Tambor de Yuka // Yuka Drums, Drums made by S.López, Havana, 2002. $1500.
Kongo-Cuban festival and religious music were driven by drums called ngoma (Ki-Kongo) during the colonial period. The drums were also called Tambor de Yuka and Makuta. Makuta referred to a particular dance style also. Painted and engraved documents show them being played while roped to the waist and straddled by the legs (see Palo photograph gallery on this site).
Three tubular, hand-hewn drums with goatskin heads attached by nails, were called, in descending order, caja, mula, and cachimbo. The three drums were accompanied by an iron hoe blade (guataca) beaten with a metal rod (hierro), sometimes a wrench.
Yuka drums were, and are, used in the sacred dances of the Kongo-Cuban religious systems, variously called Palo Monte, Mayombe, Briyumba, and Kimbisa. They are based upon communication with ancestral spirits, the dead, as opposed to the orishas of the Lukumí religion, most of whom are living, growing, embodiments of natural forces.
Drums for religious use often bear the figure of a male face carved in relief upon the drum body. Still, today the familiar conga-type drums are mostly seen. The drum orchestra is accompanied by a soloist (cantante) and a chorus. The soloist engages in call and response songs with the chorus. Soloists may switch off, as well as engage in sung exchanges and repartee with each other, in which puyas, a bold form of ritual insult or jibe are thrown (tirar) back and forth. This is sometimes called gallo and vasallo (rooster and vassal). The music, and the accompanying dances, are very strong and forceful, because the Palo spirits are considered guerreros (warriors). When they possess their priests, the Palo spirits, work very materially, that is with herbs, sticks, liquor, bones, cigars, and, sometimes, blood (sacrifices), unlike other dead spirits, who may work more spiritually, using prayers, perfumes, and flowers.