Latin Beats: How to Play Cumbia on a Drum Kit and Congas

Cumbia is more than just a beat. It is one of the most melodic and expressive styles from Colombia, involving drums, flute, dance, and costume.

Cumbia is influenced by three global cultures: African, European, and Latin American indigenous. The rhythm of the drums comes from Africa, while the indigenous–based flute blends in the melody. European influence contributes some variations in the melodies as well as the dancers’ choreography and costumes.

Playing Cumbia on a Drum Kit

For now, we’ll focus on the drums traditionally used in cumbia and how you can use a kit to pull off the traditional beat.

The lowest drum—or tambora, a double–sided drum—is used to produce the deep bass rhythms. In this video, I use the rack tom and floor tom in the video in lieu of a real tambora.

A secondary mid–drum known as a merry drum, or tambor alegre, is used for backup rhythm. A small drum, known as the calling drum or lamador, is also used for the back-beat. On the kit, I used the toms to play the beats usually played on these drums as well.

Seed filled maracas and metal guiro are also utilized for overtones. On the kit, I used the hi-hat to imitate these instruments.

The bass drum is playing straight 8th notes, but sometimes a you can also use a tumbao pattern.

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Cumbia on Congas

As the cumbia style has evolved since the 1970s, the beat has been molded by the contexts it is being played in.

In a band context, congas are often used in place of the hand drums—the tambora alegre and lamador. In this case, the conga player will often use two congas.

Here, Peter Vale shows how to use both two and three congas to mold cumbia for a rock band context. Through rock music, Peter demonstrates techniques for improvising within the cumbia form, helping add some excitement and extra energy.

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