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The Drum Workshop, Inc

Audio Front cover of CD
Front cover of CD

Back cover
Back cover

bear
bear

dog
dog

Rick on guitare
Rick on guitare

Sloth
Sloth

Congacycle Notes

Akiwowo is a chant from Nigeria.  Babatundi Olatunji released a version of this “Chant to the Trainman” on his very popular record, Drums of Passion.  Akiwowo himself was a conductor on the train routes in Nigeria,  and was something of a folk hero due to his kindly manner, his helpful nature,  and his sense of humor.  I have heard that he would often allow the train to be delayed if he hed news of people who might be coming a long distance to meet it.  His concern for the passengers, although perhaps a nuisance to the governmental department which oversaw railway operations,  was much appreciated by the people.  

    The rhythm driving my version of this piece is  based on  Samba.  Samba has very strong African roots, and I used several African instruments, including a wooden bass drum called djoun-djoun and a beaded gourd called Shakeré.  However,  this style of drumming is more representational of Brazil than Nigeria.  I did try to play the guitar parts in kind of a Juju style, which is thoroughly Nigerian, made popular all over the world by  King Sunny Adé and his band.

     If you like the rhythm, there is an instructional section at the end of this recording which will teach you how to play the Samba on items you will probably be able to find around your house, school or library.  You may also refer to the tablature and diagrams in these liner notes.  You can also insert this CD into your computer to see a video of me and some of my friends playing Samba on stuff we found at a junkyard near my house.

    Superdee High is a song about good times at the playground,  and especially  the swings.  My son and I go to the playground quite a bit and it doesn’t really matter if it’s hot or cold, sunny or snowing, we go anyway!  Some days we mess around on all kinds of stuff, and other days, well, we just want to swing.

    The groove for this song is Calypso, or I suppose it might be considered Soca, which is a blend of Soul and Calypso popular on many of the Caribbean islands.  I love the bell part because it’s so simple and drives the piece so well.  The part is sixteenth notes with a low bell stroke on the down beat.  The other  strokes are  played on a brake drum (from a car) and sound kind of suspended after the low stroke.  The song races along almost as if it were trying to catch up to itself.  The short percussion solo in the middle is a New York style Mozambique, played on  timbales.

    Having Such Fun doesn’t need to be explained.  The line “It doesn’t matter what we do, I like to be with you.” says it all.  

    The solo instrument is the steel drum, or pan, as it is often called.  Steel Drums originated on the island of Trinidad in the late thirties or early forties.  They are melodic drums made from  55 gallon steel barrels.  The barrels are cut to different sizes to make a variety of drums in several registers, and the bottoms are pounded slowly into a bowl shape.  The bowl is divided into a number of sections by  denting the metal along a line with a spike, and each section may be tuned to a different note.   The mallets I use are 1/2 inch dowels about 6 inches long with a bit of rubber surgical tubing jammed onto the end.  Acoustic guitar and electric bass accompany the pan.

    Three Toed Sloth  is about life in a tree.  Lots of leaves to eat and slow motion games of tag and hide-and-seek sound like fun to me!  I guess you don’t have to move fast to have a good time.

    This is basically a ska tune.  Ska is the quick footed predessor of reggae, and has the same guitar-drum-guitar pulse on the 2nd 3rd and 4th beats of each measure, but it’s generally much faster.  It developed in Jamaica in  the late 1950’s and is closely related to R&B which was popular on the radio at that time.  Trombone was, and is, considered an integral part of the ska sound, and to mimick the sloth’s game of hide-and-seek we recorded two trombones  soloing  simultaneously.  They kind of slide around each other, sometimes drifiting in their own directions, sometimes bumping into each other, and finnally coming together.

    Saturday is about, well naturally,  Saturday.  In our house we quite often do all the things listed in the chorus:  “Sleep a little later, fry up some potatos, hang out, play games, read books, watch cartoons.”  It’s nice to take time for that, since most of the time we’re pretty busy.  Children these days have many opportunities for organized activities.  There are fantastic sports, arts,  and after school programs in many communities now, and people use them well.  It’s been important for my family to remember that  unstructured activity is necessary, also.  “Climbing up the trees and going with the breeze” should be part of all of our lives.

    We play this in a Country-Swing style, with a laid back shuffle on the drum kit and twangy guitars.  I took the opportunity to inject a little musical humor and play a solo on one of my favorite instruments, the nose flute.  You hold the flat part  over your mouth, and blow through your nose into the hole on top.  The air rushes past,  and you can change the pitch by opening and closing your mouth.  

    No Matter Who is about pretending to be different animals.  Young children have incredible imaginative powers and I have many times suddenly found myself in the presence of a polar bear,  lion, dinosaur or frog.  The message here is: little or large, meek or fierce, you are loved always.  

    I’m not sure what to call the rhythm.  It’s a little bit like a  blues style rumba, with some generic North or West African influence played on dumbek, bougarabous,  and djembe.  Dumbek is a small goblet shaped drum which is held across the lap of the drummer and played with finger tips.  If struck in the center of the very thin goat skin head, it produces a distinct, low pitched “dum” sound.  To produce the “bek” sound, the strokes must be  played on the edge of the head.  Dumbeks are used widely in North Africa and the middle east.  Many are ceramic, some are made of tin.  Djembe is a hugely popular drum played extensively across West Africa.  It is also goblet shaped, carved out of a solid piece of wood.   The goat skin head is attached to the body of the drum by a complex system of rope and metal hoops.  The djembe is generally played standing up, with straps over the shoulders supporting the drum at the drummer’s waste.  Bougarabous are tall and slender, also carved out of a single piece of wood.  Because the fur is not shaved off the goat skin head, it produces a more tonal, kind of “round” sound.

    Congacycle is a combination of the words “conga” and “bicycle”.    The image of this combination came to me one day while teaching conga technique to a group of teens and watching one of my students arrive on his bicycle.  It occurred to me that drumming is an exhilerating experience also, not unlike riding a bike.  Bicycle riding is  a fast, fun way to get around, see new places and learn about the world.  I have learned a lot about other people in far away places through my studies of drumming.  Many of the rhythms I know have a special significance.  By learning and performing these pieces, I increase my understanding of how others live and how different people perceive the world we share.   

    This piece is built around a rhythm from Haiti called Congo.  Celebrants of Vodoun, an African based spiritual tradition,  use a variety of specific rhythms, dances and songs in ceremony.  (For more about this type of music, check out my other CD,  “The Power Within”.  This is a collection of interpretations of ritual music from Haiti and Cuba which I recorded with Ancient Youth, a group of some of my best teen age students.)  For Congacycle I’m using the rhythm purely for its musical merits and no spiritual significance is attached.  There are three seperate parts played on congas.  The low conga, called Mamán,  is played with one hand and one stick. You can hear the stick snapping on the head or cracking on the side of the conga.  The middle drum, the secónde, produces a half-step rise in pitch as the drummers finger slides acrooss the head.  This technique is  called cié.  The bula, the highest and smallest drum, plays steady eighth notes which push the rhythm along.

    This Old Pan refers to an old, beat up steel drum I carry around with me and use in my classes.  Thousands of children have played this drum over the years, and I believe it has absorbed some of the joy they experienced.  The fictional character of  the old man playing his drum here and there is representational of the  drum itself, which gives the gift of music to anyone who chooses to play it.  The instrument, at this point, refuses to stay in tune, and some of the notes are out.  It really does “say bing when it should say bong”, but somehow manages to get away with it.

    This piece is in the vein of an an older style of calypso.   This pan only has notes enough to play in one key in this register.  (I think it’s supposed to be F.)  Steel Drums were sometimes made this way so a band could march in parades and the pan players would need to carry  only  one drum.  

    Dinosaur Rumba is built around a rhythm called Guaguanco (wa-wan-kó)  one of the three styles of rumba which developed in Cuba. (The others are Colúmbia and Yambú.)  Guguanco is easily recognized by the simple melody produced by the three voices of congas.  The lead drum is called Quinto.  It is tuned higher than the other two and plays an improvisiational part which kind of dances through the tapestry of the rhythm.  

    My son and I often go to one of our local libraries which has a collection of small plastic dinosaurs in the children’s area.  For a certain period of time, this was the main attraction for us.  We would have adventures with them and read with them on the pillows in the corner.  Other dinosaurs will often appear with us, through the excellent medium of our imaginations, in all kinds of places.  It wasn’t long before we had our own collection of plastic pre-historic creatures.  They live by the bathtub and seem to prefer playing in the water, and they are very clean reptiles, indeed!