Had a great time performing with my student African Drumming ensembles last week at ZUMIX, the community music school in inner city East Boston where I started the African Drumming program in 2007. ZUMIX has grown a lot since then, recently winning the 2011 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the White House.
Check out these three videos, the first featuring the ZUMIX beginning African Drumming Ensemble performing an adapted version of Gahu, a recreational style of music from the Ewe people of Ghana, West Africa:
And here’s the ZUMIX intermediate African Drumming Ensemble performing Atsiagbekor (a k a Agbekor), an Ewe war piece: READ MORE →
3. Arranging for Performance
Although it can require intensive preparation to play even the basic ostinato parts in many polyphonic, polyrhythmic styles of drum ensemble music, holding a Western audience’s attention with highly repetitive music, no matter how beautiful or complex, frequently presents a challenge. READ MORE →
Spent a most edifying evening this past Friday with my friend and colleague Anthony Douglass discussing Ewe music and history. He played me some amazing recordings he’d made years ago of his Ghanaian teacher singing traditional Ewe songs and decoding their various meanings, recordings mostly made on a series of Sunday afternoons at this man’s home. Good luck finding this stuff in a book.
And while you can probably guess that no two renditions of a given song were identical, the point here is that READ MORE →
As anyone who has performed with a symphony orchestra or chorus can attest, it is no fun having to count through multi-measure rests, only to play or sing a single phrase (or note), followed by more counting, more waiting. I suppose that, as with baseball, this kind of punctuated equilibrium might sharpen the senses and create a feeling of suspense. Still, I suspect most players would rather play more and count less. The problem, of course, is that in most Western classical music the ensemble parts function primarily to serve the aims of the composer. If that means a certain instrument or section waits patiently (or nervously) like a right fielder crouched and sweating in the midday heat, then so be it.
When I studied jazz composition and arranging in graduate school, the priorities were different. Writing for a jazz orchestra (i.e., big band), I was implored by Bob Brookmeyer to take into account the performer’s experience as well. “The trumpets have been out too long by this point,” he would say to me. “Give them something to do!”
This type of inclusiveness is also found in many West African drumming styles, where the entire ensemble typically plays throughout most, if not all, of a given piece. Good luck finding a single measure of rest among the ensemble parts, let alone fifty. This is also due to the fact that drummers are often accompanying dancers; playing together continuously in this manner helps to establish and maintain the groove. Interestingly, jazz, too, had its origins as dance music (see photo of Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, above). Although these days a jazz venue is the last place we would go to find a dance party (Meshell Ndegeocello and Jason Moran recently attempted to change this, with mixed results), it is nonetheless true that in many ways a jazz band’s original function was to lay down a strong, danceable groove. I suppose that’s Kanye’s job now?
Happy New Year! Enrollment has started for the Adult/Continuing Education African Drumming course at New England Conservatory in Boston. Open to all adults, this is an introduction to the dance-drumming and vocal music of the Ewe people of Ghana in which students learn to perform this indigenous music in an ensemble setting. In addition, the course will give teachers the tools they need, both musical and practical, to bring African drumming into their classrooms.
Check out my Fall African Drumming class at Westfield State University performing the Ewe war piece Atsiagbekor (commonly referred to as Agbekor) at our recital this past Friday. The video quality leaves something to be desired — and I should have tuned my atsimevu drum higher before starting — but nonetheless I think everyone’s hard work and great energy shines through. So proud of my students!
This will be the first of several posts exploring the interplay between music, language and sound, particularly as it relates to African drumming. We’ll start by addressing the notion of “drum language.” In my view, drum language can be placed into two basic categories: 1) drum imitates sound of voice; 2) voice imitates sound of drum.
The first approach — drum imitating voice — can be found in the music of the Dagomba people of Northern Ghana. Through a variety of techniques — most notably READ MORE →
Welcome to the newly launched ThisWorldMusic blog! Jeremy Cohen here, composer, percussionist and TWM Founder/Director. I’ll be blogging in this space about West African music & dance, cultural tourism/travel, and education — global, multicultural and continuing — as well as a variety of related topics, all in support of the TWM mission:
To create a cultural bridge between students, educators and artists in the U.S. and Africa through a shared love of music and the arts.
In addition to updates on performances, workshops, and trips to Ghana, West Africa, the blog will be in line with our workshops and course offerings READ MORE →