Carlos Aldama’s Life in Batá

Cuba, Diaspora, and the Drum

“A solid ethnography, grounded in a rich and dramatic biography, reveals the creative power of the Yoruba drum to communicate sounds and words that are invested with rich secular and religious meanings about people and culture, identity and history, life and after-life. Only a scholar-performer with an uncommon imaginative talent could have written this extraordinary book.”
– Toyin Falola, Distinguished Teaching Professor, The University of Texas at Austin

“Everything you need to know about batá and batá-playing is in this text, expertly taught and philosophically interpreted by Carlos Aldama and his star yamboki (apprentice), Umi Vaughan….I am proud to have read this Afro-Cuban classic.”
– Robert Farris Thompson, author of Tango: The Art History of Love and Aesthetic of the Cool: Afro-Atlantic Art and Music

Batá identifies both the two-headed, hourglass-shaped drum of the Yoruba people and the culture and style of drumming, singing, and dancing associated with it. This book recounts the life story of Carlos Aldama, one of the masters of the batá drum, and through that story traces the history of batá culture as it traveled from Africa to Cuba and then to the United States. For the enslaved Yoruba, batá rhythms helped sustain the religious and cultural practices of a people that had been torn from its roots. Aldama, as guardian of Afro-Cuban music and as a Santería priest, maintains the link with this tradition forged through his mentor Jesús Pérez (Oba Ilu), who was himself the connection to the preserved oral heritage of the older generation. By sharing his stories, Aldama and his student Umi Vaughan bring to light the techniques and principles of batá in all its aspects and document the tensions of maintaining a tradition between generations and worlds, old and new. The book includes rare photographs and access to downloadable audio tracks.