Tassa drumming is an art form, which is indigenous to this country tradition, showing the rhythms as it was in the beginning. Like so many of the other genres of music, tassa has evolved through the years. Drummers have experimented with several modern rhythms and are now able to bring change to the stage, while it is good to entertain in the chutney, soca and calypso rhythms. Tassa which, together with, pan, parang and rapso, embraces the diverse heritage and mirrors the cultural diversity of this twin-island state.
Drumming is a separate art from all the other musical art forms, and both tassa and African drumming are separate categories in the performing arts in Trinidad and Tobago. tassa revealed that these drums were made more than one hundred years ago from hollowed out tree trunks which were carved in the shape of a pot. It was then covered with goat’s skin and was beaten with cane sticks.
The drummers advanced the drums by next using clay shells tightly covered with goat skin. When ready to play, the goat skin is heated by aid of a fire to tighten the head, making the pitch higher.
This process is called “standing it up”. In this way, the pitch could stay high for thirty minutes. Today, there are several variations of tassa drums, with some of them even being made by cutting an empty coolant tank in half and attaching a synthetic drum skin to the top of it with nuts and bolts and welding it shut.
Synthetic drums last longer and do not have to be adjusted as frequently. Bass drums are constructed from a single piece of tree trunk, usually mango or cedar.
The hollowed out trunk is covered on both sides by goat skins which are pulled tightly with rope. Different amounts of “massala” are placed on the insides of the skin to create a lower frequency resonation on the “bass” side, which is hit with a stick, and a higher frequency resonation on the “treble” side, which is hit with the hand.
The deep, booming sounds of bass drums can be heard over long distances. Typically, one or more tassa drums are played together with a heavy bass drum called dhol, perhaps along with brass cymbals or a metal shaker.
Tassa-dhol ensembles usually feature three to five players. When played in a tassa group, one tassa is the “cutter” and the other is the “fulley” or “fuller”, as their role is to make the rhythm or “taal” sound more full. The fulley plays a steady rhythm and at a constant speed, while the cutter plays the more intricate rhythms and improvises.
A large bass drum, usually made from a mango tree trunk, is also played, filling in a deep sound and in addition there is someone with jhanj or jhaal ( Hindi for brass “cymbals”) playing in the group.
The tassa drums are played with sticks made from wild cane (called “chob”, Hindi for cane sticks) or fibreglass. The sticks can either have very tightly wound masking tape at the top, or the sap from a balata tree wound into a ball to form the head. When played, these pliant sticks are struck on the head of the drum and accomplish a unique sound because the flexibility of the stick is responsible for the roll rather than the regressive bouncing action of the head of the stick.
Tassa drumming can usually be found at various Indo-cultural events such as Hosay, Hindu weddings, or even parties and at certain clubs. The rhythms are quite complex and feature many variations. Some basic hands are tikora, wedding hand, nagaara, chutney, bhangra, dingolay, soca, chaubola, kalinda, khemta, and bhajan.
Tassa Taal competition is annually held and organised by the Tassa Association of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT). Competition points are awarded for timing, simultaneous coordination, discipline and overall presentations, which ranged from the use of a single dancer to more elaborate portrayals. Tassa Taal, which means the Rhythm of the Tassa, is one of the ways in which the Penal Branch contributes to the community. Originally called Tassarama, when it was first launched in 1984, the Penal Branch conceptualised the event and its staff has played an important role in the coordination and planning of the event. A larger number of participants in the recent years, as tassa drummers are increasing in the many villages in the country. FOR THE past 27 years, the Republic Bank Tassa Taal has been one of the big events at Samar’s Entertainment Centre in Penal.
TATT was established as the umbrella body for the propagation and development of the Tassa instruments as a National Instrument of Trinidad and Tobago. Tassa Association of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) band has performed at various functions with the rhythm of the tassa music and Millennium Starz was outstanding and the massive crowd that gathered to hear the music was ecstatic with the performance, the songs and energy from the performers…this band brings a lot of energy forward and will go places.
Address and Contact:
Tassa Association of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT)
Venue: SAMAAR ENTERTAINMENT CENTER, PENAL, TRINIDAD.
Tel.: 868 624 9662