Monday, July 03, 2006

Outernational Travels through the realms of pounding Percussion




The early hours of June 22nd saw my brother and I make our way to LAX on course to catch a flight to Toronto, Ontario. My recollections of this great metropolis were informed by the bitter winter I experienced there in January 1997 so I was looking forward to landing during the summer. June, no doubt, would be a mellower affair. What was not mellow was the security we had to navigate as we checked in at the desks of El Al, the national airline of Israel. The tension was palpable as security eyed our passports intensely. They peppered us with questions pertaining to our intent to carry nefarious cargo aboard. The experience offered a brief window into the negative human costs of the perpetual Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ironically, the history of diasporic displacements experienced by the Jewish and Palestinian peoples would find parallels in our outernational travel through the realms of pounding percussion.


Our central reason for journeying to Canada was to attend a two-day percussion retreat outside of Toronto co-sponsored by the wonderful people of the Tanglefoot Lodge and Mountain Rythym drums. The Tanglefoot Lodge is part yoga studio and part retreat house run by Russ and Nicky Hazard. Nestled in the woods Northeast of Toronto, the lodge made for the perfect zone to commune with nature and the nature of sound. These two know how to run a retreat space. Their tranquil and positive vibe was apparent in all of they did during the weekend. The vegetarian meals they cooked were some of the best I have ever experienced. Ital and pure! I highly recommend checking their website and definitely encourage one and all to visit them.

The other sponsor, Mountain Rythyms, is one of the premier makers of high quality hand percussion. They innovated the “simple twist” tuning system. For anyone who has tried tuning or retightening an old style Djembe this system is a godsend. Mountain Rythyms very own resident percussionist and teacher Ray Dillard, along with Russ, created a two-day introduction to “rhythmic teachings from around the world.” Entitled “Rhythms of the World”.


As the lattice of coincidence would have it, Ray is originally from Texas. Fresh from leaving Houston for San Francisco, I could only smile when he told me. Mirroring Khenu’s previous posts, the synchronistic moments that mark beginnings and ends; births and rebirths never ceases to amaze. While living in the Lone Star state Ray spent much of his time as a member of the Music and Audio Engineering faculty at San Jacinto College Central in Houston. He spent three years studying tabla in India. He has studied and played in Cuba. He has toured throughout Europe. He can jump from a Samba to an Indian Tal before he ends with a Cuban Clave. More importantly, he can teach it. Ray’s ability to convey his knowledge and passion for rhythm makes me wish I knew him ten years ago. I would be much further along in my own musical journey no doubt.

Outside of Ray, the organizers brought in two other superb instructors. Along with being an instructor at Humber College of Music, Rick Lazar is the creator and artistic director behind Samba Squad, one of Toronto’s main Samba schools. Rick was a seriously feisty cat. He had twenty people who had never met and even some complete novices like my brother and I playing serious samba in unison. The sound we created rivaled the sonic dominance one hears in a sound system dance. Our ears were pounding after Rick’s session on the seminar’s first night.

The following day Andy Morris connected the diasporic dots from Brazil back to Africa. He dedicated his session to various aspects of Ghanaian drumming. As would become a theme throughout the weekend, there were numerous points of overlap; a kind of sameness within differentiation that penetrated through the various sessions. Rick’s Afro-Brazilian lessons bled seamlessly into Andy’s discussion of West African traditions. The West African session provided a kind of centeral axis around which the other African diasporic traditions coalesced. Moving out of Andy’s session into Ray’s lesson on Afro-Cuban percussion gave one the sense of a resonant connection between the rhythmic patterns we were playing and their historical roots in the forced dispersal of African-descended peoples.

The serious mental work came when Ray broke down the some of the most common Tals in Indian music. As Ray states, “Tabla repertoire is traditionally taught orally, so no standardized notation exists.” This lack of a written musical nomenclature presents many difficulties for most western-trained musicians. Indian classical music’s eschewing of 4/4 time in favor of 7,10, or 16 beat measures, to name just a few possibilities, also had many of the participant’s looped. Asian massive cut-and-paste tabla this was not.

More could be said about all of the nuances present in the various percussive forms we experienced over the weekend. Suffice it to say, throughout the two days I was trying to work out basslines in my head that might fit over top some of the rhythms presented. With the unfolding and always synchronistic flows of the roots and wires I have no doubt that new rhythmic and musical discoveries will unfold in a home studio or two somewhere in the city of San Francisco…They will no doubt be partially influenced by my experiences over this weekend in the rolling hills northeast of Toronto…stay tuned

...But before I go let me give one last shout out to all the crew of the Tanglefoot Lodge and Mountain Rythym not to mention all of the great warm and welcoming Canadians that we met at the seminar and while wandering the streets of Toronto. Big up to the Canadian crew...

3 comments:

One of the girlz said...

Nice Blog Andy. I really appreciate your thoughfulness in recognizing all the talent that was there that weekend. Kat and I are going to catch up with Samba Squad Jul-16 and I'm really looking forward to AfroFest this weekend at Queen's Park in Toronto too! This drum community is opening up a creative side in me that I never knew existed. By from your northern neighbors
Donna

Andy G said...

Thanks for the positive feedback Donna. Keep the drum skins pounding!

Alvaro said...

its good to know someone is learning worth while