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    Land of winds > Instruments > Instrument | Issue 12 (Nov.-Dec.2012)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

The drums of the saya


Cajas of the saya

The music to accompany the original Afro-Bolivian saya is played on three different tambores (drums), a güiro (guancha, cuancha) and several rattles.

The saya drums are referred to as "cajas" by African descendants themselves, and include the tambor mayor (tambó mayó, caja mayó, asentador; large drum), the tambor menor (tambó menó, caja menó, requinto, cambiador; small drum) and the ganyengo (canguingo, guanyengó, sobrerequinto). All of them have a cylindrical body made of wood or bark, skin drumheads on both sides provided with a string system to tighten them and are hit with different types of jawq'aña (in Aymara, "mallet").

The tambor mayor is, as indicated by its Spanish name, the larger in size. This drum marks the beginning and the end of the performance and can only be played by someone with some sort of authority within the community. It is hit with the jawq'aña when it is used to play the saya and with both hands to play the land dance, the black huayno and the semba/zemba. Its tempo is the slowest and marks the rhythm of the dialogue with the tambor menor.

This one, though smaller, has the same structure and is performed in the same way as the former. During their dialogue, this is the one "talking" faster. Finally, the ganyengo is the smallest of the three "cajas de la saya", and moderates the conversation between its two bigger brothers.


Article. "Los afrobolivianos y su espacio en la pluriculturalidad multiétnica de nuestro país Bolivia", by ORISABOL La Paz [es].


Video 01. Afro-Bolivan saya drums, at the 2010 Peoples’ World Conference 2010.
Video 02. Afro-Bolivian saya drums in Guanay, in the Bolivian yungas.


Picture A.


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