September 23 2012
The past few weeks we’ve been working on Petro rhythms. Daniel’s approach is to show a number of phrases that work with the given support parts, and have me learn them so well they can be mixed at will to match the feeling of the dance. He wants me to play with energy, to send the rhythm out for the dancers, to inspire them. He points out that if you’re playing for a strong dancer, you have to be strong enough to support them. Drummers can have individual artistry, but the job is a service-oriented one: you have to have enough options and flexibility to blend with the different dancer’s ways of expressing themselves. Playing the rhythm without having your antenae up to feel the nuance in a dancer is to miss something important. My friend Taji shared a story about observing a rehearsal with the great Ghanaian drummer C.K. Ladzekpo. When C.K. wanted more commitment and force from a drummer, he said “You’re playing like a ghost.” He wanted to feel the drummer’s energy and involvment, not just a correct, intellectual approach.
Another aspect of our work has been for me to come to dance class and carefully observe how different steps work with particular basse parts. The basse can be played on Petro drums, or on 4 congas with hands, or even congas with sticks if the ensemble is loud and they need volume. The basse creates a melody line, often with a gap for crucial tones from the maman and segon to talk in. I’ve been using my hands, and there are several different parts for each rhythm. When the basse can change with the steps the music becomes more alive and spontaneous and the dancers can feel it.
I give thanks to my father, who passed this summer, for all his support that allowed my life to be spent with the drums.