Sheila Chandra’s Carnatic Konnakol is graceful, seemingly effortless, and a pleasure to hear.
On first listen Carnatic Konnakol can seem entirely incomprehensible. And on second. And on third. But our friend Henrik Andersen has been kind enough to break the Konnakol into bits that even the tiniest kids and their grownups, the general crowd for my All Around This World classes, can digest. Thanks Henrik!
Zakir Hussain, Alla Rakha and Ravi Shankar are master musicians in the Hindustani (North Indian) classical tradition, but that’s not the only game in town. Carnatic Indian classical music hails from Southern India and, while closely related to its slightly more internationally known neighbor, there is a difference. For our first taste let’s hear some Carnatic “percussive counting” presented by B C Manjunath. Wow.
Yesterday we showed Alla Rakha imparting his immensely rhythmic tabla wisdom to his son, Zakir Hussain. Today we give him his due as he shares the stage with another none-too-shabby Indian musician — sitar legend Ravi Shankar.
In this gem from the Indian video vault, a young tabla master Zakir Hussain shows is formidable chops under the watchful, and clearly proud, eye of his dad and teacher, Ustaad Alla Rakha Khan. Flash forward about 8 1/2 minutes into the video to see proud papa communicate with his son in tabla “bols,” verbally leading the beat.
This week our All Around This World online classes leave the relative safety and familiarity of Latin American and African drumming to travel ’round the globe to South and Central Asia. The entire foundation of melody and rhythm are different here, with spiraling, cycling beats building in hours-long pieces to a triumphant crescendo. This week we’ll leap forth boldly, attempting Carnatic (South Indian) percussive counting. What’s that? Follow along.
We could travel an almost infinite number of places to experience African rhythms but, sadly, our week of African exploration is coming to a close. I leave you with a minute of drumming from the far northwestern African islands of Cape Verde, where a collection of West African drummers show us what’s what. Our adventure next week…South and Central Asia!
Though West African rhythms sometimes steal the spotlight, drumming is integral to cultures and musical traditions all over the mindbogglingly diverse continent. Here we meet Moroccan Berber drummers making music around the fire. Their drumming is both melodic and rhythmic at once, cycling and repeating, inspiring a trance as much as a dance.
In class this week we give kids a first introduction to polyrhythms. We often hear polyrhythms in West African drumming, which features multiple drummers playing a differing number of beats within the same amount of time. The conflicting rhythms create a musical tension which inspires us to dance. In our lesson we start simply — half the class drums three beats, the other half four. While we don’t aspire to anything but enthusiasm, sometimes even with the littlest kids drumming our African polyrhythms sound pretty darned good.
Babatunde Olatunji and his Drums of Passion brought African rhythmic drumming to an international audience for decades, traveling the world as ambassadors for Olatunji’s native Nigeria, and as an inspiration to a generation of would-be percussionists. One of their most-familiar songs is “Akiwowo,” also known as “Chant to the Trainman.”