We, of course, went straight to Frank!
As far as tuning the cuica to hit the high notes, well.... yes, there is some tuning involved but once tuned, it's more about the correct precise placement of the fingers on the skin and the amount of squeeze pressure on the stick. The closer you place your index and middle fingers to the "button" in the middle of the outside skin, combined with a tighter squeeze on the stick as you stroke it, the higher the pitch that you'll be able to produce.
There's a fine balance to be achieved in doing this, for if you squeeze the stick too much, it can either break or you can pull it out of the skin, both of which are major headaches when using drums with traditional heads! Also, the fingers that press on the outside of the skin should be well manicured, as you don't want long nails to cut and penetrate the membrane!
A cuica should always be played with the drum at a 45 degree angle, the head being in the higher position. This is mainly to avoid the liquid that you wet the cloth with (used to stroke the stick) from dripping down to the skin. If the liquid drips down the stick and on to the skin, you run the risk of ripping the skin as you pull on the stick.
The cuica is a very personal instrument, but it's mostly for these extra careful measures that have to be taken when playing one that usually no percussionist is willing to lend out his cuica. I personally don't know any bonafide cuica player who lets anybody else touch his instrument! With a traditional instrument, one with a real skin and a non-detachable stick, it takes at least 2 days to repair a rupture and to do so is a MAJOR pain in the butt!
Oh, and by the way, let me tell you something that happened to me while on tour with Gato Barbieri.... I use a contact mic on my cuica and therefore, test it at the band's sound check before the show. During one show in Los Angeles, when I came back from dinner, somebody who was apparently curious at how the cuica produced the unique sounds that I do, tried his hand at it while I was away from the stage. What I found was a broken instrument; the stick broken in 3 pieces and the skin warped beyond repair. Fortunately, I travel with the modern synthetic type of instrument and I have replacement parts for everything delicate that I take with me on the road! Still, I have to admit that I was in a fuming funk for the beginning of the show and I'm glad that I never found out who was the culprit, because I felt violated and I was on the warpath for blood! For their sake, I'm glad they remained annonimous! (www.kravmaga.bz)!!!
The point of this story is that, if you tour with your cuica or any other delicate instruments (such as tablas or berimbau or kalimba, etc.), please protect while you're away from the stage. Drums and percussion are fun to watch and listen to and play and many people just get caught up in the vibe and want to participate and share in the fun that they see you producing and one must be protective without having to be hostile. With me, when someone approaches my performance station with a question or tries to reach for an instrument, I stop them in their tracks NICELY and then give them a quick up-close demonstration and lesson, thank them for their good vibes and then politely move on.
Please feel free to consult me on any such issues with Latin, Brazilian or ethnic persussion. I love the fact that more and more people are playing drums and percussion. More people drumming means less people making war..... more people spreading love!
Technoprimal Productions, Inc.