Jazz Caliente
11:49 am
Thu August 9, 2012

What's that sound? Beaded gourds and laughing drums

Latin Jazz is rich with percussion and compelling sounds.  Most of the percussion instruments originate from Africa, and are tied to spiritual and religious ceremonies.  Here are a couple of favorites:

Prominent in Cuban music, the chekere is a hollowed-out gourd covered with beads and shells attached to netting.  You shake and toss the gourd for a rattling sound, and smack the bottom of it to produce a "boom" sound through the mouth of the gourd.  Fun? Oh, yes.  Easy?  Not so much.  It takes long hours of practice to learn to produce the specific rhythms of the chekere. 

Cuban-born saxophonist Yosvany Terry is no stranger to the chekere, in fact, his father Don Pancho Terry is known as a chekere master.

No Brazilian samba would be complete without the rhythmic sound of the friction drum known as the cuica (kweeca), which produces a high-pitched squeak somewhere between a grunt and a giggle.  It's often referred to as the "laughing drum."  I remember having a small friction drum as a child, and I had a great time making croaky groans and hee-hee-hees.

There are different sizes and styles and prices of cuica, and instructions for building your own out of various materials are all over the internet.  Here's a happy group with their cuicas:

Or you could go easy and cheap:

More cowbell!--er, cuica! on Jazz Caliente on KPLU!