Hello again. Well, it’s been a while since you’ve heard from me and you may all be desperate for a new song or two. Hopefully you will not be disappointed by today’s offerings.
Over the last number of weeks I’ve been rather busy with work and then out of town (not to mention out of internet and mobile coverage!) at an arts conference in north Devon. More on that in the future. But I haven’t been entirely neglectful and there has been some discussion on the last post which also had to do with rhythm. Discussion is good – and you are more than welcome to join in.
My current obsession with rhythm is coming from a few different places. As noted previously, I am feeling a little dissatisfied with much of the worship music coming out these days – it’s all so straight. Too many of these songs in a row and I tend to get bored. Secondly, at All Souls we recently had a drum workshop with Ian Cape (www.planetscarlip.com), a very fine player and all-round great guy. Ian encouraged us to be thinking about and feeling rhythm in many different aspects of our lives. And thirdly, Louanne and I have recently been watching the HBO tv series, Treme. (*disclaimer* – like most HBO programs, there is some objectionable content on Treme so viewer discretion is strongly advised.)
Treme is the name of a neighbourhood in New Orleans – historically important as a community of free blacks in the days of slavery. The program tells the stories of various people in the community and opens just a few months after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Themes of loss, despair, restoration, injustice, and hope all come to the fore. The storytelling is profound but what draws me back with each episode is the music. Many New Orleans musicians play themselves on the show and brilliant performances occur in every episode, from “Second Line” street parades to recording sessions to nightclub concerts, music is a constant in the show.
As the birthplace of jazz, rhythm has always been central to the music of New Orleans. Much of this emphasis comes from the West Africans brought into the city as slaves. Their rhythms have stayed central but have also been joined by ones from other cultures and these have all blended and morphed into a polyrhythmic… concoction (desperately trying to avoid the word, ‘gumbo’) that can only be found in this one place. In case you’ve never heard any New Orleans music, let Dr. John and his take on a traditional Mardi Gras Indian chant be an introduction.
Did you hear all the different stuff going on in that song? SO MANY different rhythms from the vocals (sung and spoken), horns, bass, drums and percussion instruments. And for the very perceptive among you, yes those are members of the Neville Brothers singing and playing on this.
One of the best New Orleans drummers around these days is Stanton Moore who records solo, with his trio and with his band Galactic, among many other projects. Here he is talking to Bob Edwards about what is going on in New Orleans rhythm.
And just so you fully get his examples, here is the song he referenced: “Cissy Strut” featuring Zigaboo Modeliste. This is perhaps the most important song in the evolution of New Orleans funk. Again, featuring a number of rather young Nevilles.
I don’t want to conclude this post too definatively. I have a feeling that this type of content here is only beginning so let this stand as a very brief introduction to something that many of us will spend our lives trying to get into our heads, under our fingers, and out to our audience. Can you feel it?
Until next time…