Sunday, October 5, 2014

Festival of the Drum

I received an invitation from Tony Chavarria, Curator of Ethnology at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC) in Santa Fe.  It was for the “Festival of The Drum”.  He had arranged for 10 different drum groups to come to Santa Fe to play on Milner Plaza on Museum Hill.  It coincided with a show within the museum called “Heartbeat: Music of the Native Southwest”  “Festival of the Drum” was an event with a far larger cultural range, however.

The Master of Ceremonies was a member of MIAC’s Advisory Council, Angelo Joachin, Jr. a member of the Tohono O’odam Nation in southern Arizona, said it was a celebration of the differences and so it was.  There were demonstrations of Native American music and dance as well as representations from Africa, Scotland and Japan.

For Native America there was the Southern Red Drum Group led by Myron Garcia from Santa Domingo Pueblo with one large base drum.  There were two drummers and it took them both to carry their drum on and off the plaza.  The closing was also Native American with J .R. TeCube of the Jicarilla Apache Nation singing a song he had written for a film he had been asked to work on.  The bookends of Native American music were most appropriate for the day.

One of the best events was the Kya’na Dance group with Daryl Shack from Zuni and his family.  While he sang with his father Bobby Shack who had given the opening blessing for the event and another friend: his son, niece and nephew danced.   The boys were each 5 years old and the girl was 10.  It was not just that they were adorable, they could really dance and follow the musical instructions precisely.  They did several performances during the day and each was a great crowd pleaser.

Probably the most exciting performance that got everybody into the act was Ehren Natay and the break-dancers.  I half jokingly said to Penelope that they rival the break-dancers in the 42nd Street subway station in New York City, but they belong to a different tribe.  Then Natay’s group did a couple of things that surpassed anything I have ever seen.  Again there was a child of 4  or 5 who actually walked on his head and hands and did other great stunts but it was his mentor (I believe it was the little one’s brother) who was an amazing break-dancer.  For the finale he donned a khaki helmet and spun like a top on his head.  That was worthy of the large round of applause from the crowd surrounding the dancers.

The groups representing other cultures were not necessarily all foreigners, or at least the majority weren’t, but they were interested in the culture and either in an informal or formalized way learned from the leader of their group.

The first was Agalu West African Drummers led by Akkem Ayanniyi.  The beat was so intoxicating that there were many in the crowd who could not stop moving to the music, sometimes in what looked to me as a legitimate African dance.  Those of us who did not dance joined by clapping our hands.

Bushido Kenkyukai Taiko Drummers performing in the Japanese discipline, were led by Anita Lee Gallegos who has a proper school.  The members of her group had all been with her from 4 months to 5 years.  After they were done with their performance they invited members of the audience to come play with them.  The amazing thing was that within a very few minutes the amateurs sounded quite good, considering their total lack of training, though one woman, I suspect, had played in her own right at one time.

The High Desert Pipes and Drums – Scottish Pipe Band was quite different from everything else.  The bagpipes and drums totally complement each other in yet another way that can get under your skin.  They came onto the plaza playing and it was rather stirring.  Their drums sound quite different from all the others.  They have double snares so they can sound like a flock of birds.  I actually saw birds flying above the museum as the drums were playing and wasn’t sure which I was hearing.  It was yet another stirring experience of the day.

In between the performances I took a look at the “Heartbeat” exhibition inside MIAC.  It was a small show in one gallery of the museum, the subject being restricted to Native music of the Southwest.   The main instruments are the drum, the rattle and the flute.  By far the most beautiful is the flute.  Robert Mirabel, a renowned flautist made his own flute and stand which MIAC acquired in 2004.

Photo credit: Blair Clark

Though perforce I missed some of the performances I found the day was a total delight and I certainly hope that it will become an annual event.

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