A Riq, a djembe, and 4 tars walk into a bar…

Riq says, “Play it again, Sam.” Get it? Riq says? Casablanca? Ok, moving on…

I’ll wrap up the series of blog posts on my new works published by Bachovich with three works for hand drums; Merck’s Tattoo for solo riq, Kirina Dreams for solo djembe with ksink-ksink, and Maqsumed for frame drum quartet.

Bachovich Merck’s Tattoo COVER

Merck’s Tattoo for solo riq, written for Kyle Merck, is one of several works I’ve composed for students to perform on recitals. The piece is loosely based on funk-style drumset rhythms, with brief references to the bell pattern used in the West African Ewe dance “Gahu.” The title is inspired by a very distinctive tattoo that Kyle Merck sports on the underside of his left wrist. It occurred to me that every time Kyle plays the riq, he has a clear view of his special tattoo.

Merck's Tattoo

Merck’s Tattoo

Bachovich Kirina Dreams COVER

Kirina Dreams, written for Jonathan Harrisis based on the Malian rhythm called Madan, traditionally played to celebrate the millet harvest. According to master djembefola Sidi Mohamed “Joh” Camara, Madan originated in the village of Kirina in the Koulikoro region of Mali, near the Guinean border. Kirina holds a special place in the history of the Mande people, as it is the location of the famous battle of Kirina, where Sundiata Keita defeated the Sosso king Sumanguru Kante in 1235 to mark the beginning of the Great Mali Empire. Legend has it that Sundiata overcame tremendous adversity in his rise to become king of one of the greatest civilizations in history. Sundiata’s story is a classic tale of the hero’s journey, recounted for generations and capturing the dreams and imaginations of young and old alike.

This solo requires the use of added jingle plates called ksink-ksink (also called “kashink-kashink” or “seke-seke”). These fan-shaped shakers are inserted between the tensioning ropes of the djembe and typically vibrate sympathetically in a manner similar to the snares on a snare drum. In Kirina Dreams, they are also played directly with the hands. It is said that ksink-ksink represent the shields once used to protect drummers during battle as they oversaw the battlefield and drummed messages to the troops.

 Bachovich Maqsumed COVER

In the spirit of Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood, Maqsumed (as in “consumed”) employs a system of building up fragments of permuted rhythms derived from the traditional Arabic rhythm Maqsum. The number of repeats in each bar is not fixed. It may vary within the approximate limits marked in each bar (e.g. bar 1 may be repeated 4-6 times, then player two enters at bar 2 for about 5-9 repeats and so on). The indications for approximate numbers of repeats are written above the part responsible for making the particular change in each bar (e.g. player 2 is responsible for bars 2 through  8 since player one repeats without changing in those bars), and consequently the approximate number of repeats (5-9) is written above player two’s part, and similarly throughout the piece. Once a player’s rhythm has completed its build-up process, a decrescendo is indicated with an approximate number of repeats (e.g. 3-4) in which to accomplish the dynamic change in order for the player’s part to meld into the prevailing timbre and allow the next player’s entrances to stand out. This piece may be performed using any frame drum (tar, bendir, bodhran, riq, etc.) or combinations of drums as desired. The piece may also be played on doumbek or any sounding source capable of producing the three sounds (dum, tak, slap).


Merck’s Tattoo, Kirina Dreams, and Maqsumed are avialable now at www.bachovich.com.


Mallet Ensemble Arrangements

Here are some newly-published ensemble arrangements for mallet percussion; Danse Macabre by Saint-Saëns, Funeral March of a Marionette by Gounod, and Shona Spirit (three traditional mbira tunes for marimba ensemble).

Bachovich Danse Macabre COVER

During the summer of 1990, I was on the artist faculty at the Brevard Music Center in Western North Carolina. Since I had planned a Halloween concert for the Winthrop Percussion Ensemble the following fall (and had no clue what to program), I spent most of my free time that summer writing the  two concert transcriptions presented here. Both arrangements (the Saint-Saëns and the Gounod) were taken directly from the orchestral score. Danse Macabre is scored for glockenspiel, xylophone, 2 vibraphones, 5 marimbas, and string bass (a bass marimba plays the string bass part on the recording below). The historical significance of Danse Macabre is important to percussionists, as it is the first orchestral composition employing a xylophone (to imitate the rattling bones of a skeleton dancing at midnight on Halloween).



Bachovich Funeral March COVER

Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette, originally written for piano, depicts the funeral procession of a broken marionette. Immediately following the first bar, containing only two notes a tritone apart (the “Devil’s interval”), a silent fermata announces, “The marionette is broken.” The somber adagio that follows depicts “murmurs of regret from the troupe.” The procession begins with the now-famous tune known by most as the theme from “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” As the key changes from D minor to D major, the score reads, “Here many of the principal personages stop for refreshments,” and the recapitulation of the famous theme marks the “return to the house.”


Bachovich Shona Spirit COVER

The Shona people of Zimbabwe have a rich musical tradition.  Both vocal and instrumental musical expressions largely depend on the concept of a constantly recurring harmonic cycle over which improvised variations are layered, often in an interlocking fashion.  This concept is epitomized in the music of the mbira, in which the kushaura (leading part, melody) line is complemented by the kutsinhira (responding or supporting part) line to create an interlocking “kaleidophonic” texture.

All the marimba parts in these arrangements are derived from actual mbira parts, and are marked either kushaura  or kutsinhira  in order to facilitate the ensemble’s understanding of this important interlocking principle.  An effective performance may be rendered by starting with the kushaura lines together, followed by the kutsinhira lines, and finally by the composite line performed by the lead soprano voice. Other imaginative layering techniques may be explored as well in order to give the audience a glimpse into the intricate internal structure of each piece.

Although the marimba is indigenous to Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi and other nations of Southeastern Africa, it was not introduced in Zimbabwe until the early 1960s at the Kwanongoma College of African Music in Bulawayo.  The marimba ensemble, patterned after those found in neighboring countries, was chosen as a practical vehicle for preserving traditional Shona musical experiences and concepts without favoring any particular cultural or ethnic group. The Zimbabwean marimbas come in four sizes (soprano, tenor, baritone, bass) covering a four-octave range.  The tuning of most marimbas found in Zimbabwe today is diatonic, usually in the western C major scale.  (Many of the indigenous African marimbas and xylophones are tuned to pentatonic or heptatonic scales.)  The keys are laid out in one manual, and the soprano and tenor instruments are provided with both F-natural and F-sharp keys, thereby affording them the opportunity to play in the keys of C major and G major.  Because of the single-manual diatonic layout, the playing of these instruments depends more on aural awareness than the more visually-oriented western chromatic instruments for which these arrangements are written.

In these arrangements, the basic cycle for each instrument is notated along with suggested variations. The lead soprano voice (mushauri) is afforded the most freedom, while the supporting sopranos and tenors (vatsinhiri) have considerably less leeway for improvisation.  In most cases, the supporting soprano voices play a fixed pattern.  The baritone and bass voices (mazembera or mahon’era) usually outline the cyclic harmonic progression, and may vary their patterns occasionally as long as they maintain the chord progression.


According to Stella Chiweshe, Mahororo is the name of a small river in Zimbabwe. The interlocking melodic lines found in the tune Mahororo create a flowing effect that Chiweshe likens to a flowing river. She further states that people used the song to welcome hunters back to the village following an extended hunt. Forward Kwenda translates the title as “Baboons’ Voices” (onomatopoeic sound of baboon’s voices created by the interlocking mbira lines) or “Freedom following victorious struggle.” Likewise, Chartwell Dutiro describes it as a “song played after achievement.” Mahororo is harmonically derived from the older song Nyamaropa. The tune’s flowing rhythmic style results from the interlocking of the mbira player’s right and left hands on every other underlying pulse. One will note that Mahororo (as well as Nyamaropa) has a key signature of two sharps, although the tonal center is clearly “A.” This reflects the standard mbira tuning (also known as “Nyamaropa tuning”) in mixolydian mode (major scale with flat 7th). The key center of  “A” was chosen for these works in order to accommodate a performance along with mbiras pitched in that key.


Nhemamusasa, meaning “temporary shelter,” is a tune once associated with war that is now considered a hunting song. The title has to do with building a temporary shelter, called a musasa, which soldiers or hunters could use while away from home. Nhemamusasa differs from the other two tunes most obviously in its tonal center, a fourth above the lowest note on the mbira. Given an instrument pitched in “A,” Nhemamusasa would have a tonal center of “D,” the key in which this arrangement is written. The harmonic progression found in Nhemamusasa is identical to that of Nyamaropa and its derivative pieces, but with a higher tonal center. Unlike Mahororo and Nyamaropa, the kutsinhira line for Nhemamusasa is noticeably different in rhythmic character from the kushaura line, creating a rich polyrhythmic tapestry.


Nyamaropa (literally “meat and blood”) is generally considered among the most ancient of mbira compositions. Some musicians say it was the first piece composed for the instrument. Andrew Tracey calls it the “big song” for mbira, probably because it is the prototype for so many other mbira pieces such as Mahororo, as well as several others. Possibly originating as a war song “to raise emotions before a battle,” the piece is now considered a hunting song, its title suggesting the scene following a successful hunt.

These arrangements are available at www.bachovich.com.


Rhythmic Journey Series for Frame Drums

The Rhythmic Journey series currently consists of three solos for frame drums: Rhythmic Journey No. 1: Conakry to Harare for tar, Rhythmic Journey No. 2: The Cage Sieve for bodhran, and Rhythmic Journey No. 3: Post Minimal for riq. Each was composed for a student’s degree recital at Winthrop University.


Bachovich Rhythmic Journey 1 COVER

Rhythmic Journey No. 1, written for Michael Scarboro, is for North African tar with ankle bells (or any foot-operated percussive device; cowbell, jam block, or even a small kick drum). The opening section is inspired by the West African djembe rhythms “Makru” and “Wolosodon,” with a brief excursion through the traditional rudimental snare drum solo “Three Camps” sandwiched between the two. The “journey” continues into the rhythms of the Zimbabwean karimba tune “Chigwaya,” (with its 5+4 division of 9/8) and on to the mbira tune “Kuzanga” (with a division of 3+3+3), thus completing the journey from “Conakry to Harare.” Throughout, the ankle bells provide a polyrhythmic perspective underlying the predominate rhythms in the frame drum.


Bachovich Rhythmic Journey 2 COVER

Rhythmic Journey No. 2: The Cage Sieve for bodhran, composed for Chad Boyles in commemoration of Cage’s centennial, explores the rhythms of John Cage’s early percussion works, including First Construction (In Metal), Amores (the pod rattle and tom-tom motives from movement II and the wood block motive from movement III), Second Construction (the “string piano” motive as well as the “fugue” theme), Living Room Music, and Third Construction (especially the tom-toms, teponaxtle, and conch shell motives). The spirit of Cage’s seminal 4’33” even makes a brief appearance in a 10″-15″ silence at measure 42.

The subtitle The Cage Sieve has a double meaning. It is said that the original Irish bodhran was created from a grain sieve; a strainer used to separate the grain from the chaff during the winnowing process following the harvest. I used the bodhran as a “sieve” for musical ideas with one simple rule: if the rhythm could be played on the bodhran, it was considered “musical grain,” and was kept as a motive for further variation and musical exploration in the piece.

Bachovich Rhythmic Journey 3 COVER

Rhythmic Journey No. 3: Post Minimal, written for Will Keith, was inspired by the motoric rhythms of such composers as David Lang, Paul Lansky, Julia Wolfe, and John Luther Adams. I had been interested in writing a work for Egyptian riq that would explore the sounds of these so-called “post-minimalist” composers, but had little success until I heard a performance of Steve Reich’s Mallet Quartet by New York-based percussion quartet So Percussion on the Internet. I didn’t analyze Reich’s work or attempt to decipher his rhythms, but immediately got up from my computer and wrote this solo. I’m still not exactly sure what post-minimal music is, but this is what I think it sounds like.

There is a spoken rhythm appearing first at measure 21 and returning several times throughout the piece. This rhythm can be enunciated using whatever sounds the performer chooses (singing, scatting, whistling, or any other creative vocalization). An effective performance will reveal the polyrhythmic qualities of the recurring 5-pulse figure in the zils of the riq against the 7/8-4/4 rhythmic motive in the voice. The pulse of the riq figure turns around on itself in the 4/4 section of the pattern, indicated by parenthetical accents marked in the score. These accents are not to be heard, but are provided to guide the performer in proper rhythmic placement.


These are excellent recital pieces for the aspiring frame drummer. The Rhythmic Journey series is published by Bachovich Music Publications, available at www.bachovich.com.


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MbiraTab Series

The MbiraTab series of four volumes of mbira transcriptions in tablature notation are up on the Bachovich website (www.bachovich.com). I’ve prepared preview videos for each of the four volumes so folks can hear what each tune sounds like. Volumes 1 – 3 are for instruments in nyamaropa tuning (Mixolydian mode). Volume 4 is in gandanga tuning (Phrygian mode). Accompanying recordings for volumes 1-3 are done on an instrument pitched in B. Volume 4 recorded examples are in Bb gandanga tuning.

Bachovich Mbiratab 1 COVER

Volume 1 features Baya Wabaya, Kariga Mombe YeKare, Nyamamusango, and Shumba.

Bachovich Mbiratab 2 COVERVolume 2 has transcriptions for Hangaiwa, Shumba, Chipindura, and Bukatiende.


 Bachovich Mbiratab 3 COVER

Volume 3 includes Chakwi I, Nyuchi, Chakwi II (Ephat Mujuru version), and Dangurangu (Ephat’s version in nyamaropa tuning)


Bachovich Mbiratab 4 COVERVolume 4 includes four tunes most closely associated with gandanga tuning: Marenje, Dangurangu, Mbavarira, and Vasina Katura.

These are great resources for delving into new repertoire for mbira. My students at Winthrop University have been learning some of these tunes and many have performed them on recitals! It’s great to share this wonderfully deep music.