Songo Ostinatos: 3/2 Rumba Clave

Modern Drummer: September 2002

Hudson Music is pleased to offer a series of educational articles in conjunction with Modern Drummer Magazine and the Modern Drummer Digital Archive.

This article originally appeared in the September 2002 issue of Modern Drummer Magazine.

The story of the songo rhythm began with Juan Formell, bass player and leader of the popular Cuban group Los Van Van. Formell was the first to conceptualize the songo rhythmic style. The founding drummer of Los Van Van, Blas Egues, played with the group for only a few months. When Blas departed from the group in 1970, the equipment he left behind included a basic five-piece drumset, but no cymbals or hi-hat. Instead the kit had a large piece of bamboo (cana brava) mounted on a stand. Drummer Jose Luis Quintana, better known by the nickname “Changuito,” joined the band and began to develop the songo rhythm using this basic drumkit.

During the twenty-five years that Changuito played with Los Van Van, the songo rhythm went through many transformations.

The rhythm that most drummers play today started out as a variation of the songo rhythm that was only played during a particular section of a song. Changuito gave that groove the nickname bota, which means boot.

‘Songo Lesson

It’s important to realize that the songo style of drumming ismore of a concept than one particular beat. Songo is a blend of

folkloric and contemporary Cuban styles with elements of funk and jazz. In many ways, songo is the jazz of Cuban drumming.

The songo ostinatos in this article are popular grooves often played in the Latin-jazz style of music. The ostinatos will help you coordinate the suggested songo grooves against the two-bar bass drum phrases. The ostinatos are written in 3/2 rumba clave, but they can also be played in 2/3 by starting on the second bar.

Although the clave rhythm is not played in this particular drumset example, it’s important to always be aware of the clave while playing the songo style.

Begin by practicing one of the ostinatos written below until you’re comfortable playing it. To accomplish the correct feel, playthe ghost notes on the snare drum as softly as possible.

Songo Ostinatos

3/2 Rumba Clave

Bass Drum Variations

The following patterns are bass drum variations that can be played with the three songo ostinatos in the previous examples.

Once you’re comfortable playing the songo ostinato, combine the suggested bass drum phrases written below. Play each combined songo ostinato with the bass drum variations in 3/2 (as written).

Then try playing the ostinato in 2/3 (starting on the second bar) and combining the bass drum variations.

Because there are so many ways to play and interpret the songo rhythmic style, I encourage you to listen to and analyze the music as much as possible. Los Van Van, Batacumbele, Michel Camilo, Paquito D’Rivera, Ruben Blades, and Gonzalo Rubalcaba are just a few artists that have recorded the songo style. Drummers who are masters at songo include Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Ignacio Berroa, Robbie Ameen, Alex Acuña, Jimmy Branley, Jose Martinez, and Julio Barreto.

The examples in this lesson are excerpts from Maria Martinez’ Afro-Cuban Coordination For Drumset book/CD package, published by Hal Leonard. (Used with permission.) Martinez has performed with Barry White, El Chicano, Rita Coolidge, Nel Carter, Angela Bofill, and many others. She is also an active clinician and educator.

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  1. Very nice the Songo can be used so many ways but the bass guy has to be on it to. You could of mentioned the Caribbean Jazz project with Dafnis Prieto on drums. Very cool

  2. Ms Martinez’ provides very interesting and well articulated articles. Her Afro-Cuban Coordination For Drumset book/CD package is really a great addition to any drummer’s library of educational material. Granted, there are numerous others contributing lots of good information.

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