what is performance art drumming?

What is Performance Art Drumming?

What is performance art drumming? It can be whatever you want it to be. There is an underlying concept that validates what is happening. I saw these bizarre art events in San Francisco, LA and New York around the 1970′s and the eighties. The art might have been good, or it might not have been interesting at all, but there was a premise, a reason to do it this way. You had to get the joke, maybe. Performance art involving live music, most importantly for me, was being done by non musicians. This opened up the arena of what would be considered acceptable as art and as music. Tim Buckley had blown the doors off conventional concepts of what a vocalist should be doing with their vocal cords. That was the right direction, in some respects, but there was an ingredient missing, for me, in the creative expressions that did not take into account the greater consciousness that drives our being. I wanted substance with my performance art. Portraying anything spiritual or divine was avoided in that era of conceptual performance Art. I sensed the audience wanted to have a transcendental experience, but it didn’t seem fashionable. I used what I could use, and fashioned a concept that allowed me to perform again. In joy and celebration. It took a while to evolve this new mode of meditative drumming; inspired, non judgmental improvisation. I used Chuck Berry’s business model; he picked up players in whatever town he was booked in. Every musician knew his music, so there was no need to rehearse. So I preached the gospel of the groove using basic downbeat patterns found under classic Rhythm n Blues songs. Rhythms most everyone was familiar with. Our sacred grooves. So every night, in a different city, van full of hand carved blessed Ghana djembes, the meditation grooves always worked. The universe was getting me to do this, probably for the rest of my life. Way back in 1975, the same month that Tim Buckley was murdered in Venice, California, my conceptual performance art manifesto; “Bluesprint”, a long series of hand drawn blueprints of performance art events, was stapled on a gallery wall at San Jose State Art Department. “Same Song in Every City” was an event sometime in the future when musicians in different cities were somehow connected to each other and they play the same song together. By 1989, that concept of simultaneous downbeats across the US was starting to take form.  But creating our rhythmic matrix required a framework that would automatically create a coherent energy field every time people gathered to drum. That common recognition of a great concept in art or literature is what binds us together as souls on our journey through time. We need Universal Truths in our face. But in drumming, the Downbeat will suffice for our undeniable universal truth and it showed itself to be a powerful healing tool as well, for me and many others. My performance art drumming was not music for me. It could not be, otherwise I would have been paralyzed by self criticism and remorse. I had to call it something else. Which meant that I would not be subject to rules outside of my own conceptual framework. For instance, I would play an African drum but I would not play traditional African rhythms. At the time, and still today, there are people who feel the djembe should only be played as a traditional African instrument. If that were the case, then Miles Davis would have to play like John Phillip Sousa and Charlie Parker would have had to play like Guy Lombardo. It is a musical instrument that can be played in many different ways by many different people. There are no wrong notes. Only a matter of taste. Secondly, I would play a tambourine with my foot; flip it face down, slip my toes under the little cymbals, heel out on the edge, and slap it flat against the floor. It made a great sound, it was musically playable, soft and loud, sparse or syncopated. Played like a hihat, the grooves swing like Count Basie, stomp the tambourine straight up and down on every beat and you’ve got AC/DC. But more importantly it holds the group steady and can even slow them down into the laid back meditation grooves that heal and bring peace to our souls.  I encourage all the drumming students to get familiar with a tambourine on their foot. It is the orchestra with the djembe. Thirdly, I would encourage women to find their place as leaders of drumming groups. This point was part and parcel of the overall strategy to have drumming and dancing as a sacred part of our lives in this culture. It was really up to the women to do it right. Fourthly, I would not compete and I would not play aggressively or loudly. I saw Baba Olatungi’s hands, they had been punished.. This left only a few options. Healing, meditation, which in the long run evolves into therapy drumming which is the next big thing…

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