The palitos player started off. "Kahrak-ka-tak-ka-taka-kahrak. Kahrak-ka-tak-ka-taka-kahrak." The call was for rumba columbia, a fast, traditionally male competition dance. Rudy, just in from Cuba, was on the low drum, his heavy black hands pounding out licks that drove the rhythm. He lifted up the thirty-five pound drum with his legs, opening up the mouth of the tumba to accentuate its bass tones, his face maintaining a laid-back, unblinking expression. Back at our table, Manuel leaned over and whispered excitedly in my ear, "for rumba, man, the low drum player is the shit." No sooner had Manuel finished his sentence than Rudy called the middle drum player in with three commanding open tones and a leering smile. Juanito, behind his trademark black Maui Jim shades, smiled and answered with tasty, strutting phrases, his slaps and muffs speaking back loud and clear. Sitting at the high drum, Mony, sweat dripping onto his turquoise Champion T-shirt, fit in his quinto licks quickly, his face only occasionally letting go of that constipated look. Suddenly, the bell player took two steps toward him, accentuating where beat one fell and relentlessly played close to get Mony back onto the right side of the rhythm. The testosterone got so thick, the strutting so frenzied, that I had to get up and move toward the door for some air.
"Aqui entre las flo-o-res." Boom. Finally, the rumba columbia ended, the energy dissipated, and we could feel the breeze blow in gently from the opened door. Mony pushed away from the quinto, brushed his white terrycloth sweatband across his brow, jiggled his pants at his waist and started back toward the table massaging his fingers and hands. As the next rumba began, I noticed Mony had scribbled an ad on the napkin under his beer:
For Sale: AFRO Quinto Drum, Mahogany Finish, Shiny Brass Hardware, Barely Played. Rawhide Drumheads, slightly chewed on rim, but big fat sound. Best Offer.
(Analise Suguitan rhythmically experiences the relentless pace of her life as it percusses with new artistic junctures. A humble student of Afro-Cuban music, she finds that tapping out clave on any available surface--whether against a pan while preparing meals or on the dashboard on the way to work--is an essential part of any day. "May I Have Your Uh-Tension, Please?" an article in which she called for teachers to exercise more awareness of the diverse cultural population they serve, was published in 1999 for California Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages (CATESOL). In addition, reverence for her family ties is reflection in "To the Old Timers, With Love," in which she narrates a typical day in the life of her great-uncles. Contact: M2LIS@aol.com)