Percussive Arts Society

“Journey of a Rhythm” Costumes and Instruments

Courtesy of the Raíces Latin Music Museum (Nancy McGary, Collection and Exhibitions Manager) and the Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts, New York.

The new Rhythm! Discovery Center’s main gallery currently features the “Journey of a Rhythm” exhibit. A portion of this exhibit ties together the evolution and migration of a rhythm—the clave—from Africa and Spain into Latin America and the United States. On loan from the Raíces Latin Music Museum collection, the costumes and instruments on this page illustrate some of the early musical traditions that are evident in the various styles of contemporary Latin American Music.

RDC Journey Image 1

This 10 x 9 inch Abakuá drum, which has a wooden shell and animal-skin head, is tuned by tapping down the wooden wedges on the twisted cotton cords. It bears the inscription “Eddy Montalvo, 2 Apr, P. Afrokan, Cuba” and is traditionally played in sets of four.

Abakuá drum: Gift of Eddie Montalvo to RLMM. PAS Loan 12-2009.

For rumba, the conga (a cylindrical drum), the claves (two wooden dowels of hardwood) and the guagua (a bamboo drum), along with other percussion instruments, are essential for the traditionally improvised singing and dancing. As Cuban musical styles evolved, these instruments became the voice of the clave. This painted wooden conga, which was owned and played by Miguelito Valdes, has a tacked animalskin head and metal reinforcement rings. It measures 32 3/4 inches in height by 42 inches in circumference around the widest part. This pair of wooden claves, also owned and played by Miguelito Valdes, each measure 9 inches long by 7/8-inch in diameter. The guagua is played with two sticks and typically mounted on a stand.

RDC Journey Image 2

Claves and Conga: Gift of Mrs. Miguelito Valdes to RLMM. PAS Loans 9-1009 and 10-2009.
Guagua: Courtesy of Louis Balzo and The Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts. PAS Loan 14-2009.

Contained within the exhibit are Ochun and Ireme costumes, which illustrate the importance of mythology and the African origins of Cuban music. Ochun, a spirit goddess who reigns over love and marriage, is represented with a costume of yellow, with a detachable waistband. The Ireme costume, which features a tight-fitting garment, a hooded mask, and a broom and staff, symbolizes multiple beliefs of the Abakuá, an Afro-Cuban male religious society with origins in Nigeria and Cameroon. The dances of the Abakuá society, when combined with Bantu traditions of the Congo, provided musical foundations for the use of the clave in the Cuban rumba.

RDC Journey Image 3

Ochun costume: Courtesy of Xiomara Rodriguez. PAS Loan 13-2009.
Ireme costume: Promised gift of Louis Bauzo to RLMM. PAS Loan 11-2009

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