Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Primal Rhythm

My buddy John, a well-known corporate trainer and formidable percussionist in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, has an apartment within a stone’s throw of KL’s largest Chinese temple, Tian Hou. Often times at night you can hear music emanating from the depths of the layered ornate structure, whether live accompaniment for a celebratory lion dance or prerecorded Hong Kong pop played for a wedding party. In fact, I’ve even heard bhangra blasting from the temple’s expansive basement hall, the pulse measuring a Punjabi celebration.

But the rhythms that accompany my friend John’s life start at home. You walk from ground level gardens into his family’s dining room area and, standing by his teak table, look on the two facing walls, and you see three long shelves of drums and various noisemakers, from painted djembes, bongos, dumbeks, ashiko, congas, a tabla, a surdo, a thumpu, a mrdangam, djun-djun, tambor and an ancient talking drum from Sarawak, to assorted bells and bangers. And that’s just the start.

Go to John’s back kitchen, and open a large closet and you’ll find nearly a dozen sets of nesting drums, more and more and more djembes, half a dozen plastic tubs filled with percussive toys, and other assorted things to bang on ---stacked floor to ceiling. What’s this mad scene all about?

Rhythm. Besides enjoying a good round of sounds himself, John directs drum circles and various percussive workshops, often under the banner of corporate team building but many times orchestrating for yet another of a multitude of Klang Valley community groups (I’ve happily participated in a few, including one for charity at Montfort Boys’ Town and another for the Parkinson Center.) Regularly, he packs his car with his tom toms and goes off for a rousing day of drumming, thrilling everyone who gets to bang on something and, like the Pied Piper of drums, moving anyone whose heart throbs within earshot. What’s that all about, John?


Need I say more? Not really. Get the rhythm. Just listen to music from Lester Young and Teddy Wilson’s “All of Me” to Tony Allen’s “Homecookin’,” from Salif Keita’s “Soro” to Suba’s “Tantos Desejos,” plug into the beats, and tell me, which way do you move? Up and down? From side to side? Do you move your hips back and forth, head bobbin’ one way and arms flayin’ a dozen others?

Even if the change is just in your heart beat, you got the rhythm, baby, that deep primal rhythm.