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A rediscovered drum - reviving musical heritage and empowering communities

Facilitating creative production, enabling heritage preservation, and empowering women in a traditionally marginalised community.

Landscape shot outside Matanzas city, Cuba

Empowering communities through music

Dr Amanda Villepastour has previously conducted research about Añá Bí, the most famous batá drums in Matanzas, and considered to be one of the oldest surviving sets in Cuba.

During fieldwork in 2012, she discovered that a set of contemporaneous drums was being played in Matanzas by drummers who were unaware of their provenance.

Through her subsequent ethnographic work, Dr Villepastour identified the rich historical and social value of these little-known consecrated batá drums known as Ilú Keké, revealing that they are closely related to the famous Aña Bí and are: likely to have been crafted by the same drum maker, played by the same musicians, at least as old as (and possibly may pre-date) the more famous set.

The cultural value of drumming

Batá drumming is at the heart of the Afro-Cuban religion, Santería. The drums are a powerful national symbol of African identity and cultural heritage in Cuba; sacred vessels, invested with tremendous spiritual, social and emotional power.

Cuban scholarship places the beginnings of batá drumming in Havana, marginalising regional musical traditions.

Through research with priests, instrument makers and previously overlooked accounts from female family members, Dr Villepastour identified the rich historical and social value of the batá drums known as Ilú Keké, despite some competitors’ efforts to discredit them.

Previous research had relied almost exclusively on information from male drummers, as only males can play consecrated batá. Bringing women’s voices to this field has brought considerable added value.

Preserving musical heritage

In 2016, Dr Villepastour and Cuban musician Luis Bran co-produced a commercial CD, presenting her Ilú Keké research involving three generations of ritual musicians.

The CD was the first commercial recording to be produced by the people of Matanzas and marked the first time consecrated batá drums had been played for a studio recording. The detailed liner notes reported Ilú Keké’s emerging history and significance.

Dr Villepastour’s approach prompted field recordings of real Santería ceremonies and the Matanzas soundscape alongside studio production, which highlighted the anthropological aspect of the recording, and introduced a new approach in Cuba.

Key facts

  • The CD won a Special Prize for Musicological Research in 2018 at Cuba’s most prestigious national music awards, CubaDisco (a.k.a. “The Cuban Grammies”)
  • CD tracks have been streamed 11,963 times worldwide, attracting international attention to a once-marginalised community

Celebrating historical and social significance

Dr Villepastour’s identification of the Ilú Keké drums led to increased support for the music industry in Matanzas and preservation of a marginalised national tradition.

She also empowered the extended family that owns the drums to participate in their own cultural heritage, preserving Matanzas’ key role in batá history.

There is now a new, richer understanding of Matanzas’ place in Cuba’s cultural history.

Through Amanda’s research we have now discovered that this drum dates back from the time when the first sets of drums actually appear in this province. The discovery is monumental, and the drum has been restored … And it’s a source of pride nowadays. This is probably the most in-demand religious drum that is played in the city of Matanzas.
Luis Bran