NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE (AP) — A Grammy-winning group of the world’s top percussionists have reunited after 15 years on a new record that aims to bring the world together in rhythm and dance.
Planet Drum’s new record, In The Groove, features drummers from very different musical backgrounds and cultures who collaborate using technology to adapt their acoustic instruments to new sound forms.
The collective is made up of Mickey Hart from the Grateful Dead, Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain, Nigerian talking drum virtuoso Sikiru Adepoju and conga great Giovanni Hidalgo from Puerto Rico.
“The first thing we all know about rhythms is that they are universal,” Hussain said in an interview from Mumbai. “So that’s what allows rhythmists around the world to interact and communicate and work together to make music.”
“Drums are a language unto themselves,” Hart said.
The friendship and collaboration between Hart and Hussain began decades ago when Hart was introduced to Hussain through his father, legendary tabla player Ustad Alla Rakha, who accompanied Ravi Shankar.
Planet Drum’s 1991 self-titled debut album was the first album to win in the Grammy category for Best World Music, now called Best World Music Album. Their second album won them another Grammy in 2009.
Hidalgo called Planet Drum an “honor for me to travel the world with each one of them, because it’s amazing when you analyze and appreciate different cultures, different styles, from different countries – Africa, India, United States (US ), Puerto Rico. It’s amazing and we respect them all.”
On this third album, Hart and Hussain did not want the virtuosity of the various musicians to overwhelm the average listener, instead focusing on creating beats that maintained an energy and rhythm that would get people moving.
Each of them is a master of a particular instrument or style of drumming, like Adepoju, who was born into a family of drummers who were able to play specific parts of the language on an assortment of drums. The talking drum, which he plays, can imitate vocal sounds and language.
“It was a challenge to be able to play together as a dance group rather than rhythm masters playing in their own style,” Hart said.
Hussain said they wanted all of these instruments and drum patterns to come together “crystallized in a simple way where all the organic elements and intricacies of the instruments and the tradition they represent are projected.”
The music video for their song King Clave, created with the organization Playing for Change, features the members of Planet Drum and more than 50 drummers from around the world.
“Drums are an integral part of indigenous cultures around the world…used throughout the centuries, not only for festive occasions, but to communicate (send messages from village to village…even),” Adepoju said in a statement provided to the AP. “They feature prominently in a wide range of community events (spiritual ceremonies, births, funerals, carnivals, etc.), hence their universal appeal.”
But Hart, who regularly experiments with electronic sounds in his solo work, wanted to showcase new ways to use traditional acoustic instruments by manipulating their sounds electronically in the studio. Hart calls it “processed percussion”, and it is able to transform the sound of Hussain’s tabla, for example, into a bass guitar or strings sound or even into the sound of water drops.