It is all about basics and fundamentals. One of the fundamentals of all West African drumming is the clave concept. What is the clave concept?
In Spanish, the clave is the cornerstone on which a wall is built. Musically and for our purposes here, we will talk about the clave not only an instrument (two pieces of wood struck together), but also a musical form and concept.
The clave concept is simple. It is a rhythm pattern that never changes and is held tight. It can speed up or down but the notes do not change. In Rumba, where clave is known best, (traditional Afro Cuban drumming and dance), the clave is the central theme in which all other percussion and drum parts as well as traditional dance choreography center around.
The lead (quinto) player solos to the clave and his traditional solo patterns (aka “quinto lock”) interlace with the clave pattern. The segundo or second drums 2 open tones answer the claves “1 and the a of 2” on the corasponding (opposite) side as well. The tumba or tumbao part plays it’s open tone one note before the one of the clave and is known as “ponche”. The second note of clave is called “bombo” and is an important note in both accents in rumba and also tradtional bata drumming.
The first step of traditional rumba dance starts in time with the first note of clave for example.
So the clave is a repetitive simple pattern that repeats and never changes and everything circles around. Since this pattern is the most important part of the traditional drumming, the most important player in an Afro Cuban drumming ensemble is the clave player, not the quinto (solo) player.
In West African music, specificaly djembe music from Guinee and Mali the kinkini player (or Konkoni in Mali) would be the equivelant of the clave player in Afro Cuban Rumba. This is because the Kinkini players part does not change once he starts his pattern. Many of us get caught up in the creative need to solo and forget about the basics. But as you can see once again that “it is all about basics”.