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The Drum Workshop, Inc


Ancient Youth Notes

At the heart of Ancient Youth is a group of teen-agers who study and perform traditional music from Haiti, Cuba and Brazil under the direction of Rick Bausman, founder of Rhythm of Life, Inc.  The Drum Workshop provides classes in ensemble drumming to groups of people of all ages and levels of ability, and these young students have achieved a high level of proficiency in a difficult genre through dedication and hard work.

The name “Ancient Youth” reflects our belief that involvement in these traditions helps us to maintain the link to the generations of people who came before us.  Although we are young, perhaps by this method we can enjoy some of the wisdom of the Ancients and keep it alive for future generations. The name of the group is also reflective of the fact that joining the young drummers for this project are several musicians who would like you to believe that they are just recently out of their teen years.  (The oldest member of the group won’t give it away, but we think he’s pushing sixty).  Social and professional interaction between people of different generations is a rare opportunity in our society.  By example we hope to encourage this type of intergenerational cooperation and community building.

The symbol on the front of the CD is Hindi for “Namasté” which can be translated to mean “The power within” or “The God in me greets the God in you”.  It was chosen by a group of teenagers as the name for an ongoing student ensemble sponsored by Rhythm of Life.  Through participation in Namasté, young musicians develop the skills and knowledge, which will allow them to play with Ancient Youth.  We thought it would also be a good name for this record.

This recording is not meant to be a folkloric representation of Afro/Caribbean music.  None of the players on this record were born to any of these traditions, nor do we celebrate, at least in a formal sense,  any of the spiritual paths represented here by ritual music.  We do, however, strive to maintain authenticity of the music we are playing.  We maintain contacts with acknowledged masters in the various genres we study, and are very dedicated to representing these pieces  correctly.  

We have created harmonic support for the traditional songs which accompany the rhythms according to our own musical sensibilities which are, admittedly, strongly influenced by American culture since each of us grew up in the United States.  Our goal was to present accurate representations of traditional music from Haiti, Cuba, Brazil and West Africa, and to allow our own taste, preference and style to influence our execution of these pieces as long as it did not detract from the fundamentals of the music or obscure its origins.  We are fully aware and respectful of the  cultural context of most of the pieces on this CD.  When there is any question or difference of opinion regarding the integrity of the material,  it is noted.

This is a collection of music, which in its original state is primarily associated with ritual.  It is, in fact, one aspect of ceremony, which might result in human contact with the divine.  There are also specific dances associated with these pieces of music.  The spiritual traditions of Vodoun in Haiti and Santeria in Cuba are both African in origin, but heavily influenced by Catholicism, at least on the level of imagery.  These religions provide what all religions provide:  support for community members on a moral, spiritual, emotional and physical level.  During ceremonies, which include drumming, dancing, singing, prayers, and offerings, contact with the spirits may be achieved by a method of temporary possession by a deity, of one or more of the celebrants.  In Haiti these spirits are called Loa and in Cuba, Orisha.  

The Loa, or Orisha, are the intermediaries between human beings and God, like the saints in the Catholic religion, and have a direct influence on the lives of practitioners.  They are individually and collectively associated with all aspects of life.  There are deities associated with wisdom, love, music, death, agriculture and so on.  Tribute must be paid to the spirits if they are to remain one’s allies in the journey of life.  

In the Haitian system of Vodoun, the Loa are divided into groups called nations.  The two major nations are   Rada and Petwo.   The Loa of the Rada nation are generally felt to be “cooler” of temperament as compared to the “hotter” personalities dwelling in the Petwo Nation.    Within each Nation, there are specific rhythms and songs, which are used to address individual Loa.  Although it is possible to identify about a dozen Loa who might be considered of primary significance, there are literally hundreds of Loa in the full Vodoun pantheon.  

The pieces from Haiti on this CD are  from the Rada nation.  (Although some consider Congo to be a separate nation.)  Rada drumming employs three drums, a bell or other iron instrument, and a shaker.    The Mamán is the lead drum.  It is the largest drum in the ensemble and has the lowest voice.  The Mamán cues the casé, a change in the rhythm that occurs in conjunction with the dancing.  The secónde, the middle drum, changes with the Mamán during the casé.  The bula is the smallest and highest pitched drum.  The bula plays a steady, driving part that does not change during the casé.  The bell, or ogán, plays a steady, repetitive part upon which the other drummers rely for reference amidst the complexities of the piece.  The shaker, or asán, is often played by the Houngán, the priest of the Vodoun religion.  It is sometimes made from a gourd wrapped by a web of strings hung with snake vertebrae.  

Rada drumming has tonal qualities as well as rhythmic.  The interlocking structure of the three differently tuned drums produces a simple melody that shifts with the casé and as a result of variations in the parts employed by the drummers.  It is important to note that the parts being played by each drummer are specific and exact.  The parts in combination provide for the listener a consistent and recognizable relationship.  As lead drummer, I play variations on the Mamán which I have heard or been taught by masters of these traditions, and some variations of my own design which I feel are consistent with the structure of the piece.

As the leader of Ancient Youth and founder of the Drum Workshop, Inc. I would like to make a special acknowledgment of Mr. John Amira.  Although I am a teacher, I am also a student. John is responsible for teaching me most of what I know about Haitian drumming.  He is a master of Haitian and Cuban styles and it is an honor and a privilege to study under him.  His deep respect and commitment to the traditions from which the music springs is an inspiration.  

This recording is dedicated to Forrest Tomlinson.  He was a friend and advisor to many of us for many years before his death in 1997.  Forrest, we miss you, and we hope you like the record.