Kabiosile: afro cuban music from the source

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How did you decide to make an instructional DVD on how to play the bata drums Matanzas-style? It's a bit of a departure from your other DVDs, which are of live ceremonies.

It was completely serendipitous. I had asked a new distributor, Brad Boynton of Rhythms Traders, what types of DVDs he'd like to see next. At the top of his list was a bata instructional DVD. I included that idea with a few of his others and some of my own, and asked Bruce Polin of Descarga.com the same question. He also voted for the bata DVD as his top pick.

That very same week, I was at a baptism for the newborn son of a young American drummer who was living in Matanzas at the time, Luis Carreras. Bill Summers and I were the godparents. At the party afterward, Daniel Alfonso, who I knew casually, came up to me and said, "A lot of people have been after me to make a film on how to play the bata drums. I've always said no. But now I'm going to give the project to you." He had never seen any of our other discs, hadn't even heard our CD.  I don't know where he even got the idea to say this to me. But I know enough to listen to the universe when it is talking to me, so I smiled and said, "Great!"

Of course, I had no idea what this project would entail, and I will tell you honestly if I had known then what I know now, I don't think I would have had the courage or energy to start it. It's been massively complicated and has taken every bit of my 30 years of publishing, project management, and marketing experience to get it done. I've been working on it nonstop for nine months and I feel like I'm giving birth to triplets!

What were some of the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge was that I am not a bata drummer. I had experience filming and editing the other DVDs, which had a lot to do with drumming, but this was so much more complicated. For example, I had to develop detailed filming guidelines for the cameramen and mixer, including determining how much time we should spend on each rhythm and each variation within the rhythm. Of course, I developed those guidelines with Daniel but I didn't know what questions to ask other than "How many variations does toque X have?" He answered what I asked quite literally, but when we actually started filming there were other things going on that I hadn't known to ask about, and I got completely flustered. For example, during the filming of Ochosi, which in Matanzas is a very complicated set of rhythms, I thought we were done. But the guys were still drumming away! Brooms were falling over, they were drumming so hard. The mixer turned to me with his eyebrows raised and I just shrugged and mimed "Keep filming! I'll figure it out later!"

Thankfully, my husband is a very talented drummer.  Alberto Calvo is Kabiosile's Artistic Director, and I rely on his knowledge and opinion. For example, I wanted to film an interview about the language of the drums. I asked Alberto what questions we should ask the drummers. He said he would think about it, and the day of the interview, he came out with a list of great questions and another list of rhythms that he wanted the drummers to play to illustrate how the drums speak. I could never have done that on my own. I wouldn't even have known where to start.

I am also blessed to know Michael Spiro and Bill Summers, two incredibly talented percussionists who have given so much of their time, energy, and love to this project. It literally would not have seen the light of day without them.

Michael very patiently fielded all my questions throughout the development of the project, and offered me great advice on every single one of them. He took time out of his incredibly busy schedule to review the first, second, and third draft DVDs with me and make editing suggestions, and he reviewed and critiqued all of the transcriptions. He has literally been my savior.

Elegua brought me Bill Summers. He showed up in Matanzas just as we were starting the development of the transcriptions, and offered to help. Thank god! We never would have been able to develop such detailed transcriptions without him. He also offered very valuable advice on the editing of the DVDs.

And just as I was trying to figure out how I was going to review those transcriptions with Daniel before finalizing them (Daniel doesn't read music), two of his long-time students, Kevin Repp and Vanessa Lindberg, showed up in Matanzas to make Ocha and continue their studies with Daniel. They very graciously agreed to take time from those studies to play each of the 19 rhythms for Daniel as they were written, and to make any adjustments that were necessary.

I have been truly blessed throughout this project.

Matanzas-style bata drumming is not very well known outside of Cuba. What do you hope to achieve with this project?

I hope these DVDs and transcriptions will help make the Matanzas style of bata drumming more accessible to people who up until now have only been exposed to the more prevalent Havana style. There are a few well-known Matanzas-trained drummers in the US, such as Francisco Aguabella, Felipe Villamil, and Sandy Perez. But you need three drummers to play, so here they play mostly Havana style because that's what everyone else plays. My dream is that more and more drummers will want to add the Matanzas style to their repertoire so that, eventually, both styles will be played at tambors and in performance environments.