Wednesday, December 15, 2010

International Cultural Drum Exchange

I woke up at 6am in order to get down to the UCF Center for Emerging Media (500 West Livingston Street Orlando). I had been given a tip by Dana Mott that a group of Nap Ford students were going to have a live video conference with a drummer from South Africa. As I drove east towards downtown, the sun rose above the horizon and expanded into a deep orange fireball. I don't get up this early very often so I was delighted, my eyes squinted and misted up to the spectacle.

It was a freezing cold morning. Alright, I didn't see any ice, but for my thin blood it was cold. The front door at the UCF Center was locked so I fired off several frantic calls on my cell. During the second call, a guard appeared and buzzed me in. I shook off the cold and made my way to the Bridge, a small auditorium on the first floor. The Nap Ford students were already seated in a semi circle around their drums. A piece of audio equipment had been Federal Expressed to South Africa the day before. On that distant continent they were reading manuals and struggling to plug everything in. Since there was no live feed, the Nap Ford students had some time to rehearse. The drums resounded jolting me awake. The room warmed and glowed to the rhythm and young voices.

The image from South Africa flickered live onto the big screen. Introductions were made and the students, most of them around ten years old, performed for the South African drummer named Lucky Paliso. As they found a resounding rhythm and sang, Lucky smiled broadly. There was magic in the moment. This was a cross cultural exchange that needed no words or translation. When they finished, everyone on the big screen clapped after a ten second lapse. Lucky pointed out that drumming is probably the worlds oldest form of communication and it is universal across all cultures. He told everyone how much he enjoyed the performance then he offered advice on interlacing rhythms within a beat. To drive his point home he taught the children a beat which they repeated. Then, as they continued to play, he performed an intricate rhythm that wove in and around their beat. It was playful, spirited, uplifting and inspired.

Jennifer Porter-Smith, the Nap Ford principle, thanked everyone who helped create an experience the students would certainly remember their entire lives. Lucky told the children that they were fortunate to be part of an ancient cultural tradition. In Senegal not anyone can play drums, they must be born a drummer. He said, "You can take an African out of the bush but you can not take the bush out of the African." The students flipped through my sketchbook hungrily after the event was over. I got one of the best compliments I have had in a long time when a ten year old gave me a high five.

Such multi-cultural exchanges feel like a jolt of collective good will, a promise of fulfilled potential. There should be less reason for misunderstandings or conflict in a world filled with music. On the drive to my next sketch location, I felt happy and oddly at peace. What a great way to start the day!

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at


Alex Katsaros said...

Hi, I am Alex, the drummer that was in Africa jamming with Lucky at the end of the webcast. I have the video archives of event that we beamed to the screen you saw, which we recorded in HD on that end. For sure I'd love to give you a copy of it when it's ready...just back back from Cape Town and I'm getting it together now. Thanks again Thomas for helping us creatively capture that musical moment! Your blog post too really brings home the possibilities of what we were trying to accomplish using technology that morning! :) Cheers!

Thor said...

Wow! Great to hear from you Alex! I would love to get a link to the edited video. I would help complete the post.