South Of The Border
by Norbert Goldberg
The Cuban rhythmic tradition has been closely tied to its African heritage; parts of it were integrated into jazz by Dizzy Gillespie and Cal Tjader, along with percussionists like Chano Pozo, Candido, and Mongo Santamaria. Among the rhythms popularized by these artists is the Afro-Cuban 6/8, also known as the African nanigo rhythm. Used in African dances and rituals, it was nurtured and expanded in Cuba, and due to its adaptability was assimilated by progressive jazz drummers world-wide.
The cowbell rhythm, often played on the bell of the cymbal, has retained much of its authenticity. It is the most important element in this beat and should be mastered before going further. Repeat each rhythm and try writing your own variations.
The above rhythms can be joined into one measure of 12/8 time, counted in 4/4 with eighth note triplets, or felt as a jazz waltz with three quarters per measure of 6/8. Since much of jazz music can also be counted in these time signatures, the Afro-Cuban 6/8 lends itself well to jazz interpretation. This is shown in the example below which combines the standard ride-cymbal beat with the original cowbell rhythm now written in triplet form and played on the snare.
The left hand has a variety of options available, each providing interesting results. A simple, yet effective technique is to fill in the rests of the cowbell or cymbal rhythm with the remaining hand, alternating between rim-clicks, rim-shots and tom-tom accents.
Counter-rhythms playing against the cymbal are also an option, though they require good hand independence. When practicing, it is a good idea to superimpose the two rhythms on paper, taking notice of when the hands fall together or separately. Here are some suggestions which should be taken slowly at first and then brought up to a moderate tempo.
*For an interesting challenge, try reversing the hands.
At this point we can bring in the feet which provide a steady foundation for the active hand interplay. Playing the basic jazz foot pattern of four quarters on the bass drum with the hi-hat on two and four works quite well and can be applied to any of the above rhythms; reversing this foot pattern also works well. Below are some other ideas.
Doubling the cymbal rhythm with the bass drum adds an exciting “punch” and can be used to reinforce a musical peak. An example is the following beat which uses the double paradiddle, a rudiment which fits naturally into the 6/8 context. Beats like these can also be used as fills in a rock shuffle.
The authentic Afro-Cuban 6/8 is often accompanied by a percussion instrument called the “shekere.” It consists of a gourd with beads strung around it which can be shaken, rotated, or struck on the bottom for a deep, thuddy sound. I have adapted the shekere’s typical rhythm to the drums, in a beat best used when other percussion is available and an authentic feel is desired.
*The bass drum accents fill in the holes left by the right hand, creating a polyrhythmic effect.
The Afro-Cuban 6/8 rhythm is one of the more exciting in the Latin family. Learning this and any other new rhythms not only expands one’s musical knowledge, but in the process virtually all aspects of drumming such as independence, accuracy, and control are heightened.