What is a Tambor?
A bembé or tambor is a party for the orishas. During a bembé the orishas are
praised, saluted and entreated to join the party through mounting
one of the priests(esses) in attendance. This is done through a
confluence of the song, rhythm, and movement, all calling to the
orisha in such a way that the orish will recognise themselves in
the lyrics, rhythms and dances as they have been performed for them
for perhaps thousands of years.
The rhythms play an important part of the equation and the drummers
practice assiduously for years to be able to play the intricate
rhythms correctly. This is important since the drums are actually
speaking to the orishas as the Yoruba language is a tonal one and
the drums are tuned in such a way as to play the tones of Yoruba
speech. For this reason some rhythms are never played unless it
is in religious context as it would offend the orisha. These rhythms
are actually prayers to the deities with each orisha having its
own rhythms associated with them.
Dance also becomes prayer in the religious context of a bembé. The
movements of the dances are the same motions associated with the
orishas for thousands of years. As with the rythms played on the
drums, each orisha has its own dances with Yemayá's dance emulating
the motion of the waves, Ogún's chopping with his machete, Oshún's
portraying her primping in front of her hand held mirror, etc. Therefore
these movements become more danced prayers than what the Western
European would refer to as dance.
Everything present at a bembé whether it is song, dance, rhythm
or colors used, becomes part of an intricate fabric of prayer saluting,
praising and calling to the orishas and asking them to be present.