Thursday, August 30, 2007
The previous two posts were written while I was in Kadavu. (For the record, it's pronounced Kandavu. For whatever reason, in Fijian, whenever there is a D before a vowel, it becomes ND. So, Nadi is pronouced Nandi). I'm back in Suva now, and will be here at least until early next week.
I saw Jiten (I just found out he spells it with an "e" not an "a"), and the wedding is on Saturday afternoon, but it's actually on the outskirts on Suva, not on the island of Ovalau.
The picture is of Pastor Aserl.
Lastly, I am able to receive incoming international calls, so feel free to call me! Or Skype me, my username is MrJesseBH!
August 29, 2007
Last night, I gave Jo another lesson. It was just the two of us for the duration of the lesson, so we were able to really focus. Again, he mostly wanted just to watch me play; but, I also had him sit behind the kit, so I could give him pointers. I firmly believe that as much as he learning by watching, he is better off learning by playing. I have really emphasized that practice (and more practice!) is the only way to play the drums well. Jo has great rhythm, so I told him that he just needs to be able to translate what is up in his head to the physical motions of playing.
Tonight, I gave Jo his last lesson. The catch was about sixteen people watched on. Everyone just wanted to hear me play! It was very flattering, and mildly awkward banging away rock beats in a church! It was quiet a funny scene, me playing drums with a crowd of people around me. One of the men started playing his guitar, so we jammed for a couple of songs. It was really cool playing while one guy is one guitar, and about four or five other guys sang traditional Fijian Christian songs.
It truly was a memorable experience.That's Jo on the kit, and Mags on the lali.
August 27, 2007
After my unexpected change I plans, I now find myself on the
Where I am staying is absolutely beautiful: Matava, essentially, is a traditional Fijian village. All of the housing are bures (thatch huts). The absence of electricity and cell service gives Matava a real authentic feel to it. While the place is owned by a European couple, all of the workers here are from the near by village. As you can imagine, everyone is extremely friendly, which creates a great community atmosphere.
I arrived here on Saturday, and went for a long walk with this Dutch fellow named
The service itself was not as dazzling (but how could it be?), but it was a worthwhile experience. The first hour of the service was a Bible study, followed by an hour-and-a-half of live music. The band consisted of keys, bass, two female vocalists and, believe it or not, Western-style drums! While I did not necessarily come to
The service was conducted entirely in Fijian, but the reverend would stop occasionally to explain what was Bible passage was being discussed. (I actually was given an English copy of the Bible to follow along). At the conclusion of the service, I introduced myself to the drummer, a man in his late twenties named Josaia, or Jo for short. He has been playing drums only for three months – and this was evident in his performance –, so after I told him that I have been playing for many years, he asked if I could give him a lesson. So we arranged that on Monday, I would come back to the church.
I just returned from giving my first drum lesson ever: it actually went very well. For me, it is strange that I came to
On another research-related note, one of the coolest things about Matava is that before every meal is served, a lali is beat to let everyone know the food is ready. Too bad my mom didn’t have a lali when I was growing up!
Friday, August 24, 2007
Kadavu is supposed to have some of the most beautiful beaches in
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Last night, I attended the Hibiscus Festival. It is an annual, weeklong festival, held in downtown
The First Tribe covered Bob Marley’s “Small Axe” and “Africa Unite.” When the bass line of “Small Axe” began, I immediately recognized it: it just happens to be all-time favorite Bob Marley song. Hearing a cover of one of my favorite songs was a real treat: it definitely made my night. In addition to various Marley covers, The First Tribe played a handful of original numbers. While many of Bob Marley’s songs have a indisputable connection to Rastafarianism (the track “War” is almost verbatim a reading of a speech given by Haile Selassie, the central prophet of Rastafarianism), many of Marley’s songs have a broad sense of spiritualism. That is, his songs spoke of an Almighty God, but not necessarily in the context of a religious institution. Perhaps Marley understood that formalized religions sometimes alienate many people with their intricately strange rituals and strict hierarchies. Establishing a spiritual connection to the Divine does not always require the guidance of a man-made institution. This general concept seemed to be true with the original songs of The First Tribe: many of the songs had a very pious vibe to them, with no obvious connection to a specific religious institution. One such lyric sung: “Acknowledge Him / Who created you / Give thanks to Him / Who created you / Give praise to Him.”
After two seemingly nondenominational songs, the direction of the band changed. It became clear that The First Tribe had a heavy Christian influence, with lyrics like, “Jesus is the way / Jesus is the light,” and, “Come back sister / Come back brother / Let the Lord Jesus come and take each other / See the heart of the Lord / Happiness forever.” The crowd probably was 99% indigenous Fijian (not of Indian decent); but only about 5% seemed enthusiastic about the religious message. But those who were supportive of the Christian message would cheer when Jesus’ name was sung. It is interesting to see “Jesus reggae:” when I think of contemporary Christian music, I think of Christian rock, country music, and Southern Baptist gospel music. While I have heard of Christian rap before (it’s really okay if you haven’t), I have never heard of Christian reggae before.
Reggae music has a direct connotation to the Rastafari religion, not Christianity. While Bob Marley was born a Christian, his conversion to Rastafarianism had a major influence on his music. Fijian Christian reggae represents a marriage of popular religion with popular culture. From the institution’s perspective, this unification is logical. This fusion is not only accessible to the audience as the music genre is familiar, but also actively spreads the Christian message.
After I left the Hibiscus Festival, on my walk home, I wound up stopping at a reggae bar. The band, Cool Runnings, was a mix of Fijians and Australians, covering a range of artists, from Marley to Stevie Wonder. They actually sounded great, but I was too pooped to stay, so I called it a night.
I then started to look for music shops that sold lalis (the Fijian wooden slat drum played with sticks) and/or tablas (the Indian pair of hand drums). At a store called South Pacific Music, I found tablas; but, disappointing they were made in
I also have been having a hard time finding a genuine lali crafter. I did find lalis for sale, but it was a generic tourist handcraft center. For kicks, I bought a mini six-inch lali: it is not really playable, but I did not want to commit to buying a full-sized lali, which are about two, two-and-a-half feet long and weigh a ton. I also want to buy a lali directly from a crafter, not at some tourist trap store…
It was rainy all day here (but still very warm), so I took it easy until after dinner. See the above post for those details.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Yesterday was my first full day in
I went the library, but unfortunately, there was a lack of texts on Fijian music (let alone of drumming). That being said, I was not disappointed, as I am not in
After spending the afternoon at USP, I returned back to my hotel for a short nap, to rest up for the weeklong, annual Hibiscus Festival. Well, I guess the jetlag finally caught up with me, as I fell asleep at six and woke up just after midnight. I will go to the Hibiscus Festival tonight (possibly even in the afternoon as well).
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of
Several British entrepreneurs began to expand
In regards to my research, this history is of great interest: in
Returning back to the subject matter, in the past 48 hours, I have had three encounters with indigenous Fijians telling me never to buy from the Indian or Chinese (they are a very small minority) shops; that these groups are denying the prosperity of the indigenous Fijians. One man showed me his credentials – he was a member of the city council!!! I guess racism and politics have gone hand-in-hand for some time now.
It is kind of crazy how intolerant the indigenous Fijians can be: the Indo-Fijians are full citizens, were born in
(An ongoing political issue is that many Indo-Fijians are living on indigenous Fijian owned land, that was leased on 99-year contracts that were signed about 95 years ago or more. Already, many Indo-Fijians are being kicked off these lands, giving them no place to go).
As you can read, the level of intolerance by the indigenous Fijians is completely unacceptable to me. As a result of recent coups (there have been a handful since 1987), Indo-Fijians are not permitted to be elected as Prime Minister. How can a country call itself a democracy if there is legal discrimination against an individual from one ethnic/religious group from ever being elected as PM?
Before my arrival to
Yet, although it is obviously upsetting to see a resistance to multiculturalism, I have met one man – a taxi driver named Sai – would lamented to me that the discrimination of the indigenous Fijians has hurt the country more than it has helped. Sai, who is an indigenous Fijian, said that both tourism and international economic aid are down because of the political instability. (It should be noted that there was a non-violent coup this past December. Further, the country is very safe, but the politics are quite volatile these days). Sai said he has no problem with Indians, and essentially the indigenous Fijians can’t blame their struggles on the success of others. It was very refreshing to hear an indigenous Fijian declare that he too was tired to the rampant racism throughout the city, and government.
This fellowship permits me to learn, in-depth and through a first-hand account, of two my great passions, music and religious studies. Nevertheless, I have already realized that throughout this year, I will be learning much, much more than the subject of religious studies in ethnomusicology. From conversing with the locals, I already have gained a broad sense of understanding the dynamic of Fijian daily life. It is extremely interesting to learn about all the cultural intricacies and political struggles, in addition to the more light-hearted musical culture.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Already, in just a short few hours, I have made some headway into my research in Suva. During my taxi ride from Nausori (Suva) airport to the city, I made a – potentially – excellent contact. After explaining the core of my research to my driver, a very friendly Hindu named Jitan, he invited me to a traditional Hindu wedding this upcoming weekend. Should this come together, it will be a great opportunity to observe the musical dynamic of a Hindu wedding ceremony. Furthermore, after exchanging numbers, Jitan also graciously offered that if I want to attend a Sunday church service in a village, he would gladly arrange that, as well. It should be noted that a typical Christian Fijian mass has a tremendous musical essence to it. It is conceivable that the musicality of Christian Fijian service demonstrates how Fijians integrated elements of their own indigenous religion to Christianity. Surely, the Methodist missionaries in the 1800s did not preach the Bible with song and dance...In any event, hopefully I will be able to attend a mass to see for myself.
Also, while exploring the neighborhood around my hotel (I will be downgrading to a hostel after the first two nights), I stumbled across a music shop. In the window, there was a poster for a drum and percussion clinic on Saturday. I will definitely have to check that out! I also have been going in and out of the many record shops this city has: I already bought my first traditional Fijian CD; it just has classic island songs, but the lal (wooden slat drum) is used on all the tracks.
Although I have only scratched the surface of the city, my immediate impression is that it is a quaint, easy-going city. The intimacy of the city is quite apparent: while in the taxi, Jitan said hello (in passing) to a number of people, young and old. It’s nice to see that even in the “big” city of Fiji, there is still a community feel.
What is really separates Suva from the rest of Fiji – aside from the fact that it is the largest city – is that there are almost no tourists here. Foreigners come to Fiji for the beaches and fancy (isolated) resorts. Just about every Western couple I saw on the plane was either on a honeymoon, or a retired older couple: while I cannot fully assert that these individuals just came to Fiji for the beaches, it is safe to say that tourism is minimal in Suva. As Jitan said, “The foreigners come from a big city; so why would they want to see another big city on their holiday?”
Considering I’ve only been here for just a couple hours, it has been very productive. I was able to drop my bag off at my hotel (I arrived at about 8:45, check in is at 2pm); bought a new SIM card, and a cellphone charger. I get free incoming calls, so if you want to chat my number is, country code, (679) 975 6007. Just bear in mind that I am seventeen hours ahead of you; so the best time to call me would be when it’s evening on the East Coast. (You’ll also have cheaper rates, probably).
So far, everything has been strangely seamless: the only minor setback has been that it is rainy outside. Otherwise, no complaints from my end!
Well, this ends my first abroad post. Feel free to leave a comment (you might have to register with blogspot but I’ll be doing this for a year, so it’s worth it!), or drop me an email. Thanks for reading.
The opposite of Bula,
Monday, August 13, 2007
Thanks a million to Ginny Dosch for helping me at every step of the way. Also, thank you so much Jay Williams - if I had never enrolled in Origins 101, I know I wouldn't be in this position right now. A big thanks to Jeremy Medina and Jeff McCarn as well.
Mom, Dad, and Matt - I really appreciate all of the support you have all given me. Last but definitely not least, to my grandmother and grandfather: I am forever grateful for all of the opportunities you have given me.
As you have already guessed, this is my first "blog." I actually don't really like the word "blog" and will be using that word sparingly. I apologize in advance for any strange formats, awkward spacing, and unNECESSARY capslocks. Like math, spelling
sometimes often proposes a major challenge for me...so I will try to utilize the spell check function, but no guarranteez. That was really lame.
Although this research has its academic roots, as I am silly, this
blog travel log will be written with much informality. I will update it is as frequently as possible. I will include some pictures from my travels, but will maintain a separate website for my photographs: I will post that link as soon as it is available.
Signed, sealed, delivered,
JBH (I'm yours)
FIJI: August 19 - October 1
JAPAN: October 5 - December 19
INDIA: December 19 - March 17
MOROCCO: March 17 - Early May
CUBA: Early May - If Castro doesn't kick the bucket
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO: Summer 2008
*I have purchased an around-the-world ticket through Morocco. As of now, some time in early May, I will fly from Madrid to Havana. As I do not have plane tickets to either Cuba or Trinidad, it is possible that my itinerary will change once more, and I will be certain to keep you all updated (especially you, Ginny!).
Ahoy hoy. Welcome to the official, patent-pending blog for my 2007-2008 Bristol Fellowship. In late August 2006, I began writing my proposal entitled, "The Art of the Drum." Since then, my itinerary has been slightly modified; therefore, the piece below is not an exact reflection of my upcoming travels. If you would like to get a general understanding of my research, feel free to check out the proposal.
The Art of the Drum: Spirituality in Drum Crafting and the Spiritual Relationship Between the Drummer and the Drum
As a passionate drummer, I would like to explore the art of the drum, with a global perspective: to establish the spiritual process that a craftsman undergoes while building a drum, and to define the intricate spiritual relationship that the drummer has with his drum. The itinerary includes Japan, Fiji, Morocco, Trinidad & Tobago, and the Dominican Republic. These countries represent the major world religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and Taoism.
The material process of crafting a drum is lucid, but what is the spiritual element of drum crafting? With simple research, it is possible to uncover the technique of drum making. Yet, as it is universally understood that music has the potential to have a spiritual essence, how does that spirituality translate to the construction of the instrument? For example, various Hindustani ragas played on the tabla are performed as devotional pieces to various deities within the Hindu pantheon. Through music, the tabla player is attempting to connect with the Divine. This potential transcendence would be impossible without the instrument itself. Therefore, what spiritual exercises, if any, does the tabla crafter perform? Does the craftsman recognize that his product becomes an essential tool for the performer to communicate with the Absolute? Either avenue of response results in intriguing answers: the craftsman may, in fact, conduct various religious rituals prior to beginning the construction of the drum. If this is the case, is it a spiritual process that is guided by a larger religious institution? Are there specific guidelines a religious craftsman must follow? It is also possible that there are unique, familial techniques of crafting drums. Then again, it is entirely feasible that a craftsman has no affiliation with a religious order; and therefore, merely creates the instrument as a means of livelihood.
After the drum is built, it is passed on to the musician. I would like to investigate the spiritual relationship between the drummer and his instrument. What, exactly, does this relationship, between the drummer and the drum, consist of? To the musician, is the drum a direct manifestation of the Divine, or simply a tool to reach a stage of musical, and thus spiritual, transcendence? How does the religious drummer show reverence for his drum? To what extent does spiritual training compliment or enhance purely “musical” training? In what ways does the drummer directly participate in religious ceremonies?
My preliminary research indicates that drum crafting and drummers are overwhelmingly male professions. My pronouns reflect that research; however, I plan to be alert for the presence of women in those professions and observe the similarities and differences in their roles.
The field research itself will consist of the following components: conducting interviews with craftsman and drummers; visiting drum craft shops; and, attending religious ceremonies and festivals. The itinerary was developed with the underlying desire to define and explore the similarities and differences of approaches to the spirituality of drum crafting, and the relationship between the player and the drum.
For six weeks, I will live in Kyoto, the music capital of Japan, a city laden with temples and a rich musical history. Taiko drumming is performed at temples during various Taoist rituals. The Taiko drumming school at Kyoto City University of Arts has many established alumni, including Taiko master Joji Hirota. Mr. Hirota already has given me the contact information of his personal drum crafter. Further, I have been in contact with Judith Mitoma, a Professor of World Arts and Cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the director of the Center for Intercultural Performance and the World Festival of the Sacred Music, two organizations that emphasize spirituality and religion in music. It is also advantageous to begin my field research in Kyoto because Gion Matsuri, an annual festival, occurs during the month of July; and, the festival would provide me the opportunity to observe drummers in public performance. The festival originated as a religious ritual of self-purification, but has evolved to have several different religious connotations. This urban and academic environment result in a minimal language barrier, as English is spoken throughout the city and even more so on the Kyoto City University of Arts campus. Nonetheless, I recognize that certain situations will necessitate the use of a translator.
For the remaining six weeks, I will spend time on Sado Island to study the craftsmen behind the Kodo drummers, who perform a style that is a similar to Taiko drumming. The Kodo drums are enormous, comparable in size to the Western timpani, and constructed from hollowed tree trunks. On Sado Island, I have already established several contacts, including three Kodo drummers in particular – Ryutaro Kaneko, Eiich Saito and Tomohiro Mitome – who hold frequent seminars on the construction and playing of the Kodo drums. I also have been in contact with Mr. Yasuhiko Ishihara, the program director of the Kodo Cultural Foundation the city of Iwakubi.
There are two compelling factors that draw this research to Fiji: the presence of indigenous folk music and Hindustani music on the islands. Although much of Fijian folk music is vocally driven, the music also is known for its complex percussion arrangements that include the slit drum and the lali. Traditionally, the lali, a drum that essentially is built from a hollowed tree trunk, is used to announce social events, such as weddings, births, and deaths. In one indigenous ritual, the lali is used to communicate with deceased ancestors. The lali ni meke is smaller model of the lali, and is played in Fijian folk music. Clearly, the Fijian music community is rich with drummers and drum crafters, and is an important facet of various religious ceremonies throughout the islands.
The Hindu diaspora in the Fiji Islands represents an equally compelling reason to choose Fiji. According to the CIA World Factbook, Indo-Fijians represent 44% of the overall population; further, 38% of all Fijians are practicing Hindus, making Hinduism the second largest religion of the Fiji Islands. Therefore, Hindustani music is an important aspect of Fijian culture. Within the Hindu community of Fiji, there are many tabla and dholak crafters.
I will divide my time on the Fiji Islands between Viti Levu and Tavenui. Viti Levu is the largest island of Fiji and has a predominately Indo-Fijian population. Taveuni, in contrast, is almost three-fourths Fijian; and thus, more representative of the indigenous Fijian population. I anticipate minimal language barriers while conducting field research, as English is the official language of the Fiji Islands. Further, Hindi is widely spoken throughout the Indo-Fijian communities, which is advantageous as I am familiar with the language, as I have studied in India. It is ideal to conduct my research on the Fiji Islands in the fall, as the South Pacific Music Festival is held every November on Vanua Levu, the second largest island of Fiji. The festival features both international and local musicians. As Fijian music is inclusive of both the indigenous folk music and traditional Hindustani music, the Fiji Islands offer a unique perspective of drumming and drum crafting.
The drumming of Morocco has roots in the indigenous civilization of the Berbers, the foreign influence of Arabs, and intercontinental influence of Southern Spain. Through centuries of hybridization, this trinity of influence has converged into the Moroccan drumming of today. There is a vast range of drum and percussion instruments in Northern Africa. The tabla is one of the more common drums of Morocco; however, the Northern African tabla, which originated in Egypt, differs from the Indian tabla, in that it is a single drum, rather than a pair.
In Morocco, I will base my research in Casablanca; there are many opportunities to interview drummers and craftsmen, as the city has many mosques and drum shops. Chafchaouen will be another point of interest, as there is a strong presence of Andalusian classical music; in fact, the annual Andalusian Music Festival is held there. Andalusian classical music is a fusion of Berber music and Southern Spanish music. Beginning in the 13th Century, Spanish Muslims, often of Berber decent, returned to Northern Africa, due to the peril of the Inquisition, bringing back Andalusian classical music, and the darboula, or goblet drum. Although Arabic and Berber are the two predominant languages of Morocco, Spanish is major language of the region. As I am a Hispanic Studies major, and have lived in Seville, Spain, I will not encounter a language barrier. I am fully confident that between Spanish and English, I will encounter minimal, if any, language barriers.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
My research will continue in Trinidad & Tobago for eight weeks to study the crafting of the steel drum. This instrument originally was made from a 55-gallon oil drum in the 1940s, and now is a staple of Caribbean music. An impressive number of Trinidad and Tobagans are practicing Spiritual Baptists, a hybrid of Christianity and West African religions. Like Voodou, Spiritual Baptism utilizes drums and percussion in religious ceremonies. Music is prominent in both Spiritual Baptism and Voodou, two of the most practiced religions in Trinidad and Tobago. Soca, an indigenous music of Trinidad & Tobago that fuses Afro-Caribbean Calypso with Indian Hindustani music, is another important genre of music on the island.
I will center my research in Trinidad & Tobago in the capital city, the Port of Spain. The steel drum first was built in the Port of Spain, and the city remains the steel drum capital of world. I also will spend a portion of time in San Fernando to see if that city offers a different perspective in the crafting of the steel drum.
To conclude the fellowship, I will go to the Dominican Republic to study the drums and drummers of meringue. The percussion section of meringue music includes maraca shakers and the tambora drum, an instrument brought to the Dominican Republic by African slaves. Unlike many drums, the tambora, crafted from oak and animal skin, is played on both sides. Within meringue music, the güira is another popular percussion instrument. The crafting of the güira demonstrates its simplicity: it is constructed from scrap sheet metal into a cylinder (or, ideally, from using an old five-gallon oil can), and is played with a fork. Meringue was born out of the slums of the Dominican Republic; thus, explaining the simplicity and pedestrian nature of the crafting of the güira. Still, because the güira symbolizes a truly indigenous creation, I believe there will be an intriguing process behind its craft.
I will base my field study in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, for the reason that it is the largest city, and thus, will have a depth of drummers and craftsmen who I can interview. In addition, I also will venture to Santiago, the second-largest city of the Dominican Republic, to visit the locally famous drum shop, Drums.
There are two dimensions of this fellowship: the spiritual essence of crafting a drum, and the spiritual relationship that the drummer has with his drum. The underlying theme of the research is how a drum can be tool to connect with the Divine. I do not seek to compare religious music of the world; but rather, the spiritual nature of the drum itself. The reasoning behind my itinerary is twofold. Primarily, I have chosen five distinct cultures that, in turn, should result in a diverse set of answers to my proposed questions. Secondly, I have chosen countries in which this research is feasible. English is a commonly used language in Trinidad & Tobago and Fiji, due to tourism. Spanish is widely spoken in Northern Africa, and of course, the official language of the Dominican Republic. This ensures that communication will not impede my research.
One of the advantages of this projected research is that my interviews and studies of individual drum craft shops can be conducted with any drum craftsman or drummer. This allows a tremendous degree of flexibility within my fieldwork. Because music is embedded in each of the cultures of the countries that I will be surveying, and specifically the music of drums and percussion, there will not be a shortage of resources for my research.
I anticipate that many craftsmen and drummers will declare that the art of the drum – that is the perfection of the instrument – is impossible without reverence. If a drum is to be used to connect with the Creator, piety is mandatory in the workshop and on the stage. That being said, I also firmly believe that some craftsmen and performers will declare no such religious or spiritual affiliation. Further, a third approach is possible: with families of a strong lineage of drum crafting or drum performing, there may be individual familial tenets of the craft. Accordingly, I am eager to discover which of my hypotheses are correct, and more importantly, what is unexpected.
Even the heart provides a beat.
One of the most vivid memories of my childhood is when my family went to a performance of the Kodo drummers in New York City. Everything, from the magnificent size of the drums to the unbridled audacity of the drummers themselves, was overwhelming. I was engulfed in a sea of sound. Because I was too young to appreciate the art, the drums produced a cacophony, rather than symphony; yet, I was fascinated.
I began to study drums in the Fifth Grade, playing in the school band and orchestra. In the Eighth Grade, I started private lessons with a jazz drummer, John Cutrone. While attending Hamilton College, I have studied under a local drummer, Jim Johns. Beginning in high school, drums became my foremost passion. I will be the first to admit that drums are the absolute worst instrument to fall in love with, because of the limitations that come with playing them. A drummer cannot practice with ease. It is impossible for a drummer to play in a college dorm or apartment, as it is a blatant noise violation. This year, I have been fortunate that the Music Department has given me a locker to store my drum kit. There are soundproof rooms (well, almost) that I can use anytime. My practice routine is as follows: I move my equipment from my locker to the music room, assemble it, play for three to six hours, dissemble it, move it back to the locker. During my Freshman and Sophomore years, every time that I practiced, I would have to get my car, make multiple trips moving my drums from my room to my car, then proceed with the process described above. Yes, there are many days that I wish I played the flute. But, if I could do it all over again, I’d still choose to play drums.
As I’ve practiced more and more over the years, I have learned to appreciate truly wonderful sounding drums and drummers. Whenever listening to a new a record, I first hear the rhythm that the drummer is playing. Then, I tune my ear to the sound of the drum itself: what sort of drum kit is the drummer playing on? Is it a large kit, with an indistinguishable number of drums and cymbals? Or, is it a modest, four-piece drum set? The drums are the backbone of all music, and the snare drum is the heart beat of the drum kit. As the snare is the most distinguishable drum, I admire the craftsmanship of a snare drum according to its sound and aesthetics.
Sometimes I have to sit on my hands in order to stifle my never-ending urge to tap my hands to the beat in my head. I hate silence. Whenever I leave my room, my sound system always is the last thing I turn off. I have an eclectic musical taste: I will listen to just about anything, providing that there is a level of musicianship in the music. While I admit that my record player favors Western artists, such as George Harrison, John Coltrane, or Paul Simon, I thoroughly enjoy listening to “world” music. (I think the name “world music” is, well, silly, as music is not limited to or created from a single part of the world. Music is, and always will be, from everywhere. Perhaps that’s the problem with labeling an abstract art in the first place). Regardless, the most beautiful aspect of music is that it is as diverse as the world itself: every culture contributes a unique style to music, from the sound played to the instruments used. I am particularly fond of fusion music, when musicians from different cultures create a single musical force.
I love listening to non-Western percussion. Like different genres of music, instruments too can represent an international spectrum of ideas. As a drummer, it is remarkable to think of the diversity of drums and percussion. The difference between the double-bass, massive drum kit of Keith Moon, the drummer of The Who, and the two-piece tabla of Zakir Hussain, the tabla maestro from Shakti, is almost incomparable; yet, both men are drummers and provide rhythm for their respective music.
The duality of music often is underappreciated: first, music can transcend cultural and geographical boundaries and differences, thus uniting foreign people and ideas to one another. I believe that fusion music can create an inter-spiritual connection among people. Secondly, on the personal level, music can transport the self into a higher plane of being. I never feel more alive than when I am playing a flawless groove on my kit. Music breeds happiness. As one of my musical idols Bradley Nowell of Sublime once sang, “Smile if you got the beat / That’s all you need.” Haven’t you ever listened to a song for the first time and just smiled, either because the beat and melody sounds so good, or you are dazzled by the skill of the musicians?
On “Sir Duke,” an homage to the great musicians of the Twentieth Century, Stevie Wonder sings, “Music is a world within itself / With a language we all understand / With an equal opportunity / For all to sing, dance and clap their hands.” What draws me to music is its universality. Language, the foremost means of communication, is confined by geographical and cultural boundaries; if one were to take two of individuals from two different locations in the world, it is likely that these two people will be unable to communicate with one another through speech. Nevertheless, everyone understands the language of music. Each culture has a distinct method of composition and employment of instruments, and thus an individual sound; yet, even when one listens to music from another culture, he knows it is music that he is listening to. Words can only tell so much; and, the song can evoke far greater emotion.
As I have spent three semesters abroad – in London, Northern India and Seville – I have always made an effort to learn something about the local music scene. For me, only part of traveling is to see different geographical regions of the world. I am more interested in understanding the diversity of cultures and people.
My proposal is inspired by a directed field study I completed in India in the Fall of 2005. That research was on the reaction of Hindustani musicians to Western pop musicians using Hindustani elements in their commercial, non-spiritual music. Some Hindustani musicians were adamant that fusion music – a genre that hybridizes Western pop rock with Indian classical religious music – is an impious bastardization of the ancient religious art of Hindustani music. Further, many Hindustani musicians did not understand how Western artists could create music without any sign of reverence. One opponent of fusion music, Pandit Uttam Daas, declared, “Music is nothing without God.” Yet, other Hindustani musicians embraced the concept of fusion music, saying that it merely reflects an age of a globalized world. I was fortunate to conduct several interviews with an Indian Hindu classical and fusion artist, Grammy-award winner, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. Pandit Bhatt, a disciple of Ravi Shankar and close friend of the late George Harrison, affirmed, “Fusion is natural progression of all music.” During an interview with Vishwa’s son, Salil, who also is an accomplished Hindustani and fusion musician, explained to me that the musician’s instrument is a direct manifestation of the Hindu Goddess of Music, Saravati. When Salil explained to me how he treats his instrument with unwavering reverence, the initial idea for this fellowship was born.
This grant would provide me with a tremendous opportunity to refine my academic and personal interests into a singular focus of religion and spirituality in music and instrument construction. With this focus, I would be able to continue my higher education in a graduate school program to study the religious elements in ethnomusicology. I am fortunate to have lived in two environments where English is not the dominant language, India and Spain; and therefore, I am comfortable living abroad. Further, and most importantly, this research reflects a union of my foremost non-academic passion, drums, and my academic interests, religion and foreign languages.
But above all, I simply want to meet other people, who, just like me, have a profound passion for drums and percussion. There is so much to be learned from other drummers from other cultures, and this fellowship would provide me with the perfect medium to do so.