I guess it's not too surprising that no matter where you go on the planet, no matter what the cultural background of the people, the one thing we're all going to have in common is some means or other of being able to bang out a rhythm. It was probably something the species picked up on shortly after the discovery of fire on our climb up the evolutionary ladder.
You can picture it can't you? A bunch of our early kin sitting around the fire, and one of them, there's always somebody like it in every crowd, has a nervous twitch and with the bone he'd been just chewing on starts to tap on the hollow log beside him. He soon discovers he can change the sound he's making by how hard he hits the log, how many times he hits it in a row, and that he can also make patterns with the sound.
It was the Greeks who gave us the beginnings of the word we use today to describe the pattern made by sound, coming from their word meaning to flow: rhythmos. But I'm sure that the cultures that predated or co-existed with the founders of Western thought had their own words for the same idea. In the days when everything was done by hand, from lighting a fire by rubbing two sticks together or striking two rocks, the rhythm of life was ever present and obvious.
Even in the age of machines and industrialization a kind of rhythm could be heard via the clanging of machinery and the piecing together of bits and pieces on the assembly line. However, it was also the first stage in our separation from the rhythm of life, (the heartbeat), resulting in us eventually becoming deaf to all but the cacophony that surrounds us.
Thankfully, there are some who still strive to maintain the connection for us; those individuals who are sensitive to the effect rhythm can have on us physically, emotionally, and (dare I say this publicly in the West) spiritually. I'm not talking about some New Age high priest of whatever spiritual tradition is fashionable to co-opt this week; I'm not even talking about so-called legitimate religious people either. Nope I'm talking about some of the most profane and real people on the planet – musicians.
Any musician who has ever had even a modicum of success has had to learn how to keep a steady beat going. From a lead vocalist to the percussionist, without a feel for timing they wouldn't have even been able to play in the lowest of dives without being thrown off stage in a hail of beer bottles. But if you really want to make a connection back to yourself with music you need to search out percussionists who have made it their life's work, mission even, to seek out people of like mind from cultures around the world to work with.
Mickey Hart, formally of the Grateful Dead and various independent percussion projects, is one such gifted percussionist. Even during his days of drumming for the Dead he was busy with side projects all over the world. He would use his name and status to open doors for himself, and the musicians he worked with in other countries, to ensure their non-commercial projects would not only be recorded, but even released and promoted.
One of his earliest collaborators was the amazing tabla player Zakir Hussain. The two men have known each other since the 1970s when they were key figures in the percussion project known as the Diga Rhythm Band. Aside from both being percussionists, they have a similar philosophy when it comes to their approach to music. Each of them describes the work they have done in the years since that last record appeared as steps on a journey.
While neither of them are very clear about where the journey is going to take them, they are clear about making sure that they are continually learning and experimenting with different means of expressing rhythm. Their new release, Global Drum Project, due out Oct 2nd on the Shout Factory label, sees them hooking up with two other percussionists; Sikiru Adepoju on the African talking drum and Giovanni Hidalgo supplying a Latin groove.
The eight tracks on this disc represent a distillation of a great deal of the music they have absorbed and learned about in the years since the Diga Rhythm Band projects of the seventies. Aside from bringing together music from the Amazon Basin to Papua New Guinea and all stops in between, they've also embraced the potential that technology has to augment what can be done with the human body.
The result is absolutely spellbinding, in the almost literal sense of the world. From the opening track "Baba", featuring guest vocals from Babatunde Olatunji, through to the ethereal "I Can Tell You More" that closes the disc, you are taken on a trip not only around the physical world via various musical influences, but to the unlimited world that resides with each of us.
It doesn't matter whether a song is composed of tribal beats, complicated tabla patterns, or sounds turned into clouds by effect's boxes, the music pulls you out of the mundane world. To sit and listen to Global Drum Project is to obtain a level of awareness that you may not have thought you were capable of experiencing. The musical prowess of all those involved in this recording is so astounding there is no way you can listen to it without forgetting about the world beyond the disc for at least the duration of its playing time.
But unlike supposed transcendental music sold in New Age stores, they aren't making any effort to be "spiritual", or even pretending to be anything other than extremely gifted musicians. Which is exactly why it is so successful in being a record of such power and grace. Their only concern is to play some of the great and wonderful music they've come across during the past few years of their journey.
Music that is played with the passion and skill these people possess doesn't need to try and be spiritual or uplifting in order to be just that. When music is able to achieve the purity and beauty required to free us sufficiently to be able to hear what's around and inside us for a change, it becomes one of the greatest gifts we can give to each other. How much more spiritual can you get than that?
The Global Drum Project is an amazing disc of percussion music as you've never heard percussion played before. If you've never really experienced what it feels like to leave the world behind, even temporarily, then you won't want to miss out on this recording. This is music at its purest and most direct, and it will speak to places inside of you that you didn't even know existed.