Front cover of CD
Rick on guitare
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
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
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
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,