Rhythm, our hearts – the first sound we hear in the womb. This pulsation is the life force that has been with us since the beginning. The drum was the first instrument created outside of our bodies, (other than the singing voice). Banging on a hyde-skinned drum seems like a natural, primitive act of necessity.
I’ve always wanted to sing and write, strum chords on a guitar and give poetry a voice. Performing and singing on a stage was something that came naturally to me, but after putting my heart deep into my first album, Bare Bones, in 2012, I still felt like there was a driving force that was missing.
At Berklee Boston I met an enthusiastic professor, Joe Galeota, who teaches West African Ghanaian rhythms. After studying with him in an ensemble for a semester he invited myself and eleven other students on a three-week intensive workshop in the field. In the Summer of 2014, we studied at his home, as well as at the Dagbe cultural institute, located within Kopeyia village, part of Ghana’s coastal Volta region. We learnt from the native drummers and dancers, traditional styles for up to 4 hours a day! Soon our group started to embody these rhythms and understand not only the cultural context to this groove but also the human importance of connecting through music. The relationships I developed with my peers and teachers became more authentic, I felt deeply connected to the natural world around me, and I felt myself starting to glow. Making this a daily practice, and with a sort of religious regularity, I felt my body becoming more alive. There were days where I would say: “we drummed, danced, swam in the ocean, and I ate mangoes today?!” I felt like there was nothing better to experience in life. All of these events conspired because of a common love for music, and because of Berklee all this was possible. Having this experience has changed my life forever.
Upon returning to the Western world, I landed at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain, where I spent most of my Senior year. I knew I had to keep up my newfound spiritual practice, but how? From what I could tell, there were no tribesmen in the European metropolis. However, quickly I learned that Spain has some rooted musical heritage of its own. This is when I met Sergio Martinez, flamenquito, percussionist, Spanish native, and Berklee alumni.
Every Friday Sergio holds a lab for two hours, as he dissects the pulse of Andalusian, Flamenco percussion. This type of music is a hybrid of ancient Iberian people’s local music and the Persian/Moorish maqams. The Moors brought this Arabic style music with them when they arrived in what is today the South of Spain in 711 AD; where they ruled for about the next 800 years. These people were extremely innovative and made a huge impact on the culture. Many aspects of their lifestyle and heritage are still relevant today. Through this cross-pollination of styles, Flamenco music was born.
Sergio is one of the most heart-felt, inspiring, and patient teachers I have ever had the pleasure to work with. He is incredibly supportive and inspired to teach and write with students. His classroom is always full of brilliant energy and great vibes! He teaches us his native rhythms on the cajon, which is an instrument that was brought to Spain from Latin America. When African Slave ships landed in South America, they were not allowed to create music or play drums. In secret, they started to use wooden boxes and shipping crates as replacements. In the 1970’s the cajon was introduced to Flamenco music through Paco de Lucia. It is an honor to have teachers who are as open as the ones I have had, while these cultural traditions of beating the drums are sacred and hold deep lineages throughout history, both Joe and Sergio have been very open minded when sharing and creating music with their Berklee students.
With the inspiration of Sergio and the bulería, my talented guitarist colleague and friend, George Karpasitis, (Cyprus) and I wrote a song that has a modern, new-folk style. While sticking to my true nature as an American artist and songwriter, and incorporating these ancient rhythmic techniques, something quite magical and almost romantic happened. The song “Sage” is a blending of styles in songwriting and Mediterranean folk. The merging of cultures represents not only the paradigm shift here within the international campus at Berklee, but also within the global community of artists worldwide. I was honored to perform this song at the Ted X Berklee Valencia conference on April 25 2015 alongside Sergio, George, and violinist, Olivia Dawn Mok, (Hong Kong).
This piece has become the inspiration for my new EP that will be released August 2015. This EP is also part of my Final Culminating project as I finish my eighth and final semester at Berklee College of music, Boston, where my musical trip first began. The EP will consist of my interpretations of folk styles, and sounds that range from West Africa to the South of Spain. This is a hybrid of cultures, new-folk, an experiment, music that bridges poetic lyrical content, and spiritual rhythmic practice.
These type of Global Initiatives at the Berklee College of Music are just two of many unique opportunities a student here has access to. Music needs a groove, something to push it forward and keep the audience hooked, not just lyrically but viscerally. This is exactly what was missing from my writing before, though it has been inside me all along, right in between my lungs and behind my rib cages- therein lies my heart.