The Bongo Bell

salsa percussion 101 Sep 10, 2019

by Mike Bello

I received an audio tape, around late 1999, by someone that attended an event with multiple workshops in Los Angeles.

This recording was of an instructor that was describing how to use the cowbell as a way to dance On1.

The instructor stated that whenever they heard the cowbell's distinctive "koongkoongkoongkoong" then those sounds occur on beats 1, 3, 5, and 7 in the phrasing of the music.

While I listened to the tape I couldn't help but feel that the students in that workshop were missing out on a great deal of information.

Though the "bongo bell," the particular instrument used to create the above sounds, does have those notes sound during the above mentioned times, there are other notes that are part of that true and complete rhythm.

The bongo bell is played by, you guessed it, the bongo player (bongocero) and is typically introduced in the montuno section of most salsa tunes.

About the time when the bongocero plays this instrument things in the music is starting to develop a higher pitch of excitement.

Typically, around two minutes into the song is when you'll hear this eleven-count rhythm that usually leads into the mambo section.

This can be an indicator for anticipating the next phrase of music.

Is there a connection to, or with, the clave when this rhythm is played?

Certainly!

Can one dance to this rhythm?

Absolutely!

Koong-King-Koong-ki-ki, Koong-ki-ki-Koong-ki-ki-
Koong-King-Koong-ki-ki, Koong-ki-ki-Koong-ki-ki-

Take a look at the above.

Now I want you to vocalize the above syllables.

If you’re not sure how to then follow this:

  1. Be sure to lightly press the back of your tongue against the roof of your mouth when you begin to pronounce the "K" sounds. This will sound more natural and develop less fatigue.

  2. Now, start off at a moderate tempo with an accent on the first three syllables, say Koong-King-Koong

  3. Next, softly say ki-ki

  4. Then start this segment with an accent on the first and fourth syllable and say Koong-ki-ki-Koong-ki-ki-

  5. Say and repeat all eleven syllables using a constant tempo and flow!

Congratulate yourself, because what you’ve just accomplished is vocalizing the bongo bell rhythm!

This rhythm is best appreciated during shines since this is the time most partners in dance will separate.

The pattern follows the above syllables as an eleven-count rhythm in two bars (eight beats) of music.

So, the above coincides directly as such:

The Count

1

and

2

and

3

and

4

and

5

and

6

and

7

and

8

and

2-3 (Reverse) Son Clave

 

 

*

 

*

 

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

 

*

Bongo Bell

Koong

-

King

-

Koong

-

ki

ki

Koong

-

ki

ki

Koong

-

ki

ki

3-2 (Forward) Son Clave

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

 

*

 

*

 

 

 

Bongo Bell

Koong

-

ki

ki

Koong

-

ki

ki

Koong

-

King

-

Koong

-

ki

ki

          Fig. 1

A good indication of the direction of clave, 2-3 versus 3-2, of any rhythm is the amount and type of activity presented.

The bar, or side, that has the least amount of activity or less syncopation is usually the 2 side of the clave.

Notice above that the 2 side of the clave has the bell pattern with syncopation just at the end while the 3 side has syncopation in two places.

Also, the 2 side has notation only at every beat and then the syncopation.

Lastly, the emphasis on the 2 side are the accented notes beginning with the first beat.

Vocalize the above and allow yourself to dance On2 to that rhythm.

Just remember that this rhythm does not typically present itself until almost halfway through a song.

But, it is certainly a viable one.

One that prepares you for the shines you're waiting to unload.


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If you want to get a complete breakdown of all of the rhythms in salsa music then purchase the highly acclaimed course, "The Facts You Should Know About Salsa Music, Rhythm, Phrasing & Timing."

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