  In most salsa music, you will hear the bongos, a pair of conga drums and the shell of the timbale drums. The claves, bongo bell, and maracas provide a steady underlying rhythm. Other instruments such as the piano, horns, and bass add to the percussion.  The resulting music is highly energetic, infectious, and always danceable. Pure salsa!

TRANSCRIPT: The percussion music that you hear was written by Cuban composer, Amadeo Roldan. The piece is titled, “Ritmica Number 5” and is performed here by the WKU Percussion Ensemble under the direction of Professor Mark Berry.  “Ritmica Number 5” was written in 1930.  It is considered to be the first musical composition ever composed for the modern percussion ensemble. The percussion instruments that you hear are frequently heard in Cuban folkloric music.  However, the method and style of composition used by Amadeo Roldan are decidedly modern.  Roldan’s modern treatment allowed percussion instruments to break away from their folkloric roots, and forge new directions in 20th century music. Sadly, Amadeo Roldan died from cancer at the young at age 38.  He is recognized and remembered as a pioneer of the modern percussion ensemble, and a pioneer of 20th century Cuban art-music.

TRANSCRIPT: Cuba is renowned for its rhythmic rhumba music.  One sub-genre of rhumba is known as guaguanco. Guaguanco music involves voice, dance, and unique polyrhythmic percussion. The percussion instruments used in guaguanco include the guagua, the claves and three conga drums playing distinct patterns; the first of which is the quinto, the tres dos drums and the tumbadora. The claves, shekere and guagua hold a steady pattern. And the tones of the three conga drums create an interlocking melody when played together.  

Percussion in Cuban music is a production of the percussion students within the Department of Music in the Potter College of Arts & Letters at WKU in association with the Office of International Programs, which presents the International Year of Cuba in 2018-2019.