I’m a drum soloist…?

Jon Silpayamanant with Raks Makam, Sabah (director of the Bellydance Superstars) and members of Crescent Moon Dance after our performance in Louisville during the Club Bellydance tour

So I’ve technically done my first drum solo now.  Sure I’ve drummed for dancers for years and have played for who knows how many dancers, but tonight (or technically, last night) I’ve performed my first honest to goodness drum solo.  Sure, I’ve been in settings where I’ve played back up for another drum soloist (and I understand that the idea of a ‘drum solo’ can be confusing when it can include more than one musician and/or dancers, but indulge me for a bit) and have drummed ‘solo’ in workshop settings for dancers playing rhythms as a teaching tool for workshop attendees.

But never as a soloist in a performative setting.

The biggest irony here is that the many years of playing drums included mainly playing Egyptian tabla or other Middle Eastern drums for mostly bellydancers (the occasional gig playing with Greek bands or my Balkan band, Kermes for Greek folk dancers and Balkan folk dancers notwithstanding).  What is ironic is that my first drum solo happened to be on the doira, for Uzbek dance.  And it looks like most of my drum soloing will include many more Central Asian styles–the next piece that Raks Makam will be working on is a Bukharan doira solo.  I’m stoked for this and so looking forward to learning more about all this wonderful Central Asian music!

Most importantly, I just love working so closely with dancers.  Really I love working with any collaborators in general, but especially non-musicians, and most especially with artists in an art form that is so closely tied to music as dance is.

Being a soloist (musician) means a couple of obvious things.  No one else is responsible for learning the music but me, which means that while I have no one getting in the way of picking up a new tune.  The other thing is I also have no one else to rely on if things go awry musically.  I’ll trade the one pressure for the other in a heartbeat!

Ok, I must get some sleep before heading up to Chicago to play some Klingon music!

Performance: Greek Islands Hafla

If you are reading this, it’s because it was written earlier today and set to future post as I will be performing at the Greek Islands Restaurant in Indianapolis when this autoposts.  The group I’ll be playing with is one I co-founded with vocalist and mandolinist, Robert Bruce Scott, in May of 2004, il Troubadore.  Rather than give you my bad prose description of us or repost our bio from the website url I just linked, the image below, from the Indianapolis Star written by David Lindquist could just as easily condense what we’re about.

il Troubadore in the Indianapolis Star

We will be hosting our monthly World Music and Dance night at the Greek Islands Restaurant in Indianapolis, a business run by the Stergiopoulos family since 1987.  We call the monthly event the Greek Islands Hafla.  The Arabic word, hafla, means “party” but in connection with bellydance communities it has taken on a life of its own.  This is a description from Shira.net website:

Hafla. (Pronounced “HAHF lah”.) This basically refers to a party. A private hafla thrown by a belly dancer usually involves Middle Eastern music (sometimes live musicians jamming, sometimes just taped music), dancers taking turns performing for each other, and some open-floor dancing for everyone to get up and enjoy the music. A more public hafla may be effectively a full belly dance festival, with vendors selling their wares and a more formalized stage show.

The local bellydancers in the Central Indiana area know the Greek Islands Hafla as a bellydance night though we do occasionally have some folk dancers that pop in from time to time.

I’ll probably be there until about midnight or so so won’t get a chance to post today hence the autopost.  And for you perusal, here’s a video of us performing at Kira’s Oasis in the Dayton, Ohio area (11 September 2009) for a fabulous dancer, Sherena, who used to be a member of the internationally touring Bellydance Superstars.  The tune is a Greek Laika by Manos Hadjidakis called Milise Mou (“Talk to Me”) and a favorite of our bellydancers.

Sunday Spotlight on the Non-Western Cello: Markos Sifnios, Marika Papagika and the Greek Cello

Marika Papagika

I wish I had more information about Markos Sifnios, but as there is only been a recent resurgence of interest in his collaborator Marika Papagika and I’m not in a position to be doing extensive research into her career in the US during the earlier part of the 20th century (yet).

I had first come across Sifnios’ work when I found this wonderful youtube video (see below) of a tune called Smyrneiko Minore (Smyrnaean Air) which, given the date (1919) here (if it is correct) would coincide with Papagika’s first recording in the states with Victor Records.

There is a brief snippet about Sifnios’ collaboration with Papagika at the Wikipedia entry which I can’t really verify or attest to the truth of though interesting in its own right:

Cellist Markos Sifneos [sic] collaborated with Marika Papagika on at least 24 separate occasions. Aside from Kostas, he is her most frequent collaborator, and was one of the few people to play cello on Greek recordings before World War II. There are no records of him recording with anyone except the Papagikas as Cello was not an acceptable instrument for Greek music at the time.

So I came across this video and though I had already known about Marika Papagika I knew nothing about the fact she had a cellist in her Greek band.  So that was something of a revelation.  I doubt cellos were typically a part of traditional or folk Greek ensembles as the above quote seems to indicate, and more than likely, as is the case with Klezmer and other folk music ensembles (and “pick-up” bands in general) Sifnios and his cello just happened to be at her disposal.   But what this also says is that Sifnios could be considered one of the first “Alternative Cellists” in the US (if not the world).

Continue reading

because we Westerners seem to feel the need of making what is heard more comprehensible by "phrasing" it some way or other

Portrait Beethovens mit der Partitur zur Missa Solemnis

Portrait Ludwig van Beethoven when composing the Missa Solemnis (1820) by Joseph Karl Stieler (1781–1858)

As I’m sorting through some heady ethnomusicological material, I came across in a note, some remarks by Jaap Kunst:

Jaap Kunst, after recommending ethnomusicologists transcribing exotic meodies to use bar-lines ‘for the sake of legibility…where the rhythm seems to call for’ them, observes ‘No doubt one will frequently feel, when tackling the same phonogram some days later, an inclination to distribute the bar-lines differently.  The reason for this is the fact that accentuation in the music of many exotic peoples is much weaker than that in Western music; in some cases this accentuation is put into it by the investigator, because we Westerners seem to feel the need of making what is heard more comprehensible by “phrasing” it in some way or other.’ (Kunst, 40.)

I learn this lesson everytime I go folk dancing – and while Kunst overstates the weaker accentuation (though I think he’s talking about strong downbeats here given the context of where this note appears in the text I’m reading) it’s remarkable how much you can easily get a feel for the accentuation(s) when you actually learn how to dance the steps that go to folk dance tunes.  Sometimes just having a visual cue, like a video, can be enough of reinforcement of the rhythmic accents.

This goes back to remarks I’ve made about mis-pronouncing music obviously.   As one of my groups tries to ease it’s way into a more Greek/Mediterranean type setting we’re going to have to sort through some of those music pronunciation issues.

Maybe we’ll even pick up some Ancient Greek tunes along the way.