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Friday, January 24, 2014

Enhance Your Jazz Skills With African Percussion

(By Ann Alex)
You too could sound like Hannabiell and Midnight Blue (at least a bit!) if you took up African Percussion, which is a course offered by Sage Gateshead in Gateshead Old Town Hall (GOTH) on Wednesday afternoons, as part of the Silver Programme.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the first 2 weeks of term 2, when we’ve been playing African hand drums, which are known as Djembes.  These drums are from West Africa and come in various sizes, so every drum is pitched slightly different. Djembes produces 3 different tones, according to whether you play with the fingertips on the rim; with all the fingers further in; or with the whole hand in the middle of the drum.
We've learned a tune from Bukina Faso, which involves the group being divided into 3 parts, each part playing a different rhythm.  There’s a regular groove, a tricky counter rhythm and a slower rhythm which imitates a train, rim rim RIM, in IN in in in.  Perhaps readers can imagine the thrill of playing in rhythm whilst listening to the other drums.  If you close your eyes you could take yourself to the heart of Africa but without the heat.  There’s also a song to go with this, but so far we’ve found it impossible to do both drum and song at the same time.  If you think this sounds easy, just try it at home!  Unless, of course, you’re a jazz drummer and if that’s the case you’ll find it easy, that is if you can sing.
We’ve also done a piece called Zimbabwe, where the song is an integral part of the piece.  This is easy to remember as alternate hands are used.  Every word of 1 syllable is played on the rim and words of more than 1 syllable (eg Zimbabwe) are played in the middle.  Easy Peasy so far, but then it turns out that there are about 4 other parts to the tune!
There are also hand bells in sets of 2 which are larger and louder than the agogo bells used in Samba drumming.  We’ve yet to tackle those.  But I’m sure all this is great for practising rhythms and teamwork in time for the next jazz jam.
Ann Alex

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