Bembe Drum Set Style Essentials

Bembe Drum Style is the eighth in the series: Essential Latin Drum Set Beats. Over the years, I have collected a bunch of books that talked about playing various Latin styles on drum set. I would go from one book to another searching for answers and ideas. There was some agreement. But mostly disagreement about what is authentic and correct for each Latin style. The challenge is to try and duplicate the patterns traditionally played by 3 Bateristas (drummers): Timbalero (timbales), Conguero (congas) and Bongocero (bongos). Here are simple, stylistically accurate and essential Latin rhythms and patterns to play the Bembe style on drum set.

Bembe Style on Drum Set

The traditional cowbell pattern can also be played on the hi-hat or the side of the floor tom imitating the Shekere. For a Jazz feel the cowbell pattern can be played on a ride cymbal. It is now quite common to hear 6/8 rhythmic styles interchanged with other Afro Cuban styles such as Mambo, Songo, etc. The patterns here are also notated in 3/4 meter since that is (unfortunately) how some arrangers notate 6/8 Bembe style.

Bembe style originated from African religious gatherings

Generally, any style of music played in 6/8 time signatures takes on characteristics of the Bembe. The style originates from the word “Bembes”, which are religious gatherings which involve singing, drumming, and dancing. In fact, Bembe is more of an African beat then anything else. It was originally played with bongos, shakers, bells, and other rhythmic instruments. However, it can be played on the drum set as well.

Clave patterns in Afro-Cuban styles evolved from a 6/8 feel. See: Afro Cuban Clave Essentials. The most commonly used clave pattern in sub-Saharan Africa is the unique seven note pattern known as “Bembe”. The standard pattern can be expressed in both a compound meter triple-pulse (12/8 or 6/8) and a simple meter duple-pulse (4/4 or 2/2) structure. Many North American percussionists refer to the triple-pulse form as the 6/8 bell.

Bembe Standard Bell Pattern