Afro-Cuban Bata Drum Aesthetics: Developing Individual and Group Technique, Sound and Identity

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Date

2003-12-05

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Abstract

The Lucumi religion (also Santeria and Regla de Ocha) developed in 19th-century colonial Cuba, by syncretizing elements of Catholicism with the Yoruba worship of orisha. When fully initiated, santeros (priests) actively participate in religious ceremonies by periodically being possessed or "mounted" by a patron saint or orisha, usually within the context of a drumming ritual, known as a toque de santo, bembe, or tambor.

Within these rituals, there is a clearly defined goal of trance possession, though its manifestation is not the sole measure of success or failure. Rather than focusing on the fleeting, exciting moments that immediately precede the arrival of an orisha in the form of a possession trance, this thesis investigates the entire four- to six-hour musical performance that is central to the ceremony. It examines the brief pauses, the moments of reduced intensity, the slow but deliberate build-ups of energy and excitement, and even the periods when novices are invited to perform the sacred bata drums, and places these moments on an equal footing with the more dynamic periods where possession is imminent or in progress.

This document approaches Lucumi ritual from the viewpoint of bata drummers, ritual specialists who, during the course of a toque de santo, exercise wide latitude in determining the shape of the event. Known as omo Ana (children of the orisha Ana who is manifest in drums and rhythms), bata drummers comprise a fraternity that is accessible only through ritual initiation. Though they are sensitive to the desires of the many participants during a toque de santo, and indeed make their living by satisfying the expectations of their hosts, many of the drummers' activities are inwardly focused on the cultivation and preservation of this fraternity. Occasionally interfering with spirit possession, and other expectations of the participants, these aberrant activities include teaching and learning, developing group identity or signature sound, and achieving a state of intimacy among the musicians known as "communitas."

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