The caja, pujado and repicador [Native drums made of hollowed trunks which are sealed with cowhide. The caja is short and squat. The pujador and repicador are long and very narrow. They differ in gender: The male pujador is deep and sonorous while the female repicador chatters and laughs up and down the scale], having been dried thoroughly in the sun, begin to sound forth, and no sooner have they commenced than old and young start to drift in. Each drumbeat is an ivitation which the girls translate perfectly. For one and all arrive in the shortest possible time.
At the strains of the first real melody the room can no longer contain the many spectators. There is the caja, with its rhytmic puco-puco; the pujador, held fast between the knees of a strapping young rascal, vibrates beneath the blows of his huge fists; and the repicador that leaps, that roars, that whistles, that quavers, that all but speaks, which, under the ministrations of Perdis agile hands brings tears to the eyes. And all three of them, played together, diffuse into the atmosphere a symphonic poem.
And how graciously sound the silver voices of the girls as they clap hands to the beat of their song. Their bodies sway in tune with the music and beginning with the cantaora alante (the soloist) who stands beside the caja, the circle of girls which ends close to the repicador grows slowly smaller. Breaths come short and fast, spirits soar and yield to an atmosphere bathed in romance, in sensuousness, in love.
The tamborito is contagious. Its intoxicating rhythm and underlying emotions are communicated to all. Its cadences are mixed with the turbulence of jealousy; with the palpitations of pleasure; with the resonance of kisses; with the laughter of deception; with the honey of coquetry; or the pain of sorrow.
The cantaora alante, intones the plaintive melody:
Por carida... Por carida...
Maria Remolona... dime la verda...
(In charity;s name, take pity, do,
And, Lazy Mary, tell me true.)
The chorus answers:
Lazy Mary, in the name of Heaven above,
Tell me if you love me... Im dying of love.
A poor man steps out with his lady fair
Along comes a rich one, and he gets the air.
In charitys name, take pity, do,
And, Lazy Mary, tell me true.
The poor man is kicked right out the door,
He scratches his head... And is he sore?
Lazy Mary, in the name of Heaven above
Tell me if you love me... Before I die of love.
If you leave me Ill wish I had never been born,
Without your love I am quite forlorn...
It is the song of the tamborito in all its glory. The swaying girls strain to throw their voices into the farthest corners of the room. The drums seem ready to burst. The hands keep up their even clapping. And the boys, with their constant cries of Ay, Hombre! and Here and Now!, inflame all hearts with joy. And now Chela, so supple and smooth, so lusciously formed, responding to the overtures of Fello, steps forth radiant, majestic, serene, and with barely perceptible hip movements, begins to dance.
She answers to the call of the repicador and when the drummer gives the three conventional knocks, she replies to them with an equal number of quiebres. (Salutations to the drum. Facing the drum, the girl makes three barely perceptible curtseys.) She ends the last quiebre with a breath-taking whirl the purpose of which is to envelop the youth in the folds of her coquettish sea-green pollera. At the same time, Fello, facing Chela and without breaking the rhythm, gives his three golpes magistrales (Like the quiebres, but when made by the man his knees almost touch the floor), with crossed legs and knees bent almost to the floor, and so doing he offers her his allegiance. And then the two of them in a promenade of tiny shuffling sidesteps which, with her confiding glances and his protecting arms resembles a conquest, make the round of the entire circle. During this step she manipulates her pollera in expert fashion, with provocative motions. His enthusiasm grows by leaps and bounds when, taken by surprise by three more knocks from the repicador, he bends again in quick, exaggerated quiebres.
A cloud of hats fall into the circle and a torrent of Vivas burst forth from the spectators as proof of their satisfaction with the dancing pair. And the cantaora alante brings blushes to their cheeks with the following couplet:
When a rose and a carnation mingle in the dance
The rose may offer her petals to the carnation - with a glance.
Excerpt From: Tamborito in Pese By Jose Huerta.
The Technique of the Tamborito
No Panamanian can resist the witchery of our national dance so filled with passion and so typifying gallantry and the gestures of love-making, love-making with leaps and dips, with cries and exclamations, with advancing and retreating. And since the spirit of all Panamanian youths and maidens is filled with coquetry at the sound of the Tonada (Refrain of the song chanted to the beat of the drum) and the beat of the drums, the national dance becomes a means of matchmaking.
The women generally attend the Tambor empolleradas, that is, wearing the national dress, that costume which is voluptuous in spite of its ruffles. The Peruvian poet, Jose Santos Chocano, says that the pollera of the Panamanian woman is much more tempting than the nudity of Venus.
The women gather at the side of the drummers in a semicircle which, as the number increases, takes the form of a horseshoe facing the drums. A Caja, which is a large drum beaten with two sticks or thick balls which carry the rhythm of the Tonadas, and is next to the Cantadora Adelante who always stands first in the semi-circle; a Repicador, a drum of high-pitched sound, which carries the rhythm of the dancers and indicates the steps; and one or two smaller deep-toned drums, known as Pujas, which make a duet with the principal drum or Repicador.
The Cantador Adelante starts the song. The rest of the women sing the estribillo, carrying the beat with their handclappings.
The Tonadas are widely varied. Generally they consist of two verses paired for no particular reason and chosen at random by the Cantadora, interpolated by an estribillo sung by the chorus of women, but sometimes the verses are much more than two.
The refrain of the chorus is unchanging, but each Tonada has its special one. The songs themselves seldom lack a theme. Politics supplies it at times, the supporters of a cause taking advantage of the gayety of the Tambor to make party propaganda. National events are also recorded in these expressions of joy.
For example: In 1830 - in order to extol a feat of arms of General Tomas Herrera, Panamanian father of American independence, this was sung:
The Devil commanded Alzuru
To make an end of Panama
But the Lord is great and just
So he sent Tomas to us.
Long life to Don Tomas.
Or as follows:
Ay, Tomas, Ay tomas,
Why do we love you?
Youre a Liberal!
In 1904 the following spread and was very popular, as a protest against the authorities of the Canal Zone:
The Gringos are the bosses,
Panamanians, youre on the spot!
In 1926 the following Tonada of political character was widely sung:
Chiari will be
Chiari will be
President of Panama.
There is no lack of Tonadas that we can class as nationalistic, as for example:
Say what you will
Say what you will
Ay, Ay, Im a Panamanian!
It isnt that the theme of sympathy and attraction between man and woman is completely lacking, but it is not presented with much frequency in the poetry of the Tamborito. There could be nothing more gay or attractive than this Tonada (this one is very well known and popular among the Americans):
Panameno, vida mia,
Yo quiero que tu me lleves
Al tambor de la alegria.
(I want you to escort me
To the tambor of joy)
When the singers and the drummers once are in tune a man steps out of the surrounding group, approaches the chorus and invites a partner. He usually begins with the Cantador Adelante, by means of a nod of the head, a bow, or by putting his hat on her head, and then directs himself with dancing steps to the center of the circle, followed by the lady. From here they both approach the drums in order to give Los Tres Golpes, or rather, three broken steps backwards, immediately followed by a whirl. The woman barely suggests the three steps but the man bends his knees deeply as an act of submission to his lady. After the whirl, which is done simultanelously, they perform El Escobilleo, in which the woman, with whatever charm God may have given her, spreads wide her pollera skirt on one side and gathers it up high on the other, so that the rich laces and the white cloth of the linen petticoat can be seen, and thus, with light movements of the arms and all the grace at her command, she takes a series of tiny steps from one side of the circle to the other, her face wreathed in smiles and eyes filled with tropical brilliance, so that the man who follows her, also doing the Escobilleo, leaps, kneels, shouts and turns in circles, sometimes going off at a distance, then again approaching his partner with his arms extended, with which he surrounds her neck or her waist without touching her, or fanning her with his hat if he has not already placed it on her head when asking her to dance, or with one of the numerous hats which his friends are accustomed to throw at the feet of the dancing pair as homage to their skill, and which he seizes.
The Escobilleo at an end and heeding the call of the Repicador, done with quick repeating drumbeats, the couple again faces the drummers and returns backwards to the center of the circle giving again Los Tres Golpes.
The Tamborito is danced in couples and each pair continues to dance for an unspecified time, taking into consideration those who must take their turn. A Tonada generally lasts long enough for each woman in the circle to dance once.
Excerpt from: The Technique of the Tamborito By E. J. Castillero R.