Carlos Aldama's Life in Bata

Carlos Aldama's Life in Batá

Cuba, Diaspora, and the Drum
Umi Vaughan and Carlos Aldama
Distribution: World
Publication date: 3/12/2012
Format: paper 208 pages, 23 b&w illus.
6 x 9
ISBN: 978-0-253-22378-4
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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.

Author Bio

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.

Umi Vaughan is also
omo Añá and is a priest of Ochun in the Santería religion. He is an artist and anthropologist who explores dance, creates photographs and performances, and publishes about African Diaspora culture. He is Associate Professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Monterey Bay, and author of Rebel Dance, Renegade Stance: Timba Music and Black Identity in Cuba. To learn more visit


"Carlos Aldama's Life in Batá: Cuba, Diaspora, and the Drum, covers incredible history and tradition in its slender 150 pages. Vaughan captures everything the subtitle proclaims, but the heart comes directly from Aldama's own still-feisty voice." —

"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, editor of The Yoruba Diaspora in the Atlantic World

"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, Trumbull Professor of the History of Art, Yale, and author of 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

"[T]his book makes a compelling contribution to scholarship on bata as religious practice, folklore, and diasporic symbol, through the dialogue between a Cuban master drummer and his ethnographer-student." —Journal of Folklore Research

"The chapter notes, list of references, and index are all quite thorough; the glossary is adequate. . . . Recommended." —Choice

"This book is an important contribution to literature about the Afro-Cuban Lucumi tradition in its latest wave of expansion. As the bata player is a central figure in Afro-Cuban religious tradition, Vaughan and Aldama’s book opens an ideal window from which to observe and learn about one of its most

skilled proponents." —
Journal of American Folklore

"Vaughan and Aldama are well suited as coauthors: one is young and hungry; the other is mature and content to see the batá legacy passed on. Anyone taking the journey alongside them,whether just setting out on the drummer’s path or seeking to reconnect with humanity and 'home,' will find this book to be an indispensable guide." —New West Indian Guide

"Carlos Aldama’s Life in Batá is a valuable addition to the growing literature on batá drumming, as a musical and historical phenomenon, [and] provides a snapshot of this period by a master drummer and preserves it for future generations." —Latin American Music Review

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