The term “tumbao” originates from the Spanish word “tumbar,” which conveys the idea of knocking off or knocking out. It is a distinctive drum pattern found in most salsa and cha cha music, typically played on conga drums.
At its core, tumbao can be described as a repetitive rhythmic pattern played by the congas, bass, or piano that outlines the harmony and creates a compelling groove. It typically consists of syncopated notes, accents on offbeats, and a distinctive syncopated “clave” pattern, which is a rhythmic foundation in Latin music.
Tumbao often serves as the backbone of the music, grounding it with its infectious pulse while allowing other instruments and vocals to weave their melodies and improvisations around it.
The basic tumbao pattern on conga drums in 8 count of salsa music, two open tones are played in quick succession on the counts of (4, and, 8, and).