Carlos Aldama and Umi Vaughan Celebrate the Release of Carlos Aldama’s Life In Batá: Cuba, Diaspora, and the Drum

On June 20th, 2012, Carlos Aldama and Umi Vaughan came together at City Lights Bookstore to celebrate the release of Carlos Aldama’s Life in Batá: Cuba, Diaspora, and the Drum. 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 Jesus 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.

“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

“What a beautiful duet and deep dialogue between anthropologist Umi Vaughan and his batá teacher Carlos Aldama we find in these pages. We are so fortunate their paths crossed and that we now have the gift of their interwoven story, which makes the meaning of the drum in Cuban history, religion, and culture come alive. . . . This is anthropology carried out with dedication, passion, and trust, and most of all with illuminating grace.” —Ruth Behar, Professor of Anthropology, University of Michigan, and author of An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba

Carlos Aldama has made significant contribution to the richness and livelihood of Afro-Cuban music and spiritual traditions. Carlos Aldama is omo Añá (sworn to the drum) and a priest of Changó in the Santería religion. Born in Havana, he was a founding member of Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba, studying under its original musical director, Jesus Pérez (Oba Ilu), and later serving as musical director himself. He has worked with the National Symphony of Cuba, playwright Roberto Blanco, and Karl Marx Theatre director Alex Valdez, and has performed with Adalberto Alvarez y su Son, Lazaro Ros and Olorún, and Gonzalo Rubalcaba.
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Umi Vaughan is an artist and anthropologist who explores dance, creates photographs and performances, and publishes about African Diaspora culture. He is also omo Añá and is a priest of Ochun in the Santería religion. He is Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Monterey Bay, and author of Rebel Dance, Renegade Stance: Timba Music and Black Identity in Cuba.
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