Kendrick Freeman's Apprenticeship Blog


Haitian Drumming with Daniel Brevil #2

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.

 

Haitian Drums in the Bay Area: Apprenticeship with Daniel Brevil

July 17, 2012

Today was a good day: three hours of practice with the drums. Daniel is pushing me to be able to move from one rhythm to another without a break. This is a great way to memorize a lot of music, but also practical:in a dance class both the warm-up and specific rhythms flow into each other and the drummer needs to be able to respond to the movements by choosing a rhythm that fits the moment. The amount of information is challenging. Each dance has drum introductions, calls, variations on the steps, breaks, conversations and ways of heating up the energy for the dancer. One thing that has been revolutionary for me is Daniel's approach to  developing a student's own voice. He insists on me knowing the traditional approaches to a given rhythm (sometimes he will show several styles that have been used by different drummers), but he also doesn't want me to only copy the moves he's given me. For example, since I'm a drumset player, he says "Take some of what you would play on the drumset and find out how to put it on the drum. It can't be something crazy, it has to be something that will fit well with the rhythm you are playing, but put some of yourself in there. Be willing to improvise...". This advice is a good counterbalance for my tendency  to play what I've heard other drummers play, and it leads to exploring my own voice.

    Daniel isn't a good teacher, he's a great teacher. He's patient, and consistently finds where my edges are and puts something where I have to work to get it, but not so far away that it feels impossible. He has an amzing memory, and given that these ensembles can have bell, shaker, 4 or 5 drum parts plus singers, it's obvious that he hears the whole music and can create inside it with great sensitivity and force. One area we have been studying is the transposition of rhythms that are played with the baget, or stick, to a hand style. This can apply to both the lead drum and the segon, which converses with it. There is also a way of playing these rhythms solo on one drum,. or with minimal support, which requires different strokes and techniques with the hands to give the impression of the full rhythm. It's been interesting to see how Daniel will cover the segon and maman (the lead drum) on one drum if I'm playing bula, or if I'm playing segon, how he will adjust and cover the lead and the missing bula. Then he'll sing and I'm supposed to answer! The bottom line is to know the music well enough to express it with sticks or hands on whatever drums are available.

More later. Check out Rara Tou Limen's website for information about Rasanble, the annual gathering of Haitian culture and dance in Oakland July 20-22.