Smithsonian Center for Latino Initatives::Exhibition::Ritmos de Identidad

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Trinidad Torregrosa. Set of Cuban Batá. From left: Okonkolo, Itotele, Iyá.

Gumbe (Kingston, jamaica, 1960). Wood and skin. Size: 12 x 12 1/2 x 12 1/2 in.

Bokú (Cuba, Size: 35 x 12 x 37 in. approx.)

Chekeré, Rhumba instrument.

Assotor (Haiti). Related to the Dahomeyan drumming tradition, the Haitian Assotor is the largest African-derived drum in the Americas, sometimes reaching over seven feet in height. Some are painted and others are carved. This specimen is two inches short of six feet.

La Clave

Two Apintis (height: 22"), and a Loango Dra (height: 33"), from Paramaribo, Surinam.

Set of Steel Drums (Trinidad, diameter: 23")

La Caja. Wood and Varnish (Havana, Cuba, 1958). Size: 8 1/2 x 9 1/4 x 14 7/8 in. (Trinidad, diameter: 23 in.)

Rada cult drums from Haiti, 1960. Left: Maman (height: 39 in.). Seconde (high: 31 in.).

Two Fotomfroms (height: 55"), and two Atumpans (height: 33 in.), from Ghana.

Ghana's barrel-like sogo (height: 28"), Kidi (height: 23 3/4 in.), and Kaganu (height: 22 in.).

Kinfuiti (Cuba, height: 21")

Bongos, Rhumba instrument.

Macumba cult drums from Brazil. From left: (height: 31 1/4"), Rum (height: 30 7/8"), Rumpi (height: 31").

Set of Nigerian Batá. From left: Okonkolo, Itotele, Iyá.

Set of Nigerian Batá. From left: Okonkolo, Itotele, Iyá.

Curbeta from Venezuela (height: 18 3/4")

Pandereta (Rio de Janeiro, Brasil). Metal and Skin. Height: 2 3/8" X diameter: 6"

Los Timbales (Cuba). Steel and Skin. Approx: 31"x25"x12 1/2"

Batá, Rhumba instrument.

Shango cult drums from Trinidad, From left: Congo, Bembo, and Amalie. This set was purchased by Dr. Howard from a Shango priestess in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, 1960. (height: 14").

Ritmos de Identidad

Fernando Ortiz's Legacy
and the Howard Family Collection
of Percussion Instruments.

Arts and Industries Building
Smithsonian Institution
February 28 -
August 1, 2000 

Elegguá: Music that opens the roads
In the popular Afro-Cuban religion Santería or Regla de Ocha, Elegguá is the god of the crossroads. Living in a place of constant movement and interaction, he is the messenger for all the spirits. His power to transform things means that he is the alaché-the owner of sacred power. His childish qualities make him a trickster who creates misunderstandings and conflicts. He is sometimes dressed half in red, half in black to sow confusion. Praising him lessens the chances that he will disrupt a ritual. Music like this, which invokes and praises him, opens all ceremonies in the religion because Elegguá "opens the roads," making communication between humans and spirits possible.

Orishas: African Gods in the Americas
From 1780 through 1850, more than 500,000 Yoruba speakers from present-day
Nigeria and Benin were taken to Cuba as slaves to provide labor for a sugar boom. They brought their language, customs, beliefs, and a large pantheon of deities called orishas. They adapted their culture to meet new social pressures. Santería is one of the results. The heart of the religion is an intimate relationship between people and the orishas. People make offerings to win the favor of the gods, who in turn bestow gifts and blessings. These include health, luck, strength, peace and spiritual evolution. Each orisha governs a different aspect of human life and the natural world, and each has a personality, foibles, virtues, and preferences for colors and foods.

Ochún: River of Riches
Africa, Ochún was the patron goddess of the city of Oshogbo and its river. In Cuba, she became an omnipresent deity who "lives" in all rivers. She "owns" honey and the sweetness of love and children. She delights in copper, brass and gold, and provides her followers with wealth. She is considered sensual, cultured, vain, and powerful. In Cuba, Ochún is associated with Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre. In 1607, two mestizos and a black slave discovered a wooden image of the Virgin Mary with the inscription "I am the Virgin of Charity." A chapel was erected for the image in the slave settlement near the copper mines in the town of El Cobre. In 1915, the Pope declared Our Lady of Charity the patron saint of Cuba. Since Ochún reigns over copper and wealth, Cubans have associated her with the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre

Yemayá: Goddess of the Sea
Yemayá was a river deity among the Yorubas but in
Cuba she became the goddess of the sea and protector of all mothers. She loves molasses. Like the sea, she wears different shades of blue and white, and can become suddenly turbulent. A powerful dark-skinned mother, she gave birth to many other orishas, including Elegguá, Ogún, and Ochún. Her following is strong in the town of Regla, across the bay from Havana. There she was associated with the black Madonna, Our Lady of Regla, whose image has guarded the shore since 1687. Like Yemayá, Our Lady of Regla is the mother of God and sits by the sea. In the mid-nineteenth century, enslaved Africans and their descendants created an elaborate festival that included attending mass in the Regla church, sacrifices on the high seas, and a procession to the sound of the bata, the sacred drums of Santería

Sacred Drums of the Yoruba
Yoruba communities in
Nigeria and Benin shared a language, a history, and a religion. Drumming is an essential way of communicating with the divine in this tradition. Double-headed batá drums are critical in the rituals connecting humans and orishas. These drums are relatively small and are usually bound together in groups of three, four, or five. A male drummer plays all the drum heads to produce the tonal language of specific ritual poems. A town or region customarily worships a single orisha. Drummers invoke that orisha in rituals meant to encourage the deity to manifest itself through possession.

Sacred Drums of Santería 
Cuba, the form and meaning of Orisha religion and batá drumming were altered. Fernando Ortiz called this "transculturation." By that he meant the mutually enriching process of cultural exchange. In Cuba, many deities are worshipped in any given ceremony. Despite generations of repression, Santería has blossomed in recent years and spread throughout the United States and other countries. In a Santería ceremony, three male drummers play a set of three consecrated batá drums. Like a family, the largest drum is the Iyá or "mother" and the Okónkolo, the smallest, is the "baby." The Iyá opens the call. The middle drum, Itótele, responds to the Iyá's rhythmic and tonal conversation while the Okónkolo, holds a steady rhythm. The drummers thus represent and communicate with specific orishas. Through these sounds, the bat‡ drumming ceremony "brings down" a variety of deities for the well-being of the community.

In 1960, Dr. Joseph Howard traveled to
Cuba. He was interested in acquiring a set of Cuban batá drums made by master drum maker Trinidad Torregrosa of Havana. Torregrosa was well acquainted with Fernando Ortiz. Years earlier, Ortiz had asked Torregrosa to play the batá drums for his project to express batá rhythms in musical notation. Ortiz had thoroughly investigated the Afro-Cuban musical tradition in a series of studies culminating in Los instrumentos de la música afrocubana (1952-1955). According to Ortiz, the batá arrived in Cuba in the 1800's, when a Yoruba master arrived on the island in bondage. The tradition of drumming became well established thereafter, and knowledge was handed down from generation to generation. Making a batá set is complicated because exacting standards must be met. Torregrosa was among the few masters with the know-how to make a set of the sacred drums. The Pursuit of Identity Joseph H. Howard (1912-1994) was born in Venezuela of African, European and East Indian ancestry, and grew up in Chicago. As a child, he was fascinated by rhythm and drumming. He attended Fisk University and earned a doctorate in dental surgery at the University of Illinois. In 1946 he married Tommye Berry. They had two children, Brock and Victoria. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1952, where Howard was exposed to the rich drumming tradition in the Latino community. As a man of mixed descent living in the United States, Howard felt compelled to understand his multi-ethnic self. He would describe himself and his family as "the fruit of the cross of cultures." Victoria describes her father's quest as "the pursuit of identity through the eye of the drum." Dr. Howard arranged his professional life so that he could dedicate a part of the year to his collecting, while Mrs. Howard pursued her interest in African art. He researched his collection thoroughly and published several books and articles about it. Collecting, studying and playing drums was his passion. He understood drums as sources of cultural history and embraced them as symbols of pride.

An ongoing act of creation 
As a drummer, Dr. Howard could participate in an ongoing act of creation. Layering and weaving different rhythmic patterns with his drums, he could create what in music is called polyrhythm: the simultaneous use of strikingly contrasted rhythms in the musical fabric. Polyrhythm was his key metaphor for family, community and identity: this he created using the contrasted experiences and traditions of his ancestors. This is why drums expressed his feelings about family. Many of the drums in his collection and in this exhibit belong in families: they are related and make sense together.

In Search of Cuban-ness
Fernando Ortiz was born in Havana in 1881 and died there in 1969. He grew up in Menorca, Spain, and received a doctorate of law from the University of Madrid in 1901. When Cuba became independent the following year, Ortiz embraced Cuban citizenship and served as a consular officer at Corunna, Genoa, and Marseilles. In 1906, he returned to Havana and was appointed a prosecutor. His early studies of Afro-Cuban culture reflected the racial prejudices of the time. However, as Ortiz observed and studied African culture in Cuba, he became convinced that its complexity, vitality and beauty were central to Cuban identity: "Cuba is Cuba because it is African." Of course, he did not forget that Cuba's national identity was a river fed by many sources. He loved Spain and founded the influential Hispano-Cuban Cultural Society. He condemned racism and argued that cultural exchange enriched people. Ortiz became an influential advocate for the understanding of Cuba's African heritage. He wrote 30 books and countless other publications on Cuban anthropology, history, musicology, ethnography and folklore. A tireless public intellectual, he was his country's preeminent social critic

Ajiaco and Counterpoint
Fernando Ortiz's best known work is Cuban Counterpoint: Sugar and Tobacco (1940). It explains how the interplay between
Cuba's contrasting primary crops, tobacco and sugar, shaped the island's history. Counterpoint, a musical term, is a technique based on the opposition and contrast of notes. Ortiz's metaphor is particularly appropriate for a country that has produced such intricate and complex music. Ortiz also introduced the word "transculturation" to describe the process of reciprocal cultural exchange. He chose Cuba's national dish, ajiaco, as an apt symbol for the Caribbean. Ajiaco is a broth rich in native tubers and ingredients from many cultures and traditions: "The Cuban ajiaco stewed, boiling or simmering away, clean or dirty, varied according to the human ingredients that went into the pot.... A thick stew of civilization bubbling hot on the Caribbean hearth." 

Lydia CabreraLydia Cabrera
Lydia Cabrera (1900-1991) shares with Fernando Ortiz a key position in the emergence of Afro-Cuban studies. She published no fewer than 23 books and virtually everything she wrote is in print today. Her interest began in her childhood when her nanny's tales opened her eyes to black
Cuba. Those early experiences paved the way to her pioneering book, Contes negres de Cuba (1936). Her best known work is El Monte (1954). Cabrera reports that Ortiz, who happened to be her brother-in-law, was deeply moved by the book: "Ortiz did not know what I was doing, and when I presented him a copy, tears came to his eyes. She dedicated her life to recording and researching Afro-Cuban oral traditions and Cuban culture and history. Lydia Cabrera died in exile in Miami.

The House in Havana
Fernando Ortiz's residence in
Havana was built at the time of his marriage to Esther Cabrera, his first wife. They had a daughter, Isis. Esther's sister was Lydia Cabrera, who was a major scholar. At the peak of Ortiz's influence, the spacious neo-classic villa near the University of Havana was a veritable meeting place for Cuban and international intellectuals. Ortiz, his second wife, María Herrera, and their daughter, María Fernanda, welcomed to their home a stream of informants, family friends, and the many who sought the scholar's counsel. Ortiz, worked in a study packed with books and notes advancing several projects simultaneously. María Fernanda Ortiz shares her memories....

The House in Los Angeles
Victoria Howard remembers her father proudly showing his collections and jamming with friends in the family room, which doubled as an exhibit area. A huge Chinese drum presided from a corner, surrounded by djembes, congas, bombos and sundry percussive instruments. The Howard home was special. It was a place for family, music making, collecting, and research. It was exciting and challenging. As the Howard holdings grew, the collection became a major feature of their domestic landscape and a point of reference in the lives of family members. From time to time,
Victoria would be photographed next to the Haitian assotor, a vivid record of her growth.

Clave: Key to Rhythm
The clave, which literally means key, is both a musical instrument and a rhythmic pattern of Afro-Cuban music. As a musical instrument, the clave is a pair of hardwood sticks that are struck together. One stick called the macho (male) hits another stick called the hembra (female). A distinctive characteristic of clave rhythms is syncopation, or the deliberate disturbance of the normal pulse, meter or accent. Clave patterns are the underlying rhythmic skeleton of most forms of Afro-Cuban music, from rumba to son. Fernando Ortiz argued that clave is of Cuban origin, concretely from

The clave is a hybrid instrument,
like all of
Cuba's creole music,
which was born of the friction of two people enjoying each other
in a delicious frenzy of the senses,
so that miseries may be banished. 

-Fernando Ortiz 

The Rhythms of the Clave
The clave exemplifies the mixing of many different musical and cultural influences from
Africa, Europe and the Americas. The two forms of clave most frequently used are the rumba or three-two clave and the son or two-three clave. Additionally, there is a six-eight clave pattern played on bells. 

Los ritmos de la clave
La clave ejemplifica la fusión de muchas influencias musicales y culturales de Africa, Europa y las Américas. Las dos formas de clave usadas con mas frecuencia son la clave de rumba o de tres-dos y la clave de son o de dos-tres. Además, existe un patrón de seis-ocho que se toca con las campanas. 

Families of Drums
Big drums and little drums; drums made of wood and drums made of steel; drums played with the hands and drums played with sticks, and even friction drums. Dr. Howard collected them all, and his lifetime passion is made manifest here. Families of drums from three regions -
Africa, the Caribbean, and South America - let us experience continuities and discontinuities in drum making traditions. Here we appreciate construction and aesthetics and, if we look carefully, we will also see Ortiz's idea of transculturation at work. Drums from Jamaica, Trinidad, Brazil, Panama, Honduras, Ghana, Liberia, and other countries give us an opportunity to understand it. Some of these drums are sacred like the atabaques from Brazil. Others are meant for carnival, like the steel drums from Trinidad. All together they suggest that searching for identity trough the eye of the drum is truly a never-ending quest.

Ogún: the Warrior
Ogún is a fiery warrior who lives hidden in the wild and fights with a machete. For generations, he has inspired his followers to break the chains of oppression and create new communities. Beginning in the 18th century, enslaved Africans created societies called cabildos to honor their deities. The cabildos took the names of Catholic saints and provided a place for people to continue playing their traditional drums and speaking their languages. During the 19th century, most major slave rebellions included cabildo members. Therefore, they were ultimately outlawed. Altars like this one for Ogún are created for drumming rituals in Santería. The branches speak of Ogún's wild abode. The machete is his weapon. Called thrones, these altars echo the seat of royal power in
Havana, where the colonial Captains-General sat on an actual throne to receive the cabildo leaders each year on the Day of the Kings.

Orishas in Trinidad
Trinidad received a relatively small Yoruba slave population. There, the worship of the orishas mixed freely with other traditions. Trinidadian Orisha shrines honor Yoruba deities, Hindu gods, and Christian saints. Every year, the faithful hold a week-long ceremony called an ebo. At night, worshipers drum, sing, and dance, inviting the gods to possess their followers. Once present at the feast, the gods dance, counsel the faithful and heal the sick. Among the deities that appear is Ogun, the fighter. Like Elegguá in Cuban Santería, he is the mediator between the people and the gods. He is associated with Saint Michael and dresses in red and white. Every shrine includes an altar or "stool" for him, for everyone needs his strength, direction, and independence. 

Drums of Freedom
Slave rebellions and maroon or runaway slave communities in the
Americas are as old as slavery itself. "Maroon" is derived from the Spanish cimarrón, a term used for animals escaped to the wild. Maroons demonstrated that freedom is born out of resistance. The tradition or marronage accounts for Haiti's independence struggle. In 1804, Haiti, the first black republic in the Americas, was the first to abolish slavery. Africans clung to the drums through the long night of slavery. Drums communicated with the gods but they could also carry a message of defiance, and perhaps of rebellion. They could be so unnerving to the masters that authorities often outlawed them.

Vodou's Faith
Vodou was once a repressed religion. Its faith has been kept alive because of the drumbeats that announced its forbidden ceremonies. Vodou is a comprehensive system of knowledge that gives meaning to the human experience in relation to the natural and supernatural forces of the universe. It teaches how to overcome hard times. In its rituals, worshippers invoke the spirits (lwa) by drumming and dancing. The lwa take possession of the dancers, enabling them to counsel and heal. A specific drum rhythm and dance posture is associated with each lwa. The are two major groups of lwa. The Rada lwa, of African origin, are sweet and benevolent. Those of the Petwo cult, born in slavery and oppression, are bitter and fierce. Ogou the warrior embodies characteristics of both.

Rhumba is the quintessential genre of Cuban secular music and dance. In
Cuba, African and Spanish musical elements were transformed and woven together. Rhumba emerged in the late 1800's and has components derived from the Congolese or Bantu people of Africa brought to Cuba as slaves. The barrel-shaped drums used in rhumba are commonly referred to as congas because of this Congolese association. There are three kinds of rhumba rhythms: guaguancó, columbia and yambú. Of these, the guaguancó is the most popular and influential. In a rhumba ensemble, the claves start playing a three-two rhythm, followed by one or two low pitched congas playing a recurrent pattern. The higher pitched conga, or quinto, improvises over the lower pitched ones creating intricate polyrhythms. Other instruments of rhumba are maracas, shekeres, guiros, cajones, and bells, like the ones you see in this ensemble.

Caribbean Music and its Influence
Caribbean and Latin music have been influential in the United States for over a hundred years. Virtuoso percussionists from Cuba, Puerto Rico and other countries migrated to the United States, creating opportunities for collaborations between musicians from different areas of the world. The early marriage of Afro-Caribbean percussion and jazz created a distinct sound which is referred to as Latin jazz. Other distinct styles followed such as mambo, boogaloo, and salsa. Rhythms such as rhumba, bomba, son, and plena became popular in many urban areas. They took root in American music, influencing rock and roll, swing, blues, and other genres. The impact was more than musical, it was also aesthetic. The combination of colorful, joyful, and intricate costumes and rhythms became a trademark of Caribbean music performances. Caribbean music promotes new forms of creativity in the ever-changing counterpoint between tradition and innovation.

The "New" Percussion Instruments of Caribbean Music
Throughout this exhibition, we have encountered traditional drums from
Africa, the Caribbean, and South America. Companies such as Latin Percussion, Remo, and Toca represent a new era in the development of Latin sounds for global consumption. Here you see drums made with new materials using technological innovations to construct a new generation of drums modeled after many of the traditional ones. These drums are used by professional and amateur percussionists playing music as traditional as rhumba and as contemporary as rap. Made with fiberglass, polyester, leather, wood, and metal, these drums show that Caribbean music is alive and kicking.

Livin' the Latin Rhythm
Imagine it is Saturday night at the Palladium night club in
New York City. The year is 1950. The sounds, sights, and smells of Latin music and dance envelop you. "Machito and his Afrocubans" are playing a hot Latin jazz number, and as far as the eye can see, there are couples dancing. With wondrously colorful and eye-catching costumes, they dance the night away. The music is electrifying, the virtuoso performances explosive. This is the beginning of the Latin and mambo craze. From here on, Latin music will become a permanent fixture in North America and the world. Many of the objects shown here bear the names of important figures in Latin music from the 1940s until the present. The posters, photographs, advertisements, and record covers illustrate the vitality of the moment and suggest that Latin music will continue for centuries to come. 

Bongos, a rumba instrument.

Signal drum (Jamaica, height: 8").Made from tin can, the signal box retains a commercial label, a reminder of its previous life as an object.

Loango Dra, from Paramaribo, Surinam

El Coco de Edik Obuton (havana, Cuba, 1960). Size: 5x5x13 in. approx.

Guagua (Cuba, lenght: 24")

Catá with stand (Cuba, length: 19")

Blafon (Ghana, length: 82")

Tango, a rumba instrument

Quinto (Cuba, height: 26")

Bata Moderno (Panam, 1958). Wood, Skin, Metal and Varnish. Size: 22 in. high x 9 3/4 in. head x 11 in. base.

Bula (Haiti, height: 27")

Prototype from Cuban ensemble, the Nigerian batá can be grouped in sets of three, four or five instruments. From left: Iyá, Okónkolo, Itótele.

Chekeré (Nigeria)

Curbeta (Venezuela. height:18 3/4")

Garifuna religious drums from Belize. From left: Tuba (height: 19 3/4"), Primero (heigth: 17 1/4"), Segundo (height: 19 3/8")

Marinbula (Jamaica, 24 x 16")

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