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A Fireside Chat With Hamid Drake

AAJ Staff By

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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.

HD: Michael and I have been playing together for about twelve years now in various situations, particularly with Peter Brotzmann, but also in duet situations. For the past twelve years now, we have been doing in Chicago, we have been hosting these Winter Solstice concerts every year. The phenomenal thing is that we have done it twelve years consecutively, like non-stop every winter solstice. For the last twelve years, we have been doing this and over the years, it has really grown and it brings out people of diverse backgrounds and people with their children. The phenomenal thing is that now, for the last several years, we have been only doing early morning performances starting at six in the morning. We still get packed houses at six in the morning of people coming to see this music to see drums and percussions. The nice things about working with Michael is over the years, we have had time to develop a way of communicating with each other and really to develop our own duet style not only from the Winter Solstice concerts that we do, but also from working together with various ensembles, but particularly with Peter Brotzmann and the Chicago Tentet.

FJ: You also are part of the DKV Trio.

HD: Yeah, I think Ken (Vandermark) and I started working together in '92. The first project we did together was a project called Standards Project and it was Ken, he was doing this project with various artists. It just worked out that the project that Ken and I were doing was with Kent Kessler. From doing that project, the Standards Project, it felt like we had a nice connection, the three of us, so DKV, that was actually the starting point of DKV. Then we started doing gigs together at a few places around Chicago and we were doing things on a weekly basis and that kind of formed, those were the situations that helped solidify the musical relationship of the three of us. DKV is a situation that I really love and appreciate a lot because the nature of how we play together allows us to go in any direction. We have the freedom to explore many different stylistic textures and landscapes. It is not just one particular mode of expression, but we express a lot of different things within that group setting. People seem to appreciate it.

FJ: And Fred Anderson.

HD: There is really, oh, I don't have a lot of words to express the relationship with Fred other than it is definitely, it manifests in many ways. Sometimes it is the relationship of teacher/apprentice or master/apprentice type situation and other times, we are, I can't say equals because Fred is my elder, so he has been around way longer than I have and he has experienced and seen more life than I have experienced, so I can't say equal, but I will say, we definitely share a common, we have a shared love for this music. It is great to see when we travel to different places to see these young audiences really being so appreciative of Fred and really digging and understanding what he is doing. It is such a delight to see.

FJ: And Peter Brotzmann, whom you have worked with in both his Tentet and his Die Like a Dog Quartet.

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