The Seven Wheels of Bembé

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The Seven Wheels of Bembé were developed in 1968 by Gary Harding and were first published in an NEA grant awarded him while an instructor of Music and Chicano Studies at Washington State University. The concept has been used with/without permission throughout the internet. However, even the best descriptions have problems. This posting is presented to clear up these rhythmic issues, as well as, to set the record straight as to copyright and intellectual property prerogatives. 

There aren’t really 7 wheels of bembé, just 1 wheel and 7 orientations to beat 1. These seven orientations, which I call wheels, have the same structure, but sound and feel unique. Wheels 1 and 4 are known to many as the “long and short bells.” In Brazil, wheels 1, 4 and 5 are known as Alujá, Adarrum and Ibí. However, the discovery and development of the concept itself was in a far off exotic place called Pullman, Washington [Go Cougs!] and I’ve been teaching it ever since. A student of a former student put it on the net a few years ago and the cat was out of the bag. Unfortunately, the nature of how it really works in traditional ensembles is still not well understood. That’s why this page is here and I hope this clears some things up?

In the link below, the wheels are set up in numerical order 1-7, but I suggest you work with them in this order: 1, 4, 5, 7, 2, 3 and 6. The ensemble has tumba, conga, quinto, claves, agogô, bajo and tiple marímbula. The bajo marímbula plays the exact rhythm of the wheel. The mp3s below are 4:30 minutes long, so that a percussionist can play along at length with each wheel. Start by playing agogô only, then claves only. Then branch out to other instruments. The tempo for each wheel are all the same [pulse = 100 m.m.].
Notice that each agogô wheel has a clave, and in this application, a clave de son primero [3/2 clave] or clave de son reverso [2/3 clave]. Wheels 1, 4 and 5 use clave primero [3/2] and the rest use clave reverso [2/3]. Wheels 1, 4 and 5 are also ‘perfect wheels’, in other words, the five notes of their clave matches perfectly with 5 of the seven notes of the wheel. Wheel 7 is also perfect with its reverso clave. The other wheel’s claves don’t match exactly, and as a result, are more challenging to hear and play. This is just the start. Eventually, I'll post charts for all the seven wheels and the ensembles [ritmos] found here.
The seven wheels of bembé are great fun and mentally invigorating. I hope you enjoy them!


Any reference to "the seven wheels of bembé" or "bembé wheels" should include a proper citation:
"Cuban and Brazilian Hand Drumming"
Gary Harding  
Alemão Press 1994
Seattle, Washington
page 48