Daniel Alfonso | El Lenguaje del Tambor: Bata Rhythms and Techniques from Matanzas, Cuba (DVDs)

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El Lenguaje del Tambor: Bata Rhythms and Techniques from Matanzas, Cuba (DVDs)

by Daniel Alfonso

Learn to play the Afro Cuban bata drums with the most sought-after Master Drummer in Matanzas, Cuba. 2-disc set with 5 hours of drumming demonstrations, interviews, and tutorials.
Genre: Latin: Afro-Cuban
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Interview with Daniel Alfonso
0:00 album only
2. The Oro Seco
0:00 album only
3. Elegua (Latopa, Abukenke)
0:00 album only
4. Ogun
0:00 album only
5. Ochosi
5:25 album only
6. Inle
0:00 album only
7. Babaluaye
0:00 album only
8. Osain
0:00 album only
9. Orisha Oko
0:00 album only
10. Orula
0:00 album only
11. Agayu
0:00 album only
12. Chango (Aluya, Piti Aro)
0:00 album only
13. Obatala
0:00 album only
14. Yewa
0:00 album only
15. Obba
3:20 album only
16. Oya
0:00 album only
17. Ochun
0:00 album only
18. Olokun & Yemaya, with La Meta de Chango
9:00 album only
19. The Language of the Drums: Interview
0:00 album only
20. The Language of the Drums: Demonstration
0:00 album only
21. Interview with Chachá
0:00 album only
22. Okonkolo Technique
0:00 album only
23. Itotele Technique
0:00 album only
24. Iya Technique
0:00 album only
25. The Dynamic of the Drums
0:00 album only
26. The Oro Seco broken down by rhythm, by drum
0:00 album only
27. The Close
0:00 album only
28. Ibejis
0:00 album only
29. Oya
0:00 album only
30. Elegua
0:00 album only
31. Orole, Somugaga & Agolona de Yemaya
0:00 album only
32. 2 Discs, 5 Hours, All Regions
0:00 album only


Album Notes
2 DVDs, 5 hours total, all regions.

This comprehensive 2 disc DVD package offers more than 5 hours of demonstrations, tutorials, and interviews about how to play the Afro Cuban bata drums. Complete transcriptions prepared by Bill Summers are also available (save $15 when you order the DVDs and transcriptions at the same time, at http://cdbaby.com/cd/alfonsosummers).

In Spanish with English subtitles.

The film features Master of Afro Cuban Percussion Daniel Alfonso Herrera, the most sought after percussion instructor in Matanzas, Cuba. His clean, disciplined technique and clear, detailed explanations of the intricacies of Matanzas style bata drumming are invaluable for both the novice and experienced drummer.

Disc 1 is 2 hours long and includes:
• The complete Oro Seco as played at the Cabildo de Santa Teresa.
• Short introductions providing insights into the Orishas (Yoruba deities) and overall techniques for each rhythm.
• An interview with Daniel and the other drummers about the language of the bata drums
• A drumming demonstration in which they play toques which illustrate particularly well how the drums speak.
• A bonus interview with legendary percussionist Esteban “Chachá” Vega Bacallao, one of Daniel’s early teachers.

The Oro Seco was professionally filmed to ensure that each of the drummers’ hands is clearly visible.

Disc 1’s menu offers selections by toque (rhythm), with or without the introduction. You can also choose among the various interviews.

Disc 2 is 3 hours long and features
• Tutorials covering the specific techniques of Okonkolo, Itotele and Iya.
• The complete Oro Seco broken down drum by drum.
• An explanation of how to close a celebration where the sacred bata drums (Aña) are played
• The Close, as played at the Cabildo de Santa Teresa in Matanzas

Disc 2 was also professionally filmed to focus on Daniel’s hands from the front and from the sides (inu and chacha) to illustrate the proper formation of the hands and the various techniques used in each rhythm.

Disc 2’s menu offers selections by toque (rhythm) and by drum, in addition to the individual tutorials and the Close.

Complete transcriptions are also available, either with the DVDs or separately. The transcriptions reflect the Oro Seco as it is played on the DVDs.

For just the transcriptions, see "Bata Rhythms from Matanzas, Cuba: Transcriptions of the Oro Seco."

For the package price (save $15!), go to "El Lenguaje del Tambor Package (DVDs + Book).

The Oro Seco as played at the Cabildo Santa Teresa in Matanzas, Cuba:
Elegua (Latopa and Elegua Nitan)
Orisha Oko
Chango (Piti Aro and La Meta de Chango)

From the liner notes:

The Sacred Bata Drums (Aña)

In Africa, the bata drums belonged to the kings and were only played for them. Until the last few decades in Cuba the drums were only played for the presentation of newly crowned priests (Iyawos) to the community and to Aña (pronounced an-yá), the Orisha or deity whose secret resides within the drum. Bembe drums or güiro (shekeres) were used for all other drumming ceremonies. Today the bata drums are played more frequently and for a wider variety of reasons (such as a priest’s Ocha birthday, or to give thanks to a specific Orisha or Santo as they are often called in Cuba).

The bata are a set of three hourglass shaped drums that are played held across the lap. They are carved from solid wood and their open ends are covered in goat skins. One end is larger than the other, and both ends are percussive. The large end of the drum is called the “inu,” or mouth, and the smaller end the “chacha.” The largest drum is called Iya (Mother) and is dedicated to Yemaya. The middle drum is dedicated to Ochun and is called Itotele. And the smallest drum belongs to Chango and is called the Okonkolo.

There are probably fewer than 100 sets of sacred bata drums in the world. Unconsecrated bata drums are called abericulá.

At the beginning of a tambor or drumming celebration, the drums are played directly for the Orishas, usually in front of the throne or canastiero (cabinet) where the Orishas live. This cycle of rhythms is called the Oro Seco or “dry cycle” because no singing is involved (although in Matanzas the Orisha being honored is sung to at the end of the Oro). When the Oro is played in front of the Orishas, it is also called the Oro Igbodu.

Following the Oro Seco, another complete cycle of rhythms is played in an open area, but this time with singing (the Oro Cantado). During this cycle, priests salute the drums by bowing their foreheads to the floor and then to the drums. After the Oro Cantado, the party (or wemilere in Lucumí) really begins. The akpón (lead singer) is now free to sing in any order and for any length of time to the various Orishas, praising them and inviting them to join the celebration by possessing one or more of their priests. Once Orishas are present, the Iya drummer in particular must pay close attention to their movements, as it is the Orisha who calls for certain changes in the rhythm.

The percussive relationship between the three drums is a conversation—with each other, with the singer and chorus, with the Orishas, and with Olofi (God). For this reason, we speak of the “language of the drums.”

Tina Gallagher, Producer & Director, Kabiosile


El Lenguaje del Tambor is one of the most detailed instructional tools I have seen. Great care has been taken to show both the ensemble and individual performances of all the rhythms in the Oro Seco from all angles.

It gives the student the opportunity to learn each drum at their leisure and then fit it into the group.

The transcriptions in Bata Rhythms from Matanzas, Cuba provide a clear written counterpart to the visuals of the drummers and clarify where Daniel Alfonso places the rhythms against the pulse timeline.

The only thing better than this package is either going to Matanzas or hiring Daniel Alfonso to come and teach you privately.

John Amira
Co-author of The Music Of Santería


Another landmark production from Kabiosile. This one contains a wealth of well-organized detail, achieving both artistic and instructional excellence. A must for anyone wanting to learn batá.

Chris Walker


On first viewing of the DVDs and the accompanying book I am humbled by the mastery of the drummers and also the production value. I haven't spent a lot of time in the study of batá, although I thoroughly respect this amazing tradition. This thorough, respectful production will most undoubtedly bring me closer to the Language of the Drum.

Chuck Silverman


Tina, thank you so much for your hard work on this gem.

To watch these drummers play, with none of the affectations commonly found in highly skilled musicians, is a privilege.

To hear them speak of Aña, and then play afterwards in the language demonstration, I was nearly brought to tears. The pure joy of playing was unmasked on Daniel's face; he seemed to me as a child. In my opinion the word master is tossed about rather freely these days but in this case it is clearly an understatement…

Suffice it to say that while I know this will serve as a material reference for years to come, it’s serving a much deeper purpose for me now, reminding me why I started playing music in the first place.

Bless you and thanks again!

Emery Damon
Brooklyn, NY


This DVD is a true labor of love. Any student of bata drumming (at least here in the States) knows that information on the Matanzas style is by far the hardest to come by. Well, consider this a major breakthrough in bringing this beautiful, profound and funky drumming style to the rest of the world. The production is top notch, the format is exceptional, and most importantly this DVD’s got some soul! To hear Daniel Alfonso speak about the Anya philosophy makes one realize this is a belief system that that can stand along side any of the world’s major religions. Being an Omo Anya myself, some of the interviews gave me the chills, as well as even more insight into my calling as a ritual drummer. Daniel Alfonso is an exceptional teacher and this DVD is the next best thing to being there. With the amount of information on the two discs (5 hours), it's very reasonably priced as there is a lifetime of information contained therein. This is an important document. From the in-depth look at the Matanzas toques to the interviews with Cha-Cha, Alfonso and his crew of young drummers. These DVD's should give students of bata drumming and lovers of Afro-Cuban music & culture equal satisfaction. Hopefully Kabiosile will one day do a similar DVD on the Havana style! Gracias Tina & Co. Mucho Ashe!

Mark Merella
Takoma Park, MD


Produced with imagination, savvy and skill by a formidable team of Cuba and American musicians and film makers, El Lenguaje del Tambor: Bata Rhythms and Techniques from Matanzas, Cuba (2 DVDs) ($49.95) and its accompanying book of musical transcriptions Bata Rhythms from Matanzas ($39.95) is the best distance learning package of its kind I have seen.

It may be difficult for newcomers to appreciate that less than generation ago, American
musicians such as Bill Summers and Michael Spiro (who were both involved in this project) had to make huge sacrifices to get the information which is presented on a plate in this tutorial set. Usually overshadowed by the more popular Havana style of bata drumming, this pack lets us into what was until recently a little-known ritual drumming tradition. One can only wonder if anyone buying the DVD/book package for $74.95 (very good value after having emptied my pockets on several trips to Cuba) could appreciate the sweat that’s gone into it.

Even on its own, the 5-hour DVD set is a remarkable product aimed at both seasoned music professionals and complete beginners. They got the formula right. Honouring the oral tradition, there are hours of footage (everything subtitled) demonstrating the specific techniques of Matanzas style, the rhythms in their entirety and then breaking them down into solo parts. The transcriptions (just the oru seco, a portion of what is on the DVD) are of course especially helpful to musical outsiders and music readers. There really is something here for everybody.

Of course, a distance learning product is never a substitute for sitting with a master drummer, but it throws it open to those who don’t have the opportunity to travel to Cuba, and it is great preparation for those who can travel. In what could easily have been a dry tutorial product, the DVD is tastefully shot and features Matanzas master drummer Daniel Alfonso Herrera with a bonus interview with living legend Esteban “Chachá” Vega Bacallao who is in particularly good form. Daniel introduces each rhythm with a short explanation about its ritual context, while English/Spanish subtitles label the various sections which correspond to the transcriptions. Their notation choices are different to my own, but anyone who has worked through John Amira’s ground-breaking book on the Havana oro seco won’t have any problems working through this. There are a few details where the notation is slightly different from the DVD, but one can understand the almost impossible task of representing every performance note for note. Savvy drummers will be able to bust through this and beginners will certainly be able to find their way with the helpful visual cues on the DVD. There are quite a few songs on the DVD, which is a great bonus.

As a music scholar specialising in bata, I can say that this is certainly the best learning aid to date on the Matanzas style.

Amanda Vincent
Bata Scholar


Kudos to Tina Gallagher and Kabiosile for making El Lenguaje del Tambor available to us. I remember the days when the only study sources for bata were limited to a few, not so complete, recordings such as Afro Tambores Batá by Giraldo Rodríguez, and the musical transcriptions provided by Cuban musicologist, Fernando Ortiz. This package presents the toques (rhythms) to the Oro Seco in Matanzas style through audio, visual (DVD), and yet another visual approach and extension of the audio which are the musical transcriptions in the book expertly transcribed by Neraldo and Bill Summers; edited by Kevin Repp and Vanessa Lindberg, and reviewed by renown percussionist Michael Spiro. Each rhythm is presented in the DVD complete with the three batas and then broken individually for each drum. You can also look at the book for a complete break down of the patterns in music notation. The production is excellent, concise, and clear. Studying with a teacher would take years of lessons and/or apprenticeship. While no DVD/book is a substitute for actual playing and/or study with a good teacher, studying the DVD and book transcriptions will provide the learner with the basic working skills to advance in this genre of drumming.

Victor Rendón



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