Muhtadi International Drumming Festival in Toronto + Nicolás Guillén: “La canción del bongó” / “The Bongo’s Song”

Muhtadi Thomas, seated at front left, performs with his World Drummers ensemble at Woodbine Park in Toronto_June 4th, 2016

Muhtadi Thomas, seated at front left, performs with his World Drummers ensemble at Woodbine Park in Toronto_June 4th, 2016

. . .


“The drum is a heartbeat of creation, and represents our connection with the mother, the source…and with our own mother, the echo chamber of the womb. With mother earth, and the beat of the sea. The pounding surf, the crack of lightning, the wingbeats of migrating birds. The turning of the seasons, the sound of our own breath. The moving feet and pumping arms of a runner; the rhythmic stride of a long-distance walker. The movements of lovers, and people working the fields. All the sounds of all the movements we do to keep alive and to express our joy, and even our pain; the insistent clockwork of stress, the innocent soft lapping of a kitten’s tongue.

The drum heals our connection with each other when we play it together. It brings to our attention what works between us and what doesn’t. It shows us exactly where and how we harmonize and where we don’t. It makes us attune to the invisible world of the energy between us: this becomes more important than what we think we see, what we wish for or regret. What’s real is happening right now, in the moving moment. And when it’s gone, we have only to look for the next to get back on; this time we ride!”

(Writer and musician Nowick Gray – from his website Djembe Rhythms)

. . .

Nicolás Guillén

( Poeta cubano, 1902-1989 )

“La canción del bongó” (1930)


Esta es la canción del bongó:

—Aquí el que más fino sea,

responde, si llamo yo.

Unos dicen: Ahora mismo,

otros dicen: Allá voy.

Pero mi repique bronco,

pero mi profunda voz,

convoca al negro y al blanco,

que bailan el mismo son,

cueripardos y almiprietos

más de sangre que de sol,

pues quien por fuera no es de noche,

por dentro ya oscureció.

Aquí el que más fino sea,

responde, si llamo yo.


En esta tierra, mulata

de africano y español

(Santa Bárbara de un lado,

del otro lado, Changó),

siempre falta algún abuelo,

cuando no sobra algún Don

y hay títulos de Castilla

con parientes en Bondó:

Vale más callarse, amigos,

y no menear la cuestión,

porque venimos de lejos,

y andamos de dos en dos.

Aquí el que más fino sea,

responde si llamo yo.


Habrá quién llegue a insultarme,

pero no de corazón;

habrá quién me escupa en público,

cuando a solas me besó…

A ése, le digo:


ya me pedirás perdón,

ya comerás de mi ajiaco,

ya me darás la razón,

ya me golpearás el cuero,

ya bailarás a mi voz,

ya pasearemos del brazo,

ya estarás donde yo estoy:

ya vendrás de abajo arriba,

¡que aquí el más alto soy yo!

. . .

Nicolás Guillén

(Cuban poet, 1902-1989)

“The Bongo’s Song” (1930)

(To Lino Dou)


This is the bongo’s song:

“Let the finest of you here

answer when I call you!

Some say: I’ll be right there,

others say: Just a minute.

But my harsh peal,

but my deep voice,

summons blacks and whites,

who dance to the same son,

men with brownish skins and blackish souls

caused more by blood than by the sun,

for who on the outside are not night,

have already darkened on the inside.

Let the finest of you here

answer when I call you.


“In this land made mulatto

by Africans and Spaniards

(Santa Bárbara  on the one hand,

Changó on the other),

there is always a missing grandfather,

when there isn’t an excess of Dons.

Some have titles from Castile

and relatives in Bondó :

it is better to keep quiet, my friends,

and not stir up the matter

because we came from far away,

and we walk two by two.

Let the finest of you here

answer when I call you!


“There’ll be those who will insult me,

but not of their full accord;

there’ll be those who spit on me in public,

yet when we are alone they kiss me…

To them I say:

My friends,

you’ll soon be begging my pardon,

you’ll soon be eating my ajiaco,

you’ll soon be saying I’m right,

you’ll soon be beating my leather,

you’ll soon be dancing to my voice,

we’ll soon walk arm in arm,

you’ll soon be where I am:

you’ll soon be moving up,

for the highest here is me!”


Translation from Spanish into English



*     *     *


Son – Quintessential original Cuban musical style, nascent in

the late 19th-century, flowered fully in the 20th;  a hybrid of

Bantu-African percussion – bongos, maracas – with Spanish guitars

and melodies, combined with African “call-and-response”

song structure; the precursor of modern-day “Salsa” music

Mulatto – “mixed-race” i.e. African and European ancestry

Santa Bárbara – Roman-Catholic saint, syncretized into

Santería, a Caribbean religion combining West-African and

Christian beliefs;  practised in Cuba.

Changó – Yoruba-African God of fire, thunder and lightning

Don – prefix of Spanish nobility

Bondó – a “typical” African town/province name, found in

Congo, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Uganda

Ajiaco – a hearty Cuban soup consisting of chicken, pork,

plaintains, sweet potatoes, taro, black pepper and lime juice

Muhtadi International Drumming Festival_Saturday June 4th 2016_Muhtadi Thomas_standing at front left_with his World Drummers ensemble. . .

José Craveirinha’s “I want to be a drum” / “Quero ser tambor”

. . . . .