I was inspired to write this post for several reasons. Firstly because until recently I had held the only Tambors de Fundamento in the UK and secondly because I hope that any Olorisha that is reading this in the UK will understand the importance of playing to your Orisha in the country where you live ( this is my Opinion!) and thirdly because of one of my major projects as director and lead singer of the London Lucumi Choir has always brought up such interesting points.
I have been a musician all my life so it is no surprise that singing to Orisha has become so important to me. When I first stumbled across this path over twenty five years ago, the songs that were sung within the religious context always touched me so deeply. I have been involved in so many different and varied musical projects over the years, but my project with the London Lucumi Choir combine my musicality with my spiritual belief and I would happily sing for Orisha and arrange new harmonies all day long such is my love and passion for the Songs. But not just the songs. The first time I heard the sound of the Bata drum which was in a secular context in around 1981, it hit me in such a deep place and left me intrigued and confused. I would definitely say that the drum amongst other things spoke to me and pulled me towards the Lucumi faith. When I made Ocha I was not surprised to hear that my path of Oshun is drum connected; Oshun Ibu Aña.
I held the first Tambor de Fundamento in London on my third birthday in Ocha. 9th Feb 2009. Here are some of the photos documenting the event.
The owner of the drum is Javier Campos Martinez: Omo Ogun Ni Awo Ni Orunmila Osa Melli.
The Drums are called Aña Obanyoko Ara and they were born on the 28-9-2001 from the Drums of Angel Bolaño, Aña Fumi, in the house of Fermin Nani en Calle Guasabacoa Luyano, Havana. Each drum has a legacy and is born from an older drum, in a similar way that the Orisha of each Santero are born from the Orisha of their Godparent. Javier Campos Martinez is also an Omo Aña. A child of Aña, sworn in a special ceremony to the drum in ( the drums of Regino Jimenez) in order to have the power and authority to play the sacred drums. A Tambor de Fundamento is a Sacred drum born in a special ceremony from another older set of Sacred drums. Within the drums lives Aña, an Orisha. A powerful Orisha.The orisha that makes the drums speak. The first Juramiento of several Omo Añas ( children of Aña) took place also in my Ile. It was an essential ceremony allowing certain committed drummers in the community to go through a powerful initiation which would permit them to play the Sacred Drums. This took place on the 13th August 2011. Those that were sworn to Aña Obanyoko Ara were Chris Manis, Jim Le Messurier ( Omo Obatala), Randy Lester, Oli Savill. The tambor that took place in order that they may be presented ( in a similar way that an Iyawo is presented) was dedicated to Chango. This was an important step in the religion. It means essentially that we now have a decent amount of drummers to play at a fundamento drum. Every step that is taken will make it easier for our community. The third Tambor de Fundamento took place recently on the 2nd June 2012. Again it was for Chango. Why? Because he asked for a tambor in a reading. The last tambor was very significant since there was such a great turn out of Santeros. There were around 25 this time around. It seems that the more ceremonies that involve community take place, the more the community will wake up to the fact that we live here in the UK and we should practise here in the UK. It’s an opportunity for Santeros that don’t know each other to meet and to also find out who is there in the community.
Tambor de Fundamento V Tambor Aberikula.
Why do Santeros hold Tambors:
There are several reasons why.
1. It announces to Olofi when a new initiate is born. Being presented to Aña, is part of the rights that a newly crowned initiate will have to do. In addition, every newly crowned initiate has to play to their godparents Orisha before they can play for their own Orisha.
2. It is a way of honouring ones Orisha on an Ocha birthday for example
3. It may be divined that an Orisha wants a tambor and in that case it works as a super strong Ebo.
Holding a Tambor de Fundamento is a Sacred ceremonial event that has much protocol attached to it. There is something very spiritual and strong when Aña is in the House and there is nothing like it.
Tambor Aberikula. These are none sacred drums. Anyone can play them and Aña is not present. For me personally, I rehearse with my choir of course with Aberikula drums in my house on a regular basis. Although for me, every time I sing for the Orisha is a spiritual act, the drums do not have the same power, or carry the same protocol as Fundamento drums, so therefore I have made the choice that if I ever have to play for my Orisha, it will always be Aña. The last tambor came up as a solution to a problem in consultation with Ifa. I Had the choice to wait until I visited Cuba or to do it in my Ile in London. I did not know when I would have the opportunity to go to Cuba and so decided to to it in London, In Oshun’s Ile.
CUBA V LONDON (my home town)
I have heard it said so many times that Cuba is the place to be for a “good tambor”. It’s cheaper, more Santeros, etc etc. I beg to differ. I have been to many Tambors in Cuba where the congregation did not join in the singing because they did not know the words and where much of the time the Santeros were chatting outside and the Akpwon had to stop on a regular basis to call the Santeros inside. In the three Tambors I have held in London, the singing of the Congregation because so many of those that have attended know the words to the songs has been extremely powerful. I have often said, a tambor is not a party for us, it is a Ceremony for the Orisha. One of the most public ceremonies we hold. Therefore I feel quite strongly that Santeros living here should be making the effort to play here where their Orisha live. For themselves and for the community at large.
Holding a tambor in London is not as difficult as people make out. We have enough Omo Añas, we have enough Santeros. Yes it is hard work, yes it is a sacrifice, but that is what Ebo is. Yes it is probably still cheaper ( the actual derecho) to hold it in Cuba, but I don’t live in Cuba I live in London. My children live in London and my godchildren live in the UK. Cuba is getting to be more and more expensive to visit and no longer feasible to go two or three times a year as I used to for religious and family purposes. I live with my Orisha in London and I wish to be able to live the life of an Olorisha in my home town. London for me is a fairly tolerant place, a melting pot. So far I have not had complaints from neighbours and I have even had interested parties coming in from the streets who have stayed the duration of the tambor. An event like this also brings us together. It is an opportunity to work together with the preparations etc. There is a quite large community of Santeros in the UK, however because of the fact that nobody has been crowned here yet, everyone comes from a different Ile and then there are the cultural and language differences between Cubans and other Latin Americans and those British and other Europeans that have been crowned in the US. However the work to be done can be done by everyone, and it is a great way to unite for the praise of one’s Orisha and to build community.
http://caribbean-beat.com/issue-117/london-place ( here is an article written by Attilah Springer that mentions her dropping into the Tambor held in Ile Oshun Kayode)
There are other musical ways of honouring the Orisha without the Fundamento drum. A Guiro ( an ensemble of Chekeres, Conga and Campana) is also quite powerful. There is less protocol than holding fundamento drum, however it is still a powerful ceremony, never the less. I had to give a Guiro to Elegua five years ago which also was the first religious Guiro. It was certainly a momentous occasion! A guiro does not depend on ceremonial drummers although those playing need to understand the protocol, order and purpose.
THE LONDON LUCUMI CHOIR: the act of teaching Songs praising the Orisha and it’s effect at a fundamento drum.
It is quite surprising for many people that I speak to, that the majority of those that are or that have been in the London Lucumi Choir are not initiates of the religion. They are Aleyos. However there is the utmost respect within the Choir from those who are following the path and those who chose not to. Obviously the songs that are taught are taught in a cultural context and everyone is welcome to join. My philosophy is that singing itself is a spiritual act and a self healing one. It has remarkable health benefits. Most participants of the Choir have noticed the health and spiritual well being effects of being in the Choir and singing to Orisha on a regular basis. However I have noticed and so has Javier Campos Martinez that because of the fact that so many people are learning the songs, and also are prepared and able to learn songs on the spot, the congregational singing is extremely together and extremely powerful. Emilio Barretto explains about what happens in a tambor in this video. On his page he writes: “The Santisimo Lecture Series – Ashe
This video is a simple explanation of how singers, drummers and dancers work the intrinsic energy of Ashe during a drum feast. Although, I don’t mention it in the video the congregation also plays an instrumental role in the way of a – Communal Ashe !” Communal Ashe, Emilio Barretto.
So initially although I had not intended, the sessions I hold in the learning of Orisha song for performance has had the effect of providing a ready made powerful unit to sing at Tambors! Sebastian Quezada from France who was sharing the role of Akpwon at the last tambor also noticed how receptive everyone was to learning the songs on the spot. My aural training in the Choir, obviously has many benefits that I had not anticipated! It would be great to see more people walking this path coming to the Choir and learning some of the Songs; if not for performance then for their own knowledge.
I came across an interesting blog that was written by an initiate of Ochosi when she was an Iyawo. In her blog she criticised the Choir. She talked about commercialisation and Santeria going mainstream. I don’t feel that Santeria will ever go mainstream. The Choir itself is not a commercial organisation. It is not an enterprise. It is a small community project run by initiates. Here I post the blog and my responses to it since it brings up some interesting points.
Conclusion, Tambors De Fundamento, Guiro and Cajon espiritual can be done here in the UK.