A Fireside Chat With Hamid Drake
HD: I would say that first of all, the kora is a harp type instrument that is played in West Africa amongst Mandingo speaking people. Also, the kora is played by a group of people that are known as Griots. Griots are the keepers of the oral history of their various people. Griots are not only amongst Mandingos, but amongst many different tribes in Africa. Traditionally, the kora, amongst the Mandingo people is played by the Griots, those who are the holders of the oral tradition. I would let them know that the kora is a harp sounding type instrument. It is played very much like the harp where there is two sides, the left hand is playing one side and the right hand is playing another side.
FJ: Joe Morris and I had a conversation and he spoke about his interest in kora music.
HD: Yeah, that is true.
FJ: Joe told me that you had one up on him, having had tea in a tent with Alhaji Bai Konte.
HD: He is going way back. Yeah, he is going way back to the Bear Mountain Festival (laughing) in upstate New York. That's correct, yeah. In fact, Alhaji Bai Konte and the kora player, the Griot that we formed Mandingo Griot Society with Foday Musa Suso, they were very good friends. Alhaji Bai Konte was his elder of course, but still they were very good friends. I think the time that Joe was talking about was, this was the early Eighties when we still had some pretty good festivals going on in the States and there was this one particular festival called the Bear Mountain Music Festival, which pretty much centered around various types of folk music throughout the world. It concentrated a lot on American folk music. Mandingo Griot Society, we were on the Flying Fish label at the time, which also concentrated a great deal on American folk music and American bluegrass, but we happened to be on that label. Through that, we played this music festival in Bear Mountain and that particular time that Joe was talking about also was quite a very interesting festival because Mandingo Griot Society, we did the festival with a slew of folk and bluegrass musicians. Also, there was a great oud player from the Sudan by the name of Hamza El-Din and on that particular festival also, the Sun Ra Arkestra played too. It was quite a festival that particular year. We were all hanging out together, Alhaji Bai Konte and his adopted son Malamini Jobarteh, Foday Musa Suso, myself, and Adam Rudolph and the other guys from Mandingo Griot Society.
FJ: As a percussionist who has played with so many other percussionist, I would like to get your opinion on a few. First, Adam Rudolph.
HD: We're old time friends. We have been knowing each other and playing music together since we were both fourteen years old. I think Adam, simply as a percussionist, Adam is one of the greatest percussionists that I know to tell you the truth. What he has developed on the hand drums, I think, conceptually and playing wise is truly phenomenal. Also, Adam is a great composer too. He has composed some very extraordinary music. It is stuff that when you perform it, you really have to think seriously about it because it challenges you on many levels, especially from the rhythmic perspective. Also, Adam is a good friend. Adam and I, we are musical buddies, but we are also life buddies. We spent a lot of time together traveling to different parts of the world, traveling to different parts of this country, playing in various musical situations, very diverse musical situations with different people. I have a very high regard and respect for Adam. He is one of those people that I have learned a lot from and I continually learn from. Whenever we are in a musical situation together, I feel that I always learn something from Adam and I am very appreciative.
FJ: Tragically, Adam rarely gets the recognition he deserves because he plays hand percussion, a lost form in improvised music.
HD:That's right. He is a multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire. Yeah.
FJ: And Michael Zerang.