Latin for Drummies #03 Playing Candombe

Candombe is the heritage of enslaved Africans in the Rio de la Plata area. Originally forbidden and confined to a small room, it is proudly played in the streets nowadays and continues to reflect the deep identity feeling that makes it born and raised.

Now we all know what to play…but…How to do it!?

It is really easy… It is just five steps!

(This explains a very “hybrid” typical way to start playing. Every group has its own ways, depending on its culture, companions, etc.)

Step 1 – Everybody On Tune

As we read on the first page, the “Madera” figure is used for calling the other drummers, asking them to join the reunion at a certain time and intention. When that happens, everybody is “on tune” and ready to start.

Step 2 – Calling the Chico Drum.

The Piano drum does this, and it usually makes this figure to start:

Note where it is placed and where it ends. Then, after a couple of times, everybody playing the Chico drum understands which is the first pulse of the bar and can start playing without a doubt.

Step 3 – Starting with the Piano Drum.

After the Chico drums start playing, it is now the turn of the Piano drum. Check below:

In Candombe and every African-based music, it is all about dialogue. For example, see how the Repique drum “calls” the Piano drum by playing its one-bar base rhythm. This is enough for the Piano drummer to understand that they must start playing and where to do it.

Step 4 – Now…the Repique Drum.

At this point, the Chico and Piano drummers are playing, and the Repique drummer is playing the “Madera” pattern. So, now it is time to play on the head!

For this, they can wait for the Piano drummer to make some variation (like the one it used for starting), or they can start playing their base rhythm.

Usually, the Repique drum makes short interventions, for example, from 8 to 12 bars. However, of course, they do not play the very same rhythm in every bar. You can make different variations by repeating, continuing, resting, or adding figures. Some examples are:

Playing this “base” continuosly…

An 8-bar intervention. First, playing the “Madera” figure. Then, making a little improvisation and ending with the “Madera” figure.

Step 5 – Ending.

There is a particular and concrete way to end Candombe. Check below:

The explanation

The Repique drum, in this case, will be responsible for the ending. So, first, they start playing the “Madera” figure. Then, they make a one-bar phrase that ends in the first pulse of the next bar. Usually, this phrase is preceded by a sign or a spoken phrase, such as “it ends!” (Clearly, uh?).

However, it is important to end at the very first pulse of the bar. This is another main aspect of Candombe.