January 2015
« Dec    

drumming for peace



intention drumming

With intention drumming there are more faculties of the human brain being used. Usually we are passively enjoying the entertainment coming at us. We have been trained into the receptive, non assertive state of mind. Some of us are more adept at receiving while others are more talented at telling the world what to do. Using a groove that is convincing but not assertive is the key to making the universe do what we want it to do. This has been a form of trance magic practices all over the globe for all times. We sense when we are in communion with the universe. It could be in any activity. But the shaman drummer comes into the union with the universe in a very receptive way, listening and feeling for how the universe wants to communicate with the drummer.  It is an introductory dance of rhythmic communion with forces that we do not comprehend but feel the need to beseech. Showing respect at this juncture seems to be a requirement. After the initial courtship between the drummer and the forces to be addressed, there is a time when the universe just likes to dance. That is the drummer’s job. After this passage of rhythmic dance time, there comes an opportunity when the universal forces, flushed with excitement after having had a good dance, will grant a favor to the drummer and their community. This is possible because the universe has all the elements of reality and can arrange them howsoever it pleases. There are many ways to look at this relationship between the drummer and the awesome universe at work, by using the groove.
Excerpt: “History of the Groove” Russell Buddy Helm ©2015 all rights reserved

who knows what the groove will bring?

separating from anxiety

Atlanta, the testing ground

Atlanta, the testing ground

1995. Tommy Motolla was installed as head of Sony Music, after divesting himself of Hall and Oats, and Charlie my pal from the Bethlehem Asylum Daze. I was making folk art inspired by my trips to Atlanta, so was commissioned to make a tin ear to present to Tommy at the roast in Culver City. “What do you need to get ahead in the music business?” was printed on the glass domed case. Inside the glass was my tin ear and a pair of shiny brass balls. This was an homage to the Brill building days when songwriters sat in little rooms and composed love songs for teenagers then had doo wop singers record them. We still move to those grooves. They are our sacred tribal grooves. The CD “Drum Dance”, later retitled, “Let the Goddess Dance” was released. It was the beginning of drumming as a separate music form for me. I pulled away from the conventional music scene when I got cynical flak from some of my old session musician friends, “It’s just drums, man!” I threw out the rules about how to record a song and made up a new open canvas on which to paint rhythm. Large record companies controlled the manufacturing of CDs. Tape Specialties was the first company to go outside the monopoly and manufacture small runs of one thousand CDs.  Brent Lewis had an amazing  drum studio out in Joshua Tree where we drummed and slept under the stars. Our store was acoustically perfect for recording drums. Its a craftsman house built in the forties, floor above the ground with a two foot crawl space that acted as a super bass woofer, we vibrated the wooden floor with djembes. I put together a Protools computer recording system in the store. Helmtone records was created. My trips to Florida and Georgia and other parts of the country were getting more frequent. The drumming in St. Pete, Tampa, Orlando, Clearwater was picking up. 1997. November. We took one of the first precious Ghana djembes to Maui and sold it to our friends. Rod and Sunita. There was some sporadic drumming on one of the remote beaches that you had to hike into, but there didn’t seem to be drumming groups on Maui to speak of at that time. Djembes were not anywhere to be seen. I could feel that the time was imminent though. Something was rhythmically evolving in our three times a week drumming workshops at Seasons in Santa Monica. There was a wide spectrum of people; creative, eloquent, willing. The feedback was resembling a faith healing show. People were becoming believers in a form of energy that the drumming was generating; especially if the grooves were played in a certain relaxed way. They didn’t have time to learn traditional African drumming. They couldn’t remember the parts anyway. These people were creating what they wanted; a mechanism to recharge their lives. I just kept the downbeat going and they created, sang, released, healed, and celebrated. I was just the drummer! Now that we had come up with a rhythm therapy using drumming as a meditation, it was time to take it on the road and test the Helmtone Healing Drum Protocols among ‘real’ people. An artist in LA does not always get a true read on what they are creating. It is best to take it out of town to see if it is a viable product. Atlanta to me always represented the nexus of true music. The quality of musical experiences for me in Atlanta are indelibly etched onto my heart like a classic RnB tune cut into a lacquer disk. I love the town. If this drumming meditation worked there, in Atlanta, then it would work anywhere. Chomping at the bit, I arrived with a collection of derbougas from Morocco. We knew two Muslim brothers who ran a falafal stand in the Santa Monica Third Street Promenade. They imported rugs from their home in Tunisia, and rolled up clay camel drums inside the rugs to protect them. They were as fragile as flower pots, and had great tone. The pictures painted on the side of the little drums were strange, until one day I turned the drum upside down and saw that the images were camels walking across the desert. Wriston, a friend I met in LA at Motown had moved back to Atlanta. She hosted a house drumming meditation. The metaphysical community caught on when I went into their shops and pitched the idea. We had a bunch of witches out in the woods, banging and singing, and dancing on Halloween. Up in the Blue Ridge mountains, I taught a seminar on the downbeat amidst the tall trees. This felt very good. I felt I was on the right track even though when their ceremony started the drummers forgot about the downbeat and just hooted and banged away.  It  was a lot of fun but I could see that people were looking for meaning in their rituals. The drum would provide that ingredient but our psychology was getting in the way. One of the first events in Atlanta was at a long standing metaphysical bookstore on the north side of the hilly wooded center of town. The turn out was small; one dog. It’s owner was the editor for the Aquarian underground newspaper. I wrote an article on drumming as an energy and spiritual event. My sister heard the article in the United Kingdom at Glastonbury during her retreat at the Tor. Things were connecting all over the place. There was no money to be made at this but I was not deterred. I drummed at the Roswell Women’s center, and had a good turn out. The second time I returned, the women’s center had changed hands and had disregarded my booking an event months earlier. I had to throw out the conventional booking and touring methods based on my years in the regular music business. This was going to be a lot looser. I just reminded myself of how patient Baba Olatunji was. Cathy, infinitely patient, was sending me more delicate camel drums when they were dropped and broken. One men’s drumming event in the park was exceptionally noisy. The alpha male wanted me to get him the biggest drum I could find. He chewed up my dombeq with his class ring. I reminded myself that this was a long process and that I was playing a small part introducing rhythm to America in ways that had not existed before. I felt guided and pulled along by this creative flow of the groove. When Jumoke’s drums arrived from Ghana everything changed for the better. The Sensua gallery was actively running a drumming group by this time. I met Bill Liggin, a therapist who got the drumming therapy right away. I had been coming into Atlanta and adjacent venues for five years. The seeds had sprouted and mingled with the homegrown. Johnny Appleseed of the downbeat. This went on all over the US. Constant touring, replenishing drums, repairing vans, driving, drumming with so many people that they all started to resemble each other. We were a growing community, a network, a web of consciousness that would eventually make the right decisions for us all. And it would swing.
excerpt: History of the Groove” Russell Buddy Helm©2015 all rights reserved.


“What does Tweneboa mean?” I asked Panji, Jumoke’s brother. She was busy somewhere and Panji was helping me tune drums. “Be careful. Don’t pull out your back, mon.” I had a lot to learn. Panji laughed that big laugh. He was a big guy, handsome, clever, a good music producer. “It means Drum Tree Wood.” He said it slowly so that I wold understand the subtle nature of this translation. He pronounced it Trinaboa.

Go Do Pa! Baba spoke the words he had invented

1996. “Go Do Pa!” Baba spoke the words he had invented and they sailed out across the audience of erstwhile drummer students. Olatunji was conducting an African drumming seminar at the end of the Santa Monica pier in the recently resurrected Ashgrove folk music emporium. He had a few young drum teachers with him. They warmed up the audience with the basic rhythm patterns painted on a big panel that they placed at the front of the stage. The young drum teacher stepped to the front of the stage, in front of one of my women drumming students sitting next to me. He glared down at her drum which was sitting on one of my custom made djembe stands. “What is that!!” He pointed at the stand accusingly. She shrunk from fright and pointed at me. “It’s his!” The young teacher studied me, looked at my stand, back at her stand. “Not bad.” he said and walked away. When Baba Olatunji finally took the stage, I got the impression that this was a very old routine for the master and his coterie of drummers. It had the feeling of being road weary, phoning in their parts; thinking about what they might do after the gig. I knew the energy well. It was the road musicians lament. It really shortchanges the audience though. They feel the dissatisfaction from the performers and they don’t really know why. When the players let it show, it is unprofessional, no matter what kind of entertainment or infotainment is occuring. But Baba was a force of nature. He was getting older, but he could still play, inspire, sing, teach and just be great. He was in top physical condition; sinewy arms, piercing deep gaze with bright lights in his dark eyes. His smile was there but hidden behind a somewhat terse teaching style. He was the academic, historian, brilliant drummer, sacred messenger, drum prophet. He would introduce each drum pattern, then play it, saying then singing the notes, hitting the drum hard. Then the group would start up, about two dozen yuppies. It was a pricey event. The tempo inevitably sped up after the first couple of times through the pattern and would fall apart. Baba would have to stop it. Then he would go on to the next pattern, infinetly patient and start it up, get everyone going, then it would inevitably speed up and fall apart again, then he would stop it. He could not command the tempo over such an intense crowd. They wanted what he was teaching, but they couldn’t relax and receive it. Suddenly I saw our rhythmic condition. Our speeding up is cultural, technological, psychological, contagious and compulsive. Therapists were sending their OCD cases to our store to experience the laid back grooves. People were instinctively coming to the drum to heal, not necessarily to become traditional African drummers. I decided to pop off a little just to get the energy up a notch. Baba was using mallets on two tall drums. It was obvious that his hands were in bad shape. When I hit some extra notes, he looked up, searched the crowd. He looked down at me. He raised his long thin arm up into the air over his head, waved his leathery hand to stop everyone from playing. When he lowered his arm his long black fingers pointed at me. “You!” He said in that basso profundo that had the history of the African drum imbedded in it. “Play!” He commanded, “Over this!” He switched back to playing the djembe, with his hands. I listened for about a New York second and figured it was in a three or six beat combination, so I slid in and started a melody on top of his immaculate groove. He lit up. After a minute he stopped and said, “Play over this!” He took off again. More energy, faster tempo. In a four beat this time. Sort of like a Memphis Sissie Strut. He grinned went I got sassy. This was suddenly a whole bunch of fun. The rest of the audience sat and watched. After the third uptake in tempo and groove, a women student interrupted us. “Can we play something slower now?” Baba came out of his trance and frowned at her. “That was NOT fast! THIS IS FAST!” He took off, and we were together like two on a toboggan. He was really clipping along and I was throwing some swinging grooves on top, some Afro Cuban tripolets against his solid, intricate uptempo burn. His big grin opened up and we both started laughing as we flew through the groove. It was a heavenly moment. But the woman fidgeted again, so Baba shut it down. He was sweating, but he slowly stood up, his student teacher hovering just in case, he came down off the stage and put his hands on my shoulders and pulled me forward until our foreheads touched. Then he went back up and finished the seminar. During the break, he sat with me and talked about his life. It was a private moment. He trusting that I understood what he had to unload. The music business had not been generous to him. “No money from any of the records.” “Not even ‘Drums of Passion’?” First time I heard his groundbreaking album, it set my adolescent rudimental drummer’s brain on fire. “None. Not even on Planet Drum with Mickey. Not even a thank you to me when he got the Grammy….. and I sang on it.” I studied his aura, he was still so strong. He was a testament to the survival energy inherent in what he was teaching. What he had done was more than money, and he knew that. He was not complaining- just explaining. I loved him even more. But I realized that I had to address the inherent problems in our drumming groups from inside our culture first. I used the tambourine on my foot to keep everyone from speeding up. He had used it back in the fifties but it wasn’t traditional African. He was bound by tradition that he had helped create. He had me drum on stage with him and Aiyo, the Yoruba drumming priest in LA. I respected Aiyo a great deal. But there were undercurrents of emotions that remained unexplained. I decided to teach in my own fashion; basing the grooves on relaxed familiar RnB tempos, hitting the drum lightly to save our hands, getting everyone to support the downbeat as the anchor note, and including even the beginners in the groove, because their contribution was essential to the healthy community energy of a good drumming group. I loved Baba and I felt his consideration toward me and was very honored. I learned a great deal from him. The path of healing myself and others with the drum came into focus ahead of me. It was a fork in the road, where I decided to teach the foundation rhythms as healing tools instead of traditional African drumming which I loved. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Baba enjoyed the way I played because I was not mimicking his style. We all have our own rhythmic vocabulary and it’s a miracle that we can play together at all. The downbeat is a tool for us to agree on and support a common groove with our individual creativity included. Baba showed me that to become a great drummer we must become great people.