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  • Writer's pictureMarianela de Armas

Drum beat

There is absolutely nothing more delicious than the sound of a quinto getting slapped. You know, that sound, the pah. Like an otter's tail on a hollow log, pah. That's probably wrong. I've never heard an otter's tail, but I can only imagine it that way. Let's settle on the pah sound made by a single spank of a paddle on a frat boy's bare ass. Pah. And then, follow it with a quick, sequential du-dun on the conga. Du-dun is not the boom, boom of a car driving down 49th street in Hialeah. Du-dun is lighter, sweeter, faster, but still taken seriously. Now, put it together: Pah, du-dun. Pah, du-dun.

Born on a continent that I've never stepped foot on. Born to pay homage to the gods. Generations taught to play that beat until it rained or the crops were ready or until the dancers collapsed from exhaustion. One day, Pah, du-dun was captured and put on a ship where it sailed across the world. For days and days it floated. It tried to calm the fears of the people by manifesting itself in the cracking sounds of the wooden keel or the jingle of the chains. But I'm thinking it was the feet of the drummer that, although bound, could still tap out the sound on a wet floor. Unfortunately, that drummer's ticket was to the New Old World. The land of pilgrims that traveled so long and so far that they forgot why they embarked on a pilgrimage in the first place. Pah, du-dun was silenced. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, slaves were not allowed to drum.

But it thrived in other places.

It thrived in the home of the Siboneys. You know, the natives that discovered Christopher Columbus and made him a star. Although it was bound to live as a slave, Pah, du-dun roamed free. Across Cuba, across the Caribbean. Played and played loud. It was secretly admired by the Spaniards, who probably thought of it as an exotic soundtrack to their insatiable appetite to make love (rape) their African mistresses. It later became an anthem for all of the oppressed; the Chinese slaves, the Tainos and all others that were against slavery to rise up. It was the beat that the Spanish retreated their flag to and returned Cuba to their mixed children. In fact, the Spaniards loved the beat so much that they never really left.

Their children taught my great-grandparents and my great-grandparents taught my grandparents who began incorporating it with more sounds and other instruments. And at the height of Pah, du-dun becoming the time signature for every style of Cuban music, it was taught to my father.

Like my dad, Pah, du-dun eventually made it here. It was finally allowed to play openly, but boxed in the categories of Latin Jazz, Salsa or whatever those crazy Hispanics were doing. Hispanics. What a stupid word to describe a group that can't even be clumped together. And don't get me started on Latino, but I digress...

Pah, du-dun lived in New York and then in Jersey and then in Florida and soon it traveled the world. Although it made it back to Africa a little different, a little less pure, it was still welcomed as the prodigal son. It lives everywhere and anywhere, it has countless websites and is played at all hours at the peril of sleeping neighbors. It lives in the dancer, in the drunk, in the waitress, it lives in the heart of the conguero and explodes out of his calloused hand every moment he gets. And with every perfect slap, cup and cover he conjures up all of those that came before him. All that taught their children the joy, the love and the 'ay que rico'  that comes with Pah, du-dun.


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