The Drummers of West Africa, Paramount Theatre, January 27
The Drummers of West Africa
Paramount Theatre, January 27 Drummers are often treated like second-class citizens. In classical orchestras, tympani players inhabit the back of the stage, far from glowing limelights and flying bouquets. Same in rock, where drummer jokes are as common as they are corny. No such undeserved maligning in West Africa, however, where rhythm reigns supreme. And there's no more a Western African nation than Senegal, home to the Drummers of West Africa, led by the renowned percussionist Doudou N'Diaye Rose. A Renaissance man -- professor, orchestral artistic director, collaborator with David Murray, the Rolling Stones, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis -- Rose used Austin's most beautiful theatre to give a lesson in rhythm magic. His chalkboard, a band of 35 drummers who belied their number by playing so tightly they all seemed related, which in fact they were -- each a member of Rose's family. Commanding attention on the 85-year-old theatre's stage like an elephant in heat, the beaming green-and-orange-clad multi-drum corps began with "Baifall," a 15-minute introduction to the famous M'balax rhythm and the hand- and stick-smacked Khine drums. Next, the call and response "Rosettes" featured Rose's daughters on the low-slung, cracklin' Sabar drums, then the complex-like-3D-chess "Saouroubas." At the center of this orchestrated maelstrom was its 70-year-old leader, conducting with short calls, darts of his eyes, deft counterbeats and gesturing with a freshly whittled stick/baton like a crazed third base coach. The second set began with one percussionist popping beats on a DJ-style three-drum setup, then Rose, resplendent in a gilded shirt, responded with a long hourglass drum. The overlapping drum conversation blended with the sold-out crowd's brain waves as they clapped in fours. Twenty drummers joined, and the beat motor launched into "Sabar," both the song and the carved wooden drums, which brought the piece to polyrhythmic life. Like bare hands trying to catch a cannonball, no microphone could contain such a massive sound. No problem. The barefoot company didn't need mikes: You'd have to be under a beanbag in the Paramount basement not to feel the drums. The long, but far from tiring, finale was exactly that -- a Big Bang. All three dozen drummers played, danced, and sang, creating a very joyful noise. The Master ruled with a fun/firm hand, lightly upbraiding the age- and hue-diverse audience for not pronouncing the anti-war lyrics correctly. But once the crowd was able to sing "ya salaam" properly, it didn't matter, because mouths opened in awe as the living drum machine produced cascading whitecaps of sound. More rhythmically minded fans jumped onstage, while the rest stamped and applauded so that one could literally feel the balcony moving beneath. Rest easy, drummers of the world. Rose & Co. have vindicated y'all.
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