The Arara music of Cuba is sacred music that originates in the region of Africa that today we call Benin/Togo—or what was originally called “Dahomey”. This music and the religious traditions of which it is a part survives as a living breathing entity today almost exclusively in the province of Matanzas, though there certainly are musicians in La Habana who know many of the songs and rhythms of the tradition. There are three different forms or cabildos of Arará drumming and worship: the Sabalú Cabildo in the city of Matanzas, the Dajomé Cabildo in Perico and the Magino Cabildo of Jovellanos.                                                                           

As a religion, Arará is very similar to the Yoruba or Lucumi tradition in Cuba.  There is a pantheon of deities known as “Foduces” that represent different aspects of nature and life, while at the same time exhibiting different human characteristics.  Just like the orishas, each of the foducces has its own rhythm(s), dances and sets of songs that are specific to that deity.

Arará music is a beautiful but extremely complex musical system, and is extremely difficult to learn and play. Unlike most other Afro-Cuban drumming, Arará often uses a 4-bar or 6-bar bell/clave pattern, and the songs can be in odd bar lengths against those patterns. This makes the phrasing in Arará drumming uniquely complex, and mastery of this tradition is quite a daunting task.

There are four drums and one bell used specifically in the Savalu Arara tradition:

  • The Yonofo--This is the tall master/lead drum and is the second lowest in pitch.  It is played standing, with one stick and one hand. Another Arará name for this drum is the Johano.
  • The apliti- This is the highest of the supporting drums, and is always played with two sticks.
  • The guegue or Wewe  This is the middle pitched supporting drum, and responds to the Yonofo calls.
  • The Akloto--This is the lowest pitched drum and one of the most challenging to play rhythmically. It is only used in certain rhythms.
  • The Jogani—The hoe blade that is used to keep time. As mentioned above, in addition to the standard Afro-Cuban 6/8 pattern, some rhythms use 4 and 6-bar patterns unique to Arará.