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The art of playing tres-dos

PostPosted: Thu Jul 16, 2020 12:01 pm
by Thomas Altmann
Dear Jorge,

I told you I would check out your tres-dos work on the Congahead /Encuentro video, and I did. I know that you have focused your practice quite a bit on the segundo position in rumba, and I'd like to ask you whether you would share some of your secrets of doing this particular job.

To talk about myself, I know some basic patterns and little variations of Havana- and Matanzas-style segunda in the traditional styles, meaning: no guarapachangueo. I have very few opportunities to play in an ensemble. I remember when I had my folklore group in Hamburg around 1990, I was either playing quinto or salidor /tumbadora. I have always felt a bit uncomfortable playing the tres-dos. Presently, whenever I have a chance to participate in a rumba, I am generally playing quinto, for 2 reasons; 1) there are not too many people who are able to play the quinto here, especially with dancers, and 2) I don't have to care much about modern accompaniment styles, as long as I follow the song, the dance, and the clave. Although I remember one "contemporary" situation where I felt there was no space left for any quinto.

My questions are, in particular:

1. What is your primary reference part in the ensemble? Is there more than one single part you are listening to?
2. Do you feel safe in a guarapachangueo setting? What would you say are the requirements for fitting in that concept?
3. How do you adjust your playing volume to the ensemble? I suspect you have to listen for melodic balance with the salidor, right?
3.a) How loud do you play the support strokes between the open and bass notes? Would you classify them as slaps or as ghost notes /time touches, or something in-between? (I guess the main aspect is not to get in the way of the quintero.)
4. I realized that you are sometimes muting the second open tone, evoking something like a Matanzas-style effect from a Havana-style technique. Are there more people than you doing this? Is it your personal thing? Or was that something you were told to do for the occasion?

Apart from these questions, other comments are of course welcome, also from other group members ...


Re: The art of playing tres-dos

PostPosted: Thu Jul 16, 2020 7:14 pm
by jorge
Hi Thomas,
Thank you for your complements and questions. Right now things are super busy at work so here are a few quick responses to your questions, we can discuss more in a few weeks when I hopefully get more time.
To sound musical, the tres dos tones and slaps have to lock in with the clave, producing a pattern that largely overlies but is not as loud as the cata part. Obviously it has to fit with the tumbador too, and the tones have to fit with the coro. So it is important that the coro does not sing on the wrong side of clave. I like to keep the tres dos bass in the same place as the bass of the bonko enchemiya, on the second hit of clave. In modern rumba with all drums talking (without talking on top of each other), usually the tumbador calls and tres dos answers. Occasionally you can play a bass on the first hit of clave if that accent fits with the singing and the tumbador. There are some tres dos calls but the tumbador has to know how to answer and a lot don't. I have trouble sometimes with playing at the right level, in a lot of rumbas there is a loudness war among the drummers and that is hard to deal with unless you get support from the singer telling everyone to play softer. I record the rumbas sometimes and listen back to hear how the balance sounds out in the crowd, that can help you learn dynamics. The support strokes go with the cata, they keep the meter of the rumba going, sometimes we even play with no cata (if someone is late) and tres dos can carry that part. You can mute the second note of the tres dos, or play that note on the tumbador if you are playing both parts. Probably what you were hearing was Roman playing that muff tone on the tumba or his conga. It provides some variety in the melody of the guaguanco and you can use it (sparingly y con sabor) to talk with the other drummers. Daniel Ponce used to do that a lot when he would hold the rumba on 3 drums with Puntilla on quinto. I have always listened a lot to the great masters, most of whom have passed on now. For tres dos, I liked Pablo Mesa (who developed the Matanzas seis por ocho but I never met) and his brother Enrique who showed me the part, Naldo with Afrocuba, Agustin (Muñequitos), and in la Habana, Maximino (Rumbon Tropical video) and now Lucumi with Rumberos de Cuba and el Chori (Yoruba Andabo). In New York, Daniel Ponce was an early influence although he usually played 3 or 4 drums and it was Pancho Quinto who first showed me the correct tres dos part I still use a lot today. I learned the most playing in weekly rumbas with Roman who would look at me every time I was 2 or 3 milliseconds off or played something that didn't fit the song. Roman is a true master drummer. In the Central Park rumbas, same thing but not as reliable, la universidad de la calle. Pedrito Martinez plays great tres dos, and is probably the best segundero on bata in the US. On 4 congas, holding the rumba parts and playing quinto, I like Joaquin Pozo, he has the most musical style on 4 congas I have heard. There are alot more great tres dos players. Over the years I have learned from Clemente, Matanzas, Skip (Brinquito), Diosvany, Gene, Michel, Freddy (in la Habana), and others. You can learn from a lot of different people and from records, but I learned the most from those times when I was privileged to play with great players who let me know every time something didn't sound good, and occasionally if something did sound good. Agua.
Back to work.

Re: The art of playing tres-dos

PostPosted: Thu Jul 16, 2020 8:27 pm
by Thomas Altmann
Wow, Jorge - for being "super busy at work" that was plenty of response! Thanks a lot!

I could continue asking you questions based on your explanations, but I will wait a couple of weeks.

Stay healthy, wherever you are working!!

Re: The art of playing tres-dos

PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2020 5:35 am
by jorge
These videos of the Zinc Bar rumbas are good examples of what we did for over 5 years almost every Thursday. ... 617660742/
It was a real privilege to be part of that, lots of rumbas, playing with lots of rumberos better than me, and a few that weren't but everyone got to play. You came to a few. Maybe you can organize some rumbas in Hamburg, which has a history going back over 130 years of Afrocubans playing music there. Back to the roots!

Re: The art of playing tres-dos

PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2020 9:04 am
by Siete Leguas
Great topic! Thank you Thomas for bringing it up and Jorge for sharing your mastery. Looking forward to new episodes (if medical practice permits).

Reading what Jorge wrote about the relation between tres-dos and catá, I was wondering: do you adapt the tres-dos part depending on which catá pattern is being played? For example in guagancó, the two typical catá patterns give a quite different swing.

I would also love to learn more about the conversations between salidor and tres-dos, but I guess that must be difficult to write about in a post...

I get jealous when I see events like those in the Zinc Bar or the Central Park rumbas in NYC and other parts of the US. I wish there was such a rumba scene somewhere in Europe. Maybe there are some rumbas in Spain, where there is a big Cuban diaspora community, but I don't know of any. I would definitely travel to Hamburg if Thomas organizes something there, even just to watch. The closest thing that I found in Germany is this event from few years ago at a Biergarten in Cologne. It seems to have been organized by Cologne-based percussionist Roland Peil (playing clave at the very beginning). I don't know any of the other rumberos. It looks and sounds very nice, although there are no dancers:

Re: The art of playing tres-dos

PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2020 12:09 pm
by Thomas Altmann
Even though Jorge will have no chance to read or respond to this, I must quickly comment:

1. I am not Afro-Cuban; I just know a fraction of Afro-Cuban music and can play selected parts on some of the Afro-Cuban instruments;
2. José Manuel Jimenez Berroa worked as a professor for piano at the Hamburg Conservatory from 1891-1917, but I doubt he ever played Afro-Cuban music. His "Negertrio" played the works of European composers, and the trio had to deal a lot with racist prejudice, pretty similar to the one I'm facing today as a German percussionist.

I'd like to echo SL's interest in salidor - tres dos conversations.

When I had my percussion project "Cuero Cuero!" from around 1988 to 1992, I arranged some rumba conversations, breaks, sections and transitions myself. Some of them sounded similar to the ones I had heard on records, some were original. We had no singer, so the percussion arrangement had to make up for this lack. We had the salidor sit in the middle like in Matanzas, and on stage I consciously positioned the guagua player behind the tres-dos and the clave player behind the quinto.

I had founded this group, I had put together a comparsa uniting nearly all Hamburg-based percussionists plus some brass players, I formed my batá group Ayé Ilu in 1994, and I launched my Latin Jazz band Septeto Miramar in 2000. I did all the organizing work and taught everybody everything except the dance and the jazz band arrangements. That's what I had initiated myself in my town in terms of Latin /Afro-Cuban music, and it's all memories now. A regular Latin jam session wouldn't work, let alone a weekly rumba session. There are not enough capable players and only one singer, and some of them wouldn't even show up if there was no money involved. Whatever will happen here in the future, I don't know. Hamburg is not New York, period. I could envy you guys, but honestly: If it would really be vitally important for me, I'd rather go to New York, San Francisco or Havana instead of complaining. Eventually there may be some non-musical reasons to consider as well (and even more so since the past 3 1/2 years), and I'm not getting younger.

Let's see what happens, anyway!


Re: The art of playing tres-dos

PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2020 8:59 pm
by Siete Leguas
Similar problems here, or probably much worse. Organizing a regular Latin jam session is still in project. A rumba is far from realistic. Going to Cuba or the US is not an option for me in the short term, either.

Btw, "Das Negertrio" would be an incredibly offensive name nowadays. Although I have heard elderly people use the N-word in German in a neutral way (in my perception), without any apparent racist intentions, since I'm not a native speaker, I am never quite sure about the nuances. But I know for sure that among younger people today that word would be extremely derogatory. Of course, language and society have evolved quite a bit in the past 100+ years, but I am curious: would that be the name that the trio gave to themselves, or an external denomination (by white people)?

Re: The art of playing tres-dos

PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2020 10:35 pm
by Thomas Altmann
@ Siete Leguas:

Of course I know that a name like "Negertrio" would sound offensive today. I suppose it didn't in 1871 when the trio started to perform under this name in Europe. It was certainly a novelty to see and hear 3 black musicians perform European chamber music back then. From the article that Jorge sent me (Josephine Wright, 1981) it does not become evident whether the name was chosen by the Jimenez family themselves or suggested by white European concert agencies; probably both. It is possible that the musicians just saw a way to market themselves successfully. And basically, "Neger" means negro, "black", especially to Spanish speakers, so why bother?

That was in 1871. I was 3 years old in the year 1958, sitting on my mother's lap in a streetcar on the way to the kindergarten, when a black man entered the waggon, still a rare occurence at the time. In amazement and surprise I pointed my finger to the man, and my mother explained to me: Look, this is a "Neger", he is a human like me and you, he just has dark skin. That was it. No discrimination, nothing, in 1958, northern Germany. I can't remember when that turned around.

There was a time when we had to say "coloured gentlemen", also impossible today.

On one of our concerts in the late 1980s, we were talking about "black" people on stage, and in the intermission a young African yelled at us that he wasn't "black"; he pointed to the wall, saying, you are not white either - the wall is white! So that was wrong, too. This whole thing has become totally hysterical, and wherever that came from, it wasn't me who caused it. Sure I succumb to the present norm, because I don't want to offend anybody (and avoid to be hit in the face); but secretly I find this whole issue ridiculous. I have seriously studied African and Afro-American culture all my life; I even became a member of an African religion. So who wanted to accuse me of racist disrespect, only because I call someone black or whatever? I didn't invent this sh.. that has made the lives of many people so hard!

Sorry for the short rant at the side. Basically I only wanted to say: Things haven't always been like they are today.


Re: The art of playing tres-dos

PostPosted: Sat Jul 18, 2020 12:37 am
by Siete Leguas
I dealt with elderly people (mostly in their 80s and 90s) in Germany for some time on a daily basis, and I noticed that, in many cases, they used the word "Neger" pretty much like your mother did on the streetcar. However, my younger German friends (in their late 20s and 30s) told me unanimously that that word was a no-go, and couldn't believe that its use (even by the elderly) could not have a racist connotation. As a foreigner trying to learn the language, I found confusing (and interesting) that none of those generations seemed to be aware of the difference in meaning that the word had for the other generation. I guess the change must have happened quite quickly at some point. My theory is that it was probably influenced by the English language (and its own history of racial discrimination).

I try to handle some absurdities of political correctness with some sense of humour, especially in the use of language. But like you, I also like to treat people with respect, and avoid getting hit. As to the word "Neger", there seems to be a consensus among the German-speaking black community - and you know they aren't a rare occurrence anymore - that that word is offensive to them, and that's what matters to me. Between this situation and 1871, when "Das Negertrio" chose or accepted their artistic name, there's a remarkable difference. But languages are alive and evolving, so it's natural. That's all I wanted to point out.

And of course there might always be someone who will be offended by anything, even by the word "black", but that's on them, I think.

Sorry for the off-topic, anyway

Re: The art of playing tres-dos

PostPosted: Sun Jul 26, 2020 12:01 pm
by Thomas Altmann
Hi Jorge,

as you have been answering other postings too, I dare to continue my line of questions re tres-dos, even if you are not yet ready to respond.

1) As Siete Leguas suggested, we cannot expect you to present us a list of notated salidor-tres-dos-conversations. However, perhaps you can hint us at audio or video sources where some of these conversations can be identified more easily?

2) On YouTube I found this demonstrational clip by Guido Broglé:

I knew both the salidor and segundo variation in this video, but it never dawned to me that these are interdependent; which reminds me of my very first batá transcriptions where I just heard a bunch of floreos, only to find out years later that these had actually been conversations. I imagine that the conversation concept might eventually have leaked from batá and other Afro genres into the secular and more informal styles of rumba. I also assume that there are in fact floreos in the rumba parts that do not call for a conversational reaction from the other drummer.

The demonstration refers to guaguancó matancero. I had always felt that the busy style of rumba as played by the Muñequitos has influenced the creators of what you call modern rumba in Havana. What would you say?

3) How many of these conversations do you currently have at hand when you play? I suppose the number is steadily increasing in the playing practice of the different ensembles.

4) Can individual conversations be assigned to certain ensembles that developed them in their playing practice?

5) Are salidor-tres-dos-conversations establishing an alternate plane of "talking", or do they also take the quinto in consideration? Or does the quinto player even sometimes react to the activity of the (no longer) supporting drums?

Whenever you have time or feel like answering, your perspective and advice will be welcome.