The Third Beat Camp took place in chilly Bedfordshire on Saturday October 4th. I was hoping for a beautiful warm autumn day, but arctic winds swept in, preventing us playing outdoors. So I hired the Parkside Hall in Ampthill for the day's events, which is a fine venue: a large wooden-floored hall, perfect for dance.
In the morning I taught the rhythm Sinte to a big group of djembe and dun dun players, ready for them to play for the afternoon session where Emma Nelson taught the dance and drumming-for-dance.
It was a nice emotional moment afterwards, having united the drumming posses from Herts, Beds and Bucks (and Milton Keynes) for the first time. We left buzzing with energy that spilled over into the following week, playing and dancing Sinte again at Secret Bass and Vitae sessions.
After Vitae drumming this week, I returned home all a-buzzing with energy, and the full moon would not let me sleep. Suddenly rhythms were coming at me and I began to notate these intensely tricky solo djembe phrases that were unfolding before me, struggling to practise them quickly enough before the next idea arrived. This continued at high energy altitude for many hours, and I eventually went to bed at 9am, having composed an epic new rhythm with parts for djembe, dun duns, percussion and also intricate solos.
In all of this, I felt touched by the spirit of Nansady Keita (his soloing style was evident), as if he somehow had a hand in this and was giving a telepathic lesson to reward my weeks of relentless practice ;-)
[UPDATE: This has been happening more and more recently, and the piece is developing wildly. Lots more loud and sleepless nights! Either I am possessed by demons, or the djembe spirit is taking a liking to me :-]
Once I'm confident I can actually play the fiendishly difficult solo, I'll publish the notation and start teaching it. Imagine a mix of urban hip hop with traditional Guinean funk.
It's been a long time since I composed anything seriously, and this is indeed serious. There's a difference between music I've made up while playing/jamming and stuff so loud you can't ignore it, grooves that shake you and yell at you until you commit them to paper/memory. Some people reckon that real composers don't work at the piano, but conceive whole symphonies they hear in their head. I wouldn't go so far as to dismiss music discovered as a happy accident while playing, but it is quite a magical thing when a song comes and touches you directly.
I began writing a Percussion Sonata a decade ago, but it was never finished (yet). Maybe it's time to revisit the scores, now I'm a bit older and wiser about the djembe.
Some of the advanced players from Justine's Vitae drum classes have finally formed a band to perform authentic West African music at the highest level possible. As well as concerts, we will perform for corporate events and private parties; this will be in addition to the many community events and festivals that Vitae Drummers play at. The aim is to take our playing to a new standard, to all inspire each other to go further, and show just how intense a group of obsessive English folk can get. We might not be native Africans, but among UK players we are some of the most dedicated to this ecstatic tradition. We've called our band Africa Junction, since we are a meeting point on our journey along The Drummer's Path of people from different places (England, Italy) all united in our love of Guinean music.
Our debut gig tonight was a storming success, held at a multicultural evening at Chesham Park Community College, playing to a packed house alongside Indian singers and street dancers. Afterwards the kids were chanting: "Africa Junction! Africa Junction!", so we knew it must be a good name :-)
[UPDATE: After many brilliant gigs, I left the band in December 2009 for reasons of time+space.]
Driving home highly energised, the moon was so alluring that I agreed to meet Ruth at The Fire, where each month folk from The Bedford Shamanic Society (or is that Bedfordshire Manic Society? ;-) gather to chant and sing and play music around a ceremonial fire out in the woods. Her son George came with us and blew everyone away with his solo djembe playing; he's only young, yet was not at all daunted by a bunch of (strange!) strangers, and led the way through many a rhythmic journey. Afterwards someone asked a hilarious question: "So are you a drumming family, then?" Priceless :-)
[These are indeed firey times for me. More fire energy next month... (and also next year)]
© copyleft Malcolm Smith 2008-01-01 - last updated 2008-12-13