Randy Rosso & Stephen Bloom
Listening to Afro-Cuban batá drums is like listening to a musical and sacred conversation entrusted to the hands of drummers, typically made up of an honored fraternity of bataleros. Randy Rosso has been leading these conversations in Maryland for over 30 years. A batalero, or a drummer in batá playing, since 1989, and one of the region’s few Olu Batá (Keeper of the Drum), Rosso is prominent in many of the spiritual and religious convenings of the Maryland-based Yoruba-Olorisha communities.
Batá drums date back over 500 years, with origins in Nigeria. Having arrived in Cuba through the transatlantic slave trade, Afro-Cuban batás refer to a set of three hour-glass-shaped drums, each with different sizes and different rhythmic roles, that when played together converse in highly complex polyrhythmic patterns. As a vehicle used to engage with Orisha deities of the Cuban Yoruba-Santería practices, the batá has primarily been used in religious contexts, where the drums are known as Añá drums. Batá drums came to the United States through the influx of Cuban migrants and growing Olorisha practitioner communities.
After beginning his batá training in the late 1980s, for several years Randy apprenticed under several top bataleros in New York, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, including Carlos Aldama, Orlando Ríos Puntilla, and Angel Cachete Maldonado. His skills in the layered drumming patterns paired with his knowledge of Yoruba spirituality have earned him high regards in his Maryland community. Stephen Bloom, an avid student of the batá and director of the U.S.-based Havana Select ensemble, had up until 2000 traveled outside of Maryland to study and train. That year, Randy received the title of Olu Batá, and brought the Añá drums to his Rockville home. Thus began Randy and Steve’s learning exchange. Through a Folklife Apprenticeship Award from the Maryland State Arts Council in 2021-22, Randy has continued teaching Steve, focusing on specific drum patterns and chants. They will bring the majestic sounds of the batá to this year’s National Folk Festival, accompanied by a chorus of singers.