We are half way through our tour of Africa. We have done several interviews along the way and two similar, commonly asked questions are, “what is your impression of the musicians in Zim (or Malawi)?” and “what can you take from the musicians here?”
The obvious answer to the second question for me, and I imagine most musicians, is rhythm. This is the land of rhythm! Drumming and singing are an integral part of African history and the foundation of the styles of music I love most, jazz, samba, and Afro-Cuban (not to mention James Brown). The grooves I heard in Zimbabwe are different from what I’ve heard (on recordings) from west Africa. There is a different lilt in the triplet and the hi hat and the rhythm guitar lines often give the feeling that the middle note of the triplet is the down beat. Twice during long car rides in Zimbabwe when the radio was turned on in the middle of a song (and not loud enough to hear the bass), I found myself hearing the downbeat in the wrong place. Or at least the wrong place according to western written music.
Steve Coleman once told me the first time he went to Cuba and asked a musician where 1 was, while listening to some folkloric drumming, the guy replied, “it’s anywhere you want it to be.” It is the same case with African music. The rhythmic patterns are heard as a whole with less emphasis on downbeats and more emphasis on how they lock into the other parts being played. That’s something I need to work on.
While the rhythms here are inspiring, the biggest impression, and the element that I would most like to influence my playing, is the joy with which the musicians here share their music. This can be found in jazz–Billy Higgins, Joey Baron come to mind–but here it seems to be the norm and it is given generously.
Attached are some shakey clips taken with an iPhone that show both the joy and the groove.
This is from one of the songs the students at Zimbabwe College of Music played for us:
Videos not uploading. I’ll add later…