Rhythm and the Mind

Me and My Son


I have decided to write about the rhythmic challenges of teaching the Lucumi Choir since this is always a hurdle and a challenge. What makes this choir so different to any other British Based Choir is the fact that we sing with percussion and the rhythm is as important as the melody and harmonic arrangements. Many people who come into the choir and have had no previous experience of this genre of music find the rhythmic side of it almost beyond their understanding of what rhythm is. The inevitable question of where is the 1 comes up many a time. Some find that moving and singing does not come naturally. I try and get them to use the bodies as a rhythmic clock and to really relax into the rhythm; thinking not only with the mind but the whole body. The Yoruba sequences that we have been doing with Bata, now seem to come very naturally to those that have been in the choir for some time. Finally members are now getting to understand and recognise different toques, connecting with the toque rather than the traditional western concept of the beat.  A couple of years ago we began to introduce Rumba and also some sequences from the Palo Tradition.Harmonically  this meant that I got to arrange some more beautiful harmonies and there is nothing like a a Rumba with a large Coro singing in harmony. However it has continued to be a real challenge trying to get the Choir members to think in terms of Clave and not the Beat. All the while that they think in terms of the beat, the phrasing of the Coro sounds plinkity plonkety nursery rhymish and square instead of lyrical. One way that I have found quite useful in explaining rhythm is to talk the words with Clave rather than sing them. For some reason, it helps the brain understand the rhythm when you talk it through. It is quite hard for those who were born into the tradition to understand the complications of teaching a group with no previous experience of singing or playing Rumba, but Rumba has got to be one of the most sophisticated, and complicated genres ever. The Choir are getting better at understanding and performing Rumba, however  since the nature of the Choir is forever changing I find that we never stop working at this and that those that listen and absorb themselves fully into the genre the more natural singing becomes.

Solo Mi Arte ( Guaguanco)

The other challenge for the choir is the organic speeding up of each sequence or song. It is a challenge for me to explain that unlike many western forms of music and choral singing, there is a build of of energy and a sequence may naturally speed up. This happens with the sequences with Bata, sequences of Palo and Cajon, Guiro and also Rumba sequences. It ‘s a normal ocurrence, however if the choir is not connecting and thinking too much about what they are singing it tends to be the case that they will still be singing the tempo that we started off in. My job is to get them to relax and connect completely with the percussion. This means that their body has to be also in tune with the percussion. It helps to move, but if there is too much intellectualisation of what they are learning then moving can sometimes be a hinderance although it should not!

 Here is a Sequence in Palo that we recorded in my living room in North London.

These problems have been more over apparent when recording. The Challenges of Recording a choir of this kind are plenty. One of them is the fact that with so many singers, headphones are not an option. Being able to see and feel the percussion and each other is paramount and recording life is the only way to do it. If there are any over dubs to be done, these can be tricky giving the movement of energy and time within a sequence. Moving and singing is really important in the Lucumi Choir. You cannot possibly be still and sing!  There is no doubt at all that movement, co-ordination and challenges to the mind ie different ways of thinking about rhythm is good for your mental health. It keeps the brain alert!

About oshunschild 24 Articles
I am a London based Iyalosha, ( Priest in the Lucumi tradition) crowned with Ochun; who is passionate about the arts I Grew up in London, mixed background, third generation musician. I went to study music in Cuba in 1986, since then I have done many things. I was one of the first Salsa Dance Teachers in London in 1989, before it became the sport of a million suburban housewives; formed Orchestra Salsa Y Ache in late 80's, toured and did many gigs for seven years; then formed Salsasonica which recorded with Buena Vista's Guajiro Mirabal. I have taught Cuban Music to children. I have also organised five musical trips to Cuba. I Have written about Latin Music, and I am passionate about singing and encouraging everyone to sing. I formally ran "singing for the terrified" at the Mary Ward Centre, in addition to a world music choir. I formed the London Lucumi Choir in 2006 which has performed all over the UK, in major theatres such as the Barbican, the Southbank and Union Chapel, Rich Mix, The British Museum and the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. In addition, we have performed at festivals such as La Linea and Bestival. We have performed on Radio and Television and have consistently been nominated in the Lukas awards, where we were second in our category in 2018 ( for contribution to Latin Music and Arts). I Have been a practitioner of Santeria, also known as Lucumi since 1986. Between the years 1991 and 2005 I received My Elekes, Warriors and Olokun. In 2005 I received my Ikofafun ( Ifa) and on February 9 2006 I became initiated as a Priestess of Ochun in Luyano, Havana. My Branch of the religion is La Pimienta. I was born from Obatala and Yemaya. My Iyatobi Oshainle passed this year and Omi Laibo is my Ojubona. I received Pinardo with Baba Funke and Omi Saide in Havana in July 2018. I run an active Ile (religious house/Orisha temple) In addition to running the Choir and guiding Godchildren in the Lucumi faith. I am also a diviner of the Dilogun. I enjoy spending time with my family. I have a passion for art and nature, good music, genealogy and travel. I enjoy writing, beading and embroidery, when I have the time! PS I also have adhd which predicts that I will decorate the entire house with different colours every few years!

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