Grammy-winning group Planet Drum unites global percussionists in common rhythm


Members of Planet Drum, from left, Giovanni Hidalgo, Zakir Hussain, Mickey Hart and Sikiru Adepoju. Planet Drum is a musical collective of renowned drummers from different countries and musical backgrounds who are hoping to bring the world together in rhythm and dance. Photo: AP

A Grammy-winning group of the world’s top percussionists has 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, out now, features drummers from very different backgrounds and musical cultures collaborating using technology to adapt their acoustic instruments into new sonic forms.

The collective is made up of the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart, 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,” said Zakir during an interview from Mumbai.

“So that is what makes it possible for rhythm players all over the world to be able to interact and communicate and be able to work together to make music.”

“Drums are a language unto themselves,” said Hart.

The friendship and collaboration between Hart and Hussain started decades ago when Hart was introduced to Zakir via his father, the legendary tabla player Ustad Alla Rakha, who accompanied Ravi Shankar.

Planet Drum’s self-titled first record in 1991 was the first album to win in the Grammy category for best world music, now called best global music album. Their second record earned them another Grammy in 2009.

Hidalgo called Planet Drum an “honour for me to travel the whole world with all of them, because it is amazing when you analyze and you appreciate different cultures, different styles, from different countries – Africa, India, United States, Puerto Rico. It’s amazing and we respect all of them.”

On this third album Hart and Zakir didn’t want the virtuosity of the different players to overwhelm the average listener, instead focusing on creating rhythms that kept up an energy and pace that would get people moving.

Each of them are masters on an instrument, or in a particular style of drumming, such as Adepoju, who was born into a family of drummers who can play specific parts of 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 band as opposed to rhythm masters playing in their own styles,” said Hart.

Zakir said they wanted all those instruments and drumming patterns to come together “crystallised in a simple way where all the organic elements and intricacies of the instruments and the tradition that it represents are projected.”

The music video for their song King Clave, created with the organisation Playing for Change, showcases the members of Planet Drum and over 50 drummers from all over the world.

“Drums form an integral part of Indigenous Cultures around the world ... used through the centuries, not only for festive occasions, but to communicate (sending messages from village to village... even),” said Adepoju in a statement provided to the AP.

“They feature prominently in a broad spectrum of community events (spiritual ceremonies, births, funerals, carnivals, etc), hence their universal appeal.”

But Hart, who has regularly been experimenting with electronic sounds in his solo work, wanted to showcase new ways to use the traditional acoustic instruments by manipulating their sounds electronically in the studio.

Hart calls it “processed percussion,” and he’s able to morph the sound of Zakir’s tabla, for instance, into the sound of bass guitar or strings or even the sound of water drops.

“So it’s electronic, very much so, but most of it comes from an acoustic source that makes it rich and pure,” said Hart.

Zakir said that electronic filtering and manipulation of the drums can even work live. “Instead of coming from a sampler, it’s now coming straight from the instrument,” said Zakir.

Zakir added that Planet Drum’s music is meant to engage people in a communal way, just as the drum in its many forms has always been tied to social and community gatherings.

“It has been since the beginning of time when people would get around the fire and the drums would play and people would dance and chant and do all that stuff,” said Zakir.

“And there’s no reason why we can’t bring that traditional element into the into the modern sonic experience.” - AP

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