Djembe & Mande Music Page/Review Section
(last revision 02/11/99)





Many of you are probably already familiar with the book and companion cassette: CONGA JOY.  First published in 1992, it served as a source of inspiration and rhythmic knowledge for many of us at a time when instructional materials for hand drummers were pretty scarce. 

Bill Matthews has just released a video "The New Conga Joy", expanding the family! 

The video begins with an contents overview, followed by a brief segment on hand technique for both cow skin (conga) and goat skin (djembe & ashiko) drums. Bill gives useful distinctions, with 2 camera angles for his demonstrations of playing bass notes, open tones, muff tones, heel/tip, three different types of slaps, rim shots, grace notes, and three different stick techniques including the choke, open stick tone and wood sounds. 

The next segment covers what Matthews refers to as the 21 Primary Rhythms. Each is presented with clear examples at both slow and medium tempos. In most cases Bill refers to the original traditional rhythm the pattern came from or is based on. Also mentioned is the country of origin, ethic group and the purpose for which the rhythm is played in it's traditional setting. Easy to understand box notation for each hand pattern appears on the screen just before each example (along with some great artwork which is also available as postcards or T-shirts). Each pattern is repeated a number of bars, giving the student a chance to play along and get the feel. 

The following segments; More Rhythms for One Drum and Two Drum Patterns, bring the total number of hand patterns demonstrated up to 57! When I was first learning, I worked my way through as many hand patterns as possible. My attitude being that each was like a letter in the alphabet. The more I learned different hand movements and patterns, the quicker my overall ambidexterity and control of sounds improved. As I watched the video I recalled how many of these patterns I had worked on and what a difference they made for me! 

Although the patterns are not presented in the context of complete multi-part arrangements, this video will be a goldmine for any recreational drummer looking for new rhythms. They all sound great on their own, and Matthews states that most of them sound great in combination with each other. Although he clearly shows respect to the source cultures of the rhythms, this product is more oriented toward people ready to expand their rhythmic vocabulary beyond the one or two patterns they learned at the local drum circle, but who have not settled into a serious study of any particular tradition. The titles of some of the rhythms such as "Boom Boom, Rumba Jam, Djembe Jam and Train Jam" indicated a light hearted approach to drumming and seem well suited to community drumming. The patterns presented in the Two Drums section are the basic repertoire for anyone interested in playing in a latin or salsa band, including Mozambique, Guaguanaco, Samba, Plena and more. 

The final section of the video covers tuning of congas as well as rope tuned drums such as djembes and ashikos, explaining and demonstrating use of the "Mali Weave". 

Bill Matthew's style is clear, relaxed and unpretentious. Obviously a friendly guy in love with drumming, eager to share the rhythms he enjoys! The video is 70 minutes long, and at $25 is a tremendous bargain in the instructionals market. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Conga Joy book and cassette, here's a quick overview. The book is about 80 pages long and is filled heaps of box-notated hand patterns. The 21 basic rhythms are included, most with 3 or 4 variations not shown in the video. There is a photo section with examples of the various hand and stick techniques. There's a segment on bell and clave patterns, tuning your drums and a reference section giving the source information on each rhythm. 

There's also a 2 drums section, and a section on ensemble rhythms utilizing bell, clave, shaker, sticks and multiple drum parts. Basic versions of Fanga, Guanguanco, Shiko, Ibo, Bumba, Jessie Malanga, Comparsa, Macuta, Makanda, Acpala, Kpanlogo, Yesa, Mozambique, Yanvalou, Mboshi, Bembe, Mahi, Bintin, Zepaule, Nago and more!  Matthew's teachers over the years include Steve Elliot, Ade Harris, Arturo Rodriguez, Arthur Hull, Mbili Tissot and Geoff Johns who were consulted with regards to the accuracy of these arrangements. 

The companion cassette or CD presents recorded examples of every rhythm in the book! 

Once again, the low prices demonstrate a clear commitment to providing useful, quality information to the drumming community at reasonable prices. Note that the $5 shipping fee will cover all three items if purchased together. If you are a beginner, don't have a teacher, or just want more "letters of the alphabet" to work on, then you'll love this stuff!

(A last minute addition direct from Bill when I sent him the review to check for accuracy) 

"...please mention my upcoming book; "DRUM TALK:  33 Traditional Handdrum Conversations For Two Drummers". (Spring should see it's birth as well as an accompanying CD, play-along cassettes, and a video). Each conversation features 2 parts interacting in a beautiful, melodic way. The book is geared towards beginners and advanced beginners and is built on the premise that African and Afro-Caribbean drum music is about 'relationship' and the melodic potential when two or more rhythms are interacting. Soloing has its place, as does the continual process of learning individual rhythms, but not until a student experiences the enhancement of the rhythmic environment as one rhythm 'joins' another, is this powerful music truly understood. I have drawn from some of the ensemble material from 'The New Conga Joy', but there is also heaps of new information, particularly the rhythmic conversations from Haitian Vodun rhythms. Each conversation is accompanied by new art work and a list of variations for both parts as well as some background notes about rhythm origins..."

available from:
Bill Matthews, 3526 Fremont Place North, Seattle, WA 98103
(206) 632-1096

michael wall