Francisco Zamora Chirino "Minini"
Carrying on a Humble Tradition
I was born in Pueblo Nuevo, a barrio in Matanzas. I have lived here, in various barrios in Matanzas, all my life. My mother and father were not musicians. From when I was small, in my barrio, there were always a lot of drums, bakosó, rumba, batá. There were many rumbas. When I was young I played gaugua, catá, just starting to learn. (Bakosó is a Yoruba style of drumming that uses mula, cachimbo, and caja. These are names from Africa, from the Bantú.)
My musical life began with the group Afro Cuba de Matanzas, as an afficionado. I wasn't a professional In my barrio there was a comparsa. I was the musical director. For forty years I was the leader. The comparsa was called Los Guajiros. In this group were my friends Regalado and Bello (that have been in Afro Cuba de Matanzas for a long time now). We formed a group called Guanguanco Neopoblano, because we were from the Pueblo Nuevo barrio. This was way before Afro Cuba, In 1957, like the youngsters in Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, we formed our Guanguanco Neopoblano. (Guaguanco Matancero was the first name of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas.)
In 1957 I was the director of the group Guanguanco Neopoblano, until 1959. With the triumph of the revolution, we incorporated, with the Ministry of Culture a music Festival for afficionados. These festivals from different places, they represented syndicates from the different areas. There were contests and the winners would go to national contests. These festivals stimulated the music. If we won we could then travel to different festivals. We represented distinctive organizations many times in these festivals until, in 1968, we became professionals. We were given the top classification in all the groups and we were granted the permission to become professionals and earn a living.
Bata, according to many books, between Havana and Matanzas, are from Havana. The first tambores came from Havana. An African named Tanda was the first to build the drums in Havana. Some say that this was in the 3rd or 4th decade of the 19th Century. (1836) Before that, we played batá here as well. Eduardo Saracó played here, he was one of the first tamboleros that played here and then left for Havana. He knew, more or less, how to play, but in Havana there were more famous drummers. He went there to learn and. later he brought fundamento drums from Havana back here to Matanzas.
There are distinct places where the tambores de fundamentos were born, principally in the sugar mills. There were little villages, most famous was Majagua Alfonso. The fundamento drums in the 19th Century were born there.
I am santo hecho, for Obatalá. For me it is more profound to play all the rhythms, not just the rhythms of batá. All the rhythms come from my heart. I had the luck to learn all the rhythms. I feel I don't have a preference. I love them all. For me, the batá are like a symphony. For each orisha there are many songs; some are prayers, some are songs. A prayer has one toque, a song has another toque. Each juego de batá (group of drummers) has its own singer, or there is a singer from the pueblo who sings. These decide what will be played and sung.
Rumba was born in the 17th Century. According to investigations done in Havana, the rumba is from there. And according to investigations done here in Matanzas, the rumba is from here. Now, where are the origins of the rumba? In the ports there was a concentration of men from different places. Daily they found each other in the same place, living in a solár. In a solár, there could have lived 25 or 30 people, all from different places. In the solares, all these people mixed all of their cultures together. These are the origins of the rumba. It didn't come from the societies of whites or blacks or anything like that. It's a humble tradition of the people of the barrios.
Firstly, the African slaves arrived here in the 17th and 18th centuries. These African men married with African women here and they had children. These children, were called rellollo, because they were born of Africans that lived here. After that were born the criollos, which were the children of the rellollos who then married with black Cubans. Now started, with the same Africans, the mix of origins. Naturally, the Africans that were here a long time ago knew nothing of how to read music or write music. The criollos were different. They went to school, they could write. Always they were generating. And now the groups of coro de clave, the makuta, yuka of the Congolese people, etc, they were being changed as well. They used their imaginations and from here came the distinctive variations of the rumba. They were adding and adding like in the guaguancó Matancero from the 1950s, the seis por ocho (name of a drum used in rumba) and the clave from the ekón (bell) of abakwa were added to make the guaguancó Matancero. The people from these same barrios were always adding and developing.
Abakwa is different between Matanzas and Havana. In Havana, well, it's such a different place. They are always discovering new things. There is difference in rumba and in batá and there is a big difference in Abakwa. The drum parts are very different. In Havana they have their own way of playing. We are trying here to maintain the most pure state of playing Abakwa.
When I am asked to tach, the first thing to ask students is what is your "vocation", your will. What exactly do you want to learn? There are percussionists who like one rhythm more than another. I would do a little test to see your level. There are those who don't know too much and they won't be able to discover a lot, so you have to find the level. You have to give your classes to your students according to how they will assimilate it, how they will learn it.
The clave is the first thing to teach. The clave "el aire" or "the air". The clave is the time, the tempo. The clave marks the space in the air. We also use, to distinguish time, the hand movements of the conductor. But the clave is the way we do it more naturally. The clave tells the time in which we play the musical piece. The clave for abakwa, played on ekon, is the same as the clave for rumba. It was adapted to the rumba. (author: There is no distinction between the clave for Abakwa, in 6, and the rumba clave, in 4 or cut time. They are the same.)
I would then study rumba variations. If it was a student more advanced, we would study batá. Depending on the level and the age, we would study bembe, iyesá, abakwa.
I have been, for many years studying, teaching, and playing what is the folkloric music of Matanzas. From the beginning I maintain and I will maintain, the defense of the pure roots, the most pure possible, what is the folklore of Matanzas. I will not change the line that has been brought down these years. In each province in Cuba, we must maintain the pure roots of the folklore. The most important is to maintain the roots of your land, of your nation.