Reviews of Our Afro Cuban Music DVDs and CDs
La Fuerza del Tambor
Kabiosile continues to generate our respect and further interest. Here they offer a direct, honest insider's perspective of how practitioners in Cuba elicit the attention of the orishas. Both the picture and sound are of high quality, which is helpful to appreciate the subtleties of the sacred bata drums. Ceremonies, in the form of cantos, güiro or bembe, are interspersed with concise question and answer segments (filmed separately and nicely edited) featuring some of the percussionists. It's a smart format that creates a context for each musical segment. For the initiated or novice, this excellent quality DVD is Highly Recommended.
Very rarely does a video come along that captures the power of the drum, and La Fuerza del Tambor does exactly that. Sure, there are many great drummers, but it isn't often that you see drumming so revered by a community that is itself so focused around the drum. And it is rare indeed to cross the line from social to sacred: from drumming for fun to drumming for the gods. La Fuerza straps you into the front seat on a trip to Matanzas, Cuba, into the Lucumi spiritual tradition where the non-initiated rarely go, and where cameras are rarely welcome. Drumming is nothing without social context, and that is what makes this DVD among the best Afrocuban DVDs to date. You'll be moved as I was to hear interviews with Alfredo Calvo, Elder of the Egwado branch of Santeria and oral historian, about the future, the past, and the challenges within the religious drumming community. And you'll see from the access that you are granted that the person behind the camera, too, is trusted within this community. For most of us who have only seen social drumming up to now, you'll appreciate that the producers have traded in the studio glitz for the true grit of Cuban drumming. Instead of a sterile instructional video, we have a historic document, where the viewer can almost feel the humidity, smell the cigars, and taste the Havana Club. There is something for everyone. For students of bata, all the familiar drums are there to emulate: the Okonkolo, Itotele, and Iya. For singers and historians there are lyric subtitles for ancient Lucumi songs descended from African slaves and passed from generation to generation in Matanzas. For scholars, there is exceedingly rare footage of Palo, Arara, and Lucumi bembe rhythm and song. And for those just curious, you'll be rewarded with a peek into another world.
Kabiosile Productions and Tina Gallagher have done it once again. The new ethnographic DVD, La Fuerza del Tambor, shot entirely on location in Matanzas, Cuba, is another captivating window into the world of Lukumi religion, and in this case Afro-Cuban drumming, in that other Cuban Mecca, Matanzas. For olorishas in the United States and elsewhere, unfamiliar with the variety and variations that exist in that city, this is a welcome addition to the Kabiosile legacy. The DVD's principal protagonist, Babalorisha and Olubata Alfredo Calvo, Ala Aganju, is one of Matanzas' most respected and senior priests, descended from the renowned Egbado priestess Ma Monserrate González, Oba Tero and her religious progeny, Fermina Gómez, Oshabí. Calvo's insight and experience as a priest, a drummer and a living repository or Afro-Cuban culture in Matanzas is one of the highest peaks of this film. His ability to discuss numerous themes associated with Afro-Cuban religions, primarily Lukumi, Bantu and Abakua, is remarkable and his interpretations are often ingenious and provocative. Calvo's abilities as a mentor and teacher are clearly exemplified by the other olorishas and drummers that participate in the interviews. They share Calvo's insight, but also contribute their own understanding, their own visions of what Afro-Cuban culture represents, especially when viewed through the eyes of a member of the culture. For the foreigner, religious or not, this is an important insight into modern Cuba as it reflects African culture's impressive ability to adapt to whatever circumstances it encounters and subsequently prevail. One of the DVD's high points is the description and demonstration of the Macagua Bembe drums, a specific drum ensemble that was given to the Lukumi priest Gerardo de Las Mercedes Valdez, better known as Cheo Chango, by the Arara Mahino, some time in the mid twentieth century. This gift may well mark the onset of collaboration between the Lukumi and Arara peoples in Matanzas that oral history tells us may have had a lingering rivalry in the nineteenth century. Though there are other bembe ensembles in Cuba, all of which consist of three peg-type drums, Macagua is unique among Cuba's bembe drums because it has an additional drum, the reason for which I will not reveal here to maintain the element of surprise. Other high points in the film are the scenes from actual wemileres and bembes in Matanzas, which include actual possessions, possibly one of the first times that these are documented in Cuba. No doubt, these scenes alone will generate much conversation among the members of the religious communities outside of Cuba. But there are other surprises as well that will promote further conversation and discussion. Though the film is highly educational and not meant to be controversial per se, it does raise important issues that must be considered in the light of the increasing internationalization of Lukumi religion and its encounters with other African religions and traditions in the Americas. This makes La Fuerza del Tambor one of the most important films to come out of Cuba in recent years. It is a must for the serious student of Lukumi culture and Afro-Cuban drumming.
La Fuerza del Tambor is a priceless collection of live footage, lecture-demonstrations, and interviews from Matanzas. It includes landmark footage of Makawa drums, as well as fascinating, in-depth conversations with Alfredo Calvo and his drummers. This DVD is a must for all Santeros and students of Cuban folklore.
It is very special to have such an intimate view into the world of the Orisha, Santeros, Bata drumming, and traditional bembes. For those unfamiliar with the religion of Ocha/Santaria, a bembe may seem strange and somewhat chaotic or confusing, but from the perspective of someone involved with the religion for nearly eleven years, I have not seen a more honest representation of what goes on. It is always a special gift to be in the presence of the Orisha when they come to Earth and mount their "horses," but it is a wonderful thing to finally be able to really see, second-hand, some of our Orisha come to where they are being so greatly honored. No bembe is possible without the drums, and the otherworldly precision of the masterful Bata drumming shown on this DVD is truly remarkable and something for ethnomusicologists and music fans alike to study and cherish for years to come. An added bonus of this important documentary is the wonderful interviews. The candor and forthrightness of the Santeros interviewed is clear and their honesty cannot help but be appreciated by viewers. It is clear that Ocha is more than a religion, but a deep, rewarding, and true way of life.
Dear Tina, Yesterday I received your beautiful DVD, and it's a dream. It is highly informative, especially on the subject of Matanzas traditions. The footage is great; made me feel like being there again. As a matter of fact, I was a bit amazed about the fact that they'd allow you to film Aña and the other Orishas. In Havana, drummers either forbid taking pictures and filming, or even recording (according to Regino Jiménez, ibae)! I suppose you would confirm this was an authentic setting, right? [Yes, all the tambors were filmed live, with the permission of Alfredo Calvo and the Orishas, nothing was staged. TG] Fortunately, I did not have any problem watching the DVD on my recorder and the German TV system. I am sure I will watch your film over and over again, and study the drumming, too. Thank you for the pleasure to see this fantastic document. Thomas Altmann
Tina, Thank You. Maferefun!!!!!! I got my copy of 'La Fuerza del Tambor' today, and it brought tears to my eyes. The interviews are inspiring. I want more. I loved hearing about the unification of different religious drumming styles... arara with lucumi and güiro. I believe that the unification is SO strong. I love it love it love it. And the words to the songs! Yeah, baby. That ain't been done before. And then there's Michel 'obanikoso'! Wow. WOW. I'll leave it there. I loved hearing everyone putting their 2 centavos worth into the discussions. All in all, it is beautiful. Very real, breathing and full of life. I miss it more than I can express. OK. I think that is enough babbling for now.... And I only watched it once! Thank you, Vanessa **Baba Alade Olamina** *Los Angeles, CA* This is the second installment from Matanzas, Cuba, that I have had the privilege to view. It serves as an excellent document of the enduring tradition of the drum, and its integral position in the folk dance, song and belief from West Africa throughout the Diaspora. The honesty of this humble production adds to the value of its authenticity. The addition of the interviews was a bonus.
Vamos al Tambor
Wonderful DVD, in two parts: Part one documents the ceremony of three new initiates to Chango, the Orisha of thunder and lightening. Part two is the presentation of newly consecrated drums (Aña) and drummers (Omo Aña) to the community. This is a very rare glimpse into the private religious practices of Santeria in Matanzas, and done with great respect. Excellent quality. 90 minutes. Highly recommended.
A groundbreaking DVD that will transport you to Matanzas, Cuba and make you an active participant in a wemilere for Shango and the presentation to Aña of three Lukumi iyawos. Kabiosile Productions releases two of the most invigorating illustrations of orisha music and life to come out of Matanzas since Lydia Cabrera's and Josefina Tarafa's 1950's recordings recently released by the Smithsonian Institute. The religious practices of Matanzas differ greatly from those of Havana. Olorishas in the primarily Havana-centric Lukumi Diaspora, unfamiliar with these variations, will appreciate these recordings that will permit a bird's eye view into a familiar but distinctive Lukumi world, with a flavor all its own. The listener (or viewer) will be immediately transported the town of Simpson, a close but distant world that has been called the heart of Africa in Matanzas, where life has changed little since time immemorial. In Simpson, the cultures of numerous African ethnic groups permeates the air. On any given day, walking the streets of the small town, one can hear bata, bembe, Egbado, or Yesa drums resonate on one block, Arara drums half way down the street, and bantu drumming on the following corner. Africa and her offspring burgeon in Simpson. This CD and DVD are sure to become valuable contributors to the documentation and preservation of Lukumi religious music and traditions for all time. Do not miss out on your opportunity to own these one-of-a-kind historical collector's items.
Author, Santeria Enthroned
Vamos al Tambor beautifully captures two Matanzas Lucumi events never before documented--done entirely with the blessing of the orichas and the elders...Vamos al Tambor documents the traditional Matanzas style of presentation to the drums: the three Iyawo "kings" dress in Chango's luxurious garments and a complete sequence of the oro cantado structures the event, as opposed to the cursory Havana style presentation. In the presentation of the new Aña--a set of sacred bata--the new drums receive the living voice from Alfredo Calvo's important Aña set, completing their "birth." Calvo's Aña produced the first set of sacred drums brought to the U.S. by Francisco Aguabella many years ago. Spirits and emotions are high, and the drumming is dramatic.
Beautiful The CD and DVD were awesome! It's remarkable how the bembe are the same as practiced in the States (Lukumi). Not only that, but I've learned new oros for the orishas. This is a must have for anyone in or studying the religion. (Santaria/Lucumi)
Scotch Plains, NJ
Fascinating look at a sacred ceremony! To see the whole of an ancient Yoruba ceremony still practiced virtually intact as the day it left Africa is remarkable and a testament to the tenacity of the Afro-Cuban people. To see it dispels all the rumors and myths about [the religion]. You have to see for yourself. Interesting near the end when the possessions take place. Reminded me of what I used to see as a kid in the black American church! Some commonality?
Bata y Bembe de Matanzas
This amazing new recording is performed by powerful musicians and recorded beautifully. In the Matanzas Orisha tradition, the Iyawo (initiate) is presented to the consecrated bata drums (Aña) with an Oru, or cycle of praise songs and drumming, for the major Orisha . On this CD, the musicians perform the music for this presentation. For students and lovers of Matanzas-style drumming, this CD is unique. Alfredo Calvo, the last surviving godson of Ferminita Gomez Ocha Bi, is the akpon, or lead singer, and his mastery of Lukumi praise poetry and raw power shine, and the chorus shines with him. The drumming is phenomenal, embodying the beauty and power of Matanzas bata. The surprise comes at the end of the cycle: after playing a long section of bata for Chango that is unique and hair-raising, the bembe drums join the bata, sending the energy of the music through the roof. The bata and bembe trade back and forth in another long sequence of songs and rhythm for Chango. The interplay of Calvo's praise singing and the drumming are indescribable; Calvo sings in Lukumi to Chango, at one point asking the initiate (and Chango) to hear the individual bata drums, and the individual drums respond, in order, with solos. If you haven't experienced this music in person in Matanzas, you have to hear this CD to believe it. Kabiosile, the label responsible for producing this CD and the accompanying DVD, deserve praise for their work in the production of the audio and packaging, both of which are fantastic. Kabiosile!
The most incredible CD to come out of modern Matanzas! Kabiosile Productions releases two of the most invigorating illustrations of orisha music and life to come out of Matanzas since Lydia Cabrera's and Josefina Tarafa's 1950's recordings recently released by the Smithsonian Institute. The religious practices of Matanzas differ greatly from those of Havana. Olorishas in the primarily Havana-centric Lukumi Diaspora, unfamiliar with these variations, will appreciate these recordings that will permit a bird's eye view into a familiar but distinctive Lukumi world, with a flavor all its own. The listener (or viewer) will be immediately transported the town of Simpson, a close but distant world that has been called the heart of Africa in Matanzas, where life has changed little since time immemorial. In Simpson, the cultures of numerous African ethnic groups permeates the air. On any given day, walking the streets of the small town, one can hear bata, bembe, Egbado, or Yesa drums resonate on one block, Arara drums half way down the street, and bantu drumming on the following corner. Africa and her offspring burgeon in Simpson. This CD and DVD are sure to become valuable contributors to the documentation and preservation of Lukumi religious music and traditions for all time. Do not miss out on your opportunity to own these one-of-a-kind historical collector's items.
Beautifully recorded, and wonderfully sung by Alfredo Calvo Cano and Alberto Puñales Cabrera, this may be the best recorded document of Bembe as it is performed in Matanzas. Rare material. Highly recommended.
Scotch Plains, NJ
Very interesting display of living history. [It] is very interesting to see how the Africans in Cuba were able to keep a very large and important part of the culture intact. The performance was very ritmo Africano. You should also view the DVD of the same name to see it! Remarkable!