Friday, May 19, 2006

Groove is in the heart

For years my best friend has goaded me whenever I say to him that "white men can't drum".

I am not being racist and I mean it in good humour but what I am getting at is my half baked theory that some people grow up with a more rhythmic background than others.

As a child I was struck by the fact that many Sri Lankans will happily carve out a pretty funky rhythm on a table top with their bare hands. It is a common sight to see a Sri Lankan pounding out a baila or Kandyan rhythm with their hands, for no reason other than the sheer joy and fun of it. Everyone in Sri Lanka is an air drummer.

In the UK and Europe we have air guitarists and there really are air guitarist competitions, I kid you not. The days of "Mummy, I want to be an air guitarist when I grow up" are not far away. In Sri Lanka there are air drummers, although real drummers are in good supply too. It's in the blood.

Many African and black American people grow up understanding the tremendous feel of a powerful groove. Some of my all time favourite drummers, John Blackwell Jr, Bernard Purdie and Steve Jordan are black guys who are famed, not for their technical abilities or the way they can play fifteen different drums with one foot, but for the way that they can play a simple groove but make it feel as good and rich as Bill Gates donating every dollar he has ever made to charity and keeping quiet about it.

For many drummers the holy grail of drumming is to play a technically simple groove and make it feel like something very special and all my favourites are the ones who can do it. It doesn't look flashy, and to the non musician it is hardly noticeable, but it's a feel thing. A great groove makes a song feel good. Think of classic James Brown. Next time you listen to one of his songs pay attention to the drums and feel that groove. I guarantee you'll be dancing.

The list of white people who can play a smooth sounding sexy beat is endless. Jeff Porcaro, Billy Ward, Chad Smith, David Garibaldi and more. These guys just have groove running through them (not Jeff Porcaro who is no longer with us).

I just think some people are born with an ability to groove and an appreciation of rhythm, some can learn and develop it and some will never have it, no matter how hard they try.

The photo is of Bernard Purdie, one of the funkiest drummers of all time, one of my heroes. His drumming is a constant inspiration to me. If you get a chance to see or hear him play just do it. You'll leave with a smile on your face and a groove in your heart!

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