World percussion: Jamaica (Reggae)

The music of Jamaica includes Jamaican folk music and many popular genres, such as mento, ska, rocksteady, reggae, dub music, dancehall, reggae fusion and related styles. Today I'm going to write about reggae and percussion in the reggae music.

A bit about reggae

In the late 1960's reggae emerged as a reinterpretation of American rhythm and blues. Reggae became popular around the world, due in large part to the international success of artists like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. Marley was viewed as a Rastafarian messianic figure by some fans, particularly throughout the Caribbean, Africa, and among Native Americans and Australian Aborigines.

Percussion in reggae

A standard drum kit is generally used in reggae, but the snare drum is often tuned very high to give it a timbales-type sound. Some reggae drummers use an additional timbale or high-tuned snare to get this sound. Cross-stick technique on the snare drum is commonly used, and tom-tom drums are often incorporated into the drumbeat itself. Reggae drumbeats fall into three main categories: One drop, Rockers and Steppers. With the One drop, the emphasis is entirely on the third beat of the bar (usually on the snare, or as a rim shot combined with bass drum). Beat one is empty except for a closed high hat commonly used, which is unusual in popular music. There is some controversy about whether reggae should be counted so that this beat falls on three, or whether it should be counted half as fast, so it falls on two and four.

A  wide range of other percussion instrumentation are used in reggae. Bongos are often used to play free, improvised patterns, with heavy use of African-style cross-rhythms. Cowbells, claves and shakers tend to have more defined roles and a set pattern.


World percussion: Basque Country

Today I'm talking about the two major percussion instruments from the Basque Country: the Txalaparta and the danbolin.

The Txalaparta 

The txalaparta (IPA: [tʃaˈlapaɾta] or [tʃalaˈpaɾta]) is a specialized Basque music device of wood or stone, similar to Romanian toacă. In Basque, zalaparta (with [s]) means "racket", while in the nearby areas of Navarre "txalaparta" has been attested as meaning the trot of the horse, a sense closely related to the sound of the instrument.

Music is made using the txalaparta by having one or more performers, known as txalapartariak, txalapartaris or jotzaileak produce differing rhythms, playing with wood knots and spots of the boards for different tones. Nowadays the boards have often been arranged to play notes and even melody along the lines of the score, which may on the one hand further widen for the txalapartaris the possibilities to sophisticate the music. On the other hand, some txalaparta players rule out this novelty as alien to the instrument, essentially rhythmical.

Both players perform consecutively by striking with the sticks on the boards. The performance is played by ear, except for the main lines of the playing, say rhythmic pattern (binary, ternary), main beat pattern (fours...) etc., which both txalapartaris may agree on in advance of the performance. In addition, they may use ready-made passages embedded in a specific part of the playing, notably at the beginning and the ending. It is worth mentioning in this category the Sagardo Deia, meaning the Cider Call, a popular set beginning for a traditional txalaparta performance that may differ slightly from some txalapartaris to others. A pre-established whole composition may be arranged as well, while that kind of playings are rare to be seen.
Much of the success of the performance relies on the collusion between both players, so the more they are acquainted with each other's ways, tricks and likings (the flaws too!) the smoother the performance will go and the easier will be for the txalapartaris to show their aptitudes and excel in their playing.

The danbolin

This kind of drum, called danbolin, usually accompanying the txistu. The txistu is an three-hole pipe that can be played with one hand, leaving the other one free to play usually the danbolin. As I could not find much more information for this instrument, I'll update this post in the future.

Stay tunned, more post coming soon.

World percussion: Korea

Today I'm talking about the two major percussion instruments from korea - the Janggu or Janggo (hangul: 장구 or 장고; hanja: 杖鼓 or 長鼓) and the Buk (hangul: 북).

The Janggu

The Janggu
The janggu (or janggo; also spelled changgo) or sometimes called seyogo (slim waist drum) is the most widely used drum used in the traditional music of Korea. It is available in most kinds, and consists of an hourglass-shaped body with two heads made from animal skin. The two heads produce sounds of different pitch and timbre, which when played together are believed to represent the harmony of man and woman.

A performer playing janggu

Traditionally the janggu is played using yeolchae on the right hand high pitch area and uses the bare hand on the low pitch area. Such an example can be seen on pungmul players for a number of folk songs and shamanistic rituals. But today, it is common to see the use of gungchae and yeolchae together. 'Gungchae' is used to play the low pitch side. Janggu can be played on the floor such as for traditional sanjo music or carried with a strap on the shoulder. The way performers carry the Janggu differs from person to person, from region to region and varies depending on his or her taste.
The janggu is usually classified as an accompanying instrument because of its flexible nature and its agility with complex rhythms. Since the performer can use his or her hands as well as sticks, various sounds and tempi, deep and full, soft and tender, and menacing sounds, and fast and slow beats, can be created to suit the mood of the audience. Using this capability, a dextrous performer can dance along moving his or her shoulders up and down and make the audience become carried away and dance along with him or her.

The Buk

While the term buk is a native Korean word used as a generic term meaning "drum" (the Sino-Korean word being go), it is most often used to refer to a shallow barrel-shaped drum, with a round wooden body that is covered on both ends with animal skin. Buk are categorized as hyeokbu (혁부, 革部) which are instruments made with leather, and has been used for jeongak (Korean court music) and folk music.
The buk used for court music are usually fixed with nails on the rims, while ones used for folk music are usually tied up with leather straps to form the shape. Performers in the court music usually beat their buk with bukchae (북채, a drum stick) on one hand or two hands together, while drummers in the folk music commonly beat their buk with it on their right hand as hitting the other side of the buk with their bare left hand.

World percussion: Japan

Taiko (太鼓?) means "drum" in Japanese (etymologically "great" or "wide drum"). Outside Japan, the word is often used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums (和太鼓, "wa-daiko", "Japanese drum", in Japanese) and to the relatively recent art-form of ensemble taiko drumming (sometimes called more specifically, "kumi-daiko" (組太鼓)). The performances can last between 5 and 25 minutes and typically follow a jo-ha-kyū (beginning, middle, end/rapid, sudden, urgent, and emergency) structure, which means the performance will speed up significantly towards the grand finale. Japanese taiko drums have been developed into a wide range of percussion instruments that are used in both Japanese folk and classical musical traditions.

Bachi (桴, 枹) (also batchi or buchi) is the name for the straight, wooden sticks used to play Japanese taiko drums, and also (written 撥) the plectrum for stringed instruments like the shamisen and biwa.
Drum bachi are made in a wide variety of sizes and materials, as appropriate to the drum it will be used to play. A typical bachi is about 22 mm (⅞ inches) in diameter, 400 mm (16 inches) long and made out of a hardwood such as oak. These would be suitable for a wide variety of playing styles.
A bachi for playing a larger drum like the O-daiko would be bigger both in circumference and length. Similarly, smaller bachi are used for smaller drums.

Modern taiko was established in 1951 by Daihachi Oguchi. He is credited with forming the first actual Taiko ensemble referred to as kumi-daiko and starting the modern popularity of Taiko performances. Daihachi Oguchi was originally known for his jazz drumming performances. As the story goes, he was going to play a drumming piece for one of the local shrines and decided to add somewhat of a jazz-style flair to the piece. Coming from a jazz background, Daihachi Oguchi speculated why the Taiko drums had never previously been played as an ensemble before. From this simple idea Daihachi Oguchi put together various Taiko of all different shapes, sizes, and pitches to be included in his ensemble. The drums were also arranged in the same type of manner that a jazz drum set would be expected to look like. Since an actual Taiko ensemble had never really performed together and the people he had playing with him were in no way professional musicians, he based the rhythms of their performance on the simplistic arrangement of the shrine music that had been previously played; which allowed for nearly any person with the interest in Taiko could play along. It was from the foundation of the first Taiko ensemble that Daihachi Oguchi continued on to lead the successful Taiko group named Osuwa Daiko. At 84 years old, Daihachi Oguchi died on June 27, 2008, after being hit by a car across from his home in Nagano, Japan. Oguchi is widely attributed as the GrandMaster of modern Taiko. He formed or helped to form nearly 200 taiko groups in Japan, Singapore, Canada and the U.S.

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