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The Making of Afro-Latin Percussion Part 4

Posted on 4th October 2013  · 
Hi again everyone. As I mentioned in my last post, I'd follow up with more info on how to apply these rhythms collectively as they traditionally function together, but of course to work with and enhance whatever dance, or really any other type of track or piece, you are working on. Naturally if you're working on a Latin thing and you already know all about this stuff this is not going to be any news for you.

I've included a percussion score in PDF of the rhythms and instruments presented here, plus two short videos and related audio. I'm going to work backwards from the videos (see below) because I decided on the rhythms and topic to discuss here by going back and looking at what I played on the video and using this style as the subject.

To begin, we were not shooting any video during the sessions, and in retrospect I wish we had set up 4-5 cams and some lights and shot everything the right way. It's too bad we didn't, but we'll likely do some real video of this in the future. These two vids were shot with a Zoom Q3HD. I was playing around on the timbales for Jeff to get levels and I saw the Zoom sitting on top of the piano and said, "hey, we should video a couple of things." So I set the cam on the piano and asked Jeff to roll a track that I'd play to while he finalized actual playing levels, which are almost always hotter than the testing levels. I apologize for the quality of the vid, but at least you get a little idea of the playing.

The rhythm and style I'm playing on the timbales and congas is, generally speaking, a mambo-type style (also sometimes called guaracha or son montuno depending on tempo, period, arranging elements, and other things), but in terms of the rhythmic patterns for our purposes, it's all generally the same. On the timbales it's based on a pattern called cascara, which is the basic groove/ride pattern the timbalero plays on the shell of the timbal. It's the equivalent of a drummer playing a repeating groove pattern on the hihat. This cascara pattern can be played anywhere (on the shell, on a cowbell, on a ride cymbal, hihat, wood sound, whatever). I played it on the large cowbell of the timbales (called the mambo bell) and then played riffs around it with my other hand while keeping the cascara pattern going. This is a very common thing on this instrument, and on drumset, so no great shakes here; just explaining the deal. Then I let the pattern go and played more soloistic-type riffs over the track, then I came back to some groove-type stuff, but now using another bell of the mambo called the bongo bell, and played a couple of outro riffs around this bell's pattern. (All the instruments and their patterns for this style are notated in the PDF.) I didn't plan any of this. It's just a very common and familiar way to play.

Wave Alchemy Afro-Latin Percussion Vol 1 - Ed Uribe Playing the Timbales from Wave Alchemy on Vimeo.

On the congas I did the same thing. I played something akin to what is called marcha (often also called tumba?), which is also a very basic timekeeping pattern for the congas. I started with this, then riffed around it, then I screwed up, then started playing a little more around the track. (I didn't want to release something with a screw-up, but Jeff said it keeps it real, and he's right, plus I've played enough things in 40 years that I can be truly embarrassed about, so I can laugh this off.)

I think it all works (hopefully you will think this too), and as I mentioned in the last post, it all works together because, at their roots, these styles all evolved from common elements. There are of course, some things to consider.

Wave Alchemy Afro-Latin Percussion Vol 1 - Ed Uribe Playing the Congas from Wave Alchemy on Vimeo.

The Rhythmic Patterns and the Clave

As I mentioned last week, everything in these styles works with clave, the rhythmic key. Regardless of which clave pattern (and there are four), it's a two-bar pattern with three notes in one bar and two in the other, and if played with the three-note side first it's called 3-2 position, and if played with the two notes first it's called 2-3. There's a lot more to this, but this is enough for the points here.

Every pattern of every style that is also a two-bar pattern has to sync with the clave, meaning the part of the pattern that goes with the three side and the part that goes with the two side has to remain this way throughout. If the pattern if four or more bars long, the same thing holds, and if the pattern is only one bar long, it too has some details that ultimately make it sync. Additionally, and of equal importance and perhaps more musical depth, is that all variations improvisations in and around the patterns, and all solos, also have to be in clave. This has to do with phrasing idiomatically, and, technically, where the phrases start and/or end. Primarily the pauses and the cadences, the resolutions to longer phrases, are what show you are in clave.

All of the timekeeping patterns I played happened to be in 2-3. (As I was improvising variations and solo licks I was also trying to play things with typical Latin phrasing and of course, in 2-3.) Why? Because when the dance track started it felt right to me to put it here. Had it been another rhythm style (a mozambique, pil?n, whatever) it would have still been in 2-3. This is more just due to experience, and it's no different with any style. If you've been playing rock for twenty years and your guitar player friend starts a riff, you know where the time is and where/how to come in. It's the same thing here. Yes, sometimes a lick can be unique and tricky and someone has to give you "one," but that's a very small percent of the time, and the more experience you have with a style and with your instrument, the smaller that percent becomes. (We're not talking Zappa's Black Page here; we're talking groove-based music.)

More important, even if you have no experience with this style and rhythms in particular, but you have music experience, and groove experience, you too will be able to determine which way it feels right, and there is always one way it feels right (or more right). There is always one way that it locks with the pocket more than the other. Now, there may be times when it feels right either way, and here you just make a call. Which way do you like it better? Which way makes you most happy? Which way makes your music sound the way you want it to? Well that's the right way. As I stated last week, it's not a Salsa gig where you have to do things a certain way. Here you are inventing the way as you go along.

Think of a New Orleans Second Line groove: use any syllable and sing: | boom - cha - boom - cha - boom | cha-ka - boom - boom - cha-ka |. (The booms are the clave, the cha the rest of the notes.) This is the son clave and the basic Second Line groove. Now sing When the Saint Go Marching In with this groove. It's your basic funk pocket. Now sing any tune with this approach and see which lock better in 3-2 versus 2-3. Try singing "When the Saints..." with the groove reversed. Doesn't feel right does it?

So now you know this is in 3-2, not 2-3. (Yes, one can arrange this in 2-3 or in any number of ways, and this is the art of arranging, but at its core, it's in 3-2.)The nice thing you have with this Afro-Latin package is that all the patterns and all the variations are all in clave in all styles, and all the variations and improvisations are also in clave, so you can take any rhythmic style you want, place whatever clave feels right for your track in whatever position, and then place any or all instruments underneath it in the corresponding position and it will all work, assuming you want it to work this way. I emphasized in my last post that there are no rules. You don't have to do it this way. You can do it whatever way your creative soul feels it, but if you wanted to have a whole rumba or salsa thing going on within, under, or out front in your tracks, this gives you the ability to do it very easily, and it also gives you a lot of variations you can throw in around the grooves, so they don't get stale from just repeating over and over without any changes, plus you can break out a timbales or bongo or conga or djembe solo as a feature or breakdown section in the track.

So using the score of the mambo provided here, you can find every one of these patterns and begin with the clave and put it with the thing you're writing or programming. Play around with it and see how it feels best. It may be that it feels best in 3-2 in one section of your piece and with 2-3 in another. No problem. This gets done in traditional Latin arrangements all the time. The clave is never crossed in that idiom, any such change is by virtue of the arrangement, but that does not apply here. If your intros sound better with all the stuff in one position, but your bridge sounds better the other way, then that's it. Now, once you've determine the position of the clave, just go through the score and find each instrument and place it in the corresponding position and you've built your "tipico" percussion section. Add some variations, some riffs, some solos for transitions between sections or for breakdowns or whatever and see what it sounds like.

Thanks for reading. I wish you the best of luck with this and I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Written by Ed Uribe for Wave Alchemy




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