Photo by Bill Smith
Courtesy of Hamid Drake
CHAT WITH HAMID DRAKE
no bones about the fact that Hamid Drake is a personal favorite of mine.
But my argument is a substantial one. No other drummer has worked with
as many heavy hitters as Hamid (a list that includes Peter Brotzmann,
Fred Anderson, George Lewis, Don Cherry, Misha Mengelberg, Pharoah Sanders,
Jemeel Moondoc, William Parker, Roy Campbell, Mats Gustafsson, Ken Vandermark).
And no drummer works as much as Hamid. Han Bennink, Paal Nilssen-Love,
and Tony Oxley are killing, but my money is on Hamid. Check out both volumes
of Die Like a Dog's Little Birds Have Fast Hearts or Fred Anderson's Missing
Link classic, or the out of print, but too good to not search the ends
of the Earth, For Don Cherry record with Mats Gustafsson, or the DKV live
sessions Live in Wels & Chicago, 1998. Hamid is the poo. So it is
truly an honor to present to you, Hamid Drake, unedited and in his own
FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
DRAKE: I would say that it was being around the family, being at home
because there was a lot of music in the home and also, my father and Fred
Anderson were really good friends. I think just from being around the
music itself, interest developed and also, when I was young, I wanted
to be in the stage band at school, in grade school. So that was the first
time that I actually started playing within the stage band. I was in the
fourth grade. So it was a combination of that, the stage band situation
and just being around the music, hearing music a lot. Both of my parents
played a lot of records and stuff. It wasn't to any particular type of
music per say, it was just that I wanted to play an instrument.
FJ: Serendipitous that you now play with Fred Anderson.
DRAKE: They were very good friends. Yeah, I have known Fred, mostly all
my life (laughing). I have mentioned this before, but I actually wanted
to play trombone. That's the instrument that I actually wanted to play
in the stage band, but when I was in grade school, the instruments were
allotted out to the kids and so, unfortunately, there weren't any trombones
left. I wanted to be in the stage band and I had to play the only thing
was left to play which was snare drum and the big orchestral bass drum.
There was another guy and we used to switch off. Sometimes he would play
bass drum and I would play snare drum. Sometimes I would play bass drum
and he would play snare drum.
FJ: If only the music program had more funding.
DRAKE: (Laughing) Right, yeah. Yeah, I would be playing trombone. I guess
it was destiny that it worked out that way. There was a drum teacher in
the school and at the same time, I started studying with him. That was
how it worked out. It was something that was, at first, can be viewed
as a mistake, turned into a lifetime pursuit.
FJ: How did your progression develop from drum studies to a devoted learning
of African drums?
DRAKE: Well, actually, it was through a good friend of mine, Adam Rudolph.
We met each other in a drum shop that used to be in Chicago called Frank's
Drum Shop. We met there and he is a hand percussionist and he had been
studying congas and so he asked me if I had any interest in congas and
I said, "No." But I thought it might be a good idea to study
and he told me about a guy that he was studying with who taught in the
drum shop two doors down from Frank's Drum Shop and so I started studying
with him, with this guy that Adam had been studying with. From the interest
in the hand drums and the congas, I started to develop an interest in
other forms of hand drumming, which naturally took me to start to investigate
and appreciate the different styles of music from Africa, first starting
with hand drums. Fortunately, at that time, there was a very good record
shop also in downtown Chicago called Rose's Records and they sold music
from everywhere. At that time, it was albums of course. I started going
to Rose's Records and just looking in the record bins, first for music
from Cuba and South America. Since I was playing congas, that would be
a good place to start. I began buying records of people like Mongo Santamaria.
From there, my interest started to drift across the Atlantic to the continent
itself, to the origin of congas and various types of conga derivative
type hand drums. From there, the interest in African music developed more
and more until in 1977, Adam Rudolph, along with myself and a kora player
from the Gambia named Foday Musa Suso, we started this group called the
Mandingo Griot Society. Suso, he was a Griot and kora player from the
Gambia. From that experience, the interest developed even more and it
became more of a lived experience because now I was actually playing in
situations where there was someone from the continent who also played
a very important instrument from West Africa.
FJ: Most people couldn't tell the difference between a tenor saxophone
and an alto saxophone, how do you explain kora music?
DRAKE: I would say that first of all, the kora is a harp type instrument
that is played in West Africa amongst Mandingo speaking people. Also,
the kora is played by a group of people that are known as Griots. Griots
are the keepers of the oral history of their various people. Griots are
not only amongst Mandingos, but amongst many different tribes in Africa.
Traditionally, the kora, amongst the Mandingo people is played by the
Griots, those who are the holders of the oral tradition. I would let them
know that the kora is a harp sounding type instrument. It is played very
much like the harp where there is two sides, the left hand is playing
one side and the right hand is playing another side.
FJ: Joe Morris and I had a conversation and he spoke about his interest
in kora music.
DRAKE: Yeah, that is true.
FJ: Joe told me that you had one up on him, having had tea in a tent with
Alhaji Bai Konte.
DRAKE: He is going way back. Yeah, he is going way back to the Bear Mountain
Festival (laughing) in upstate New York. That's correct, yeah. In fact,
Alhaji Bai Konte and the kora player, the Griot that we formed Mandingo
Griot Society with Foday Musa Suso, they were very good friends. Alhaji
Bai Konte was his elder of course, but still they were very good friends.
I think the time that Joe was talking about was, this was the early Eighties
when we still had some pretty good festivals going on in the States and
there was this one particular festival called the Bear Mountain Music
Festival, which pretty much centered around various types of folk music
throughout the world. It concentrated a lot on American folk music. Mandingo
Griot Society, we were on the Flying Fish label at the time, which also
concentrated a great deal on American folk music and American bluegrass,
but we happened to be on that label. Through that, we played this music
festival in Bear Mountain and that particular time that Joe was talking
about also was quite a very interesting festival because Mandingo Griot
Society, we did the festival with a slew of folk and bluegrass musicians.
Also, there was a great oud player from the Sudan by the name of Hamza
El-Din and on that particular festival also, the Sun Ra Arkestra played
too. It was quite a festival that particular year. We were all hanging
out together, Alhaji Bai Konte and his adopted son Malamini Jobarteh,
Foday Musa Suso, myself, and Adam Rudolph and the other guys from Mandingo
FJ: As a percussionist who has played with so many other percussionist,
I would like to get your opinion on a few. First, Adam Rudolph.
DRAKE: We're old time friends. We have been knowing each other and playing
music together since we were both fourteen years old. I think Adam, simply
as a percussionist, Adam is one of the greatest percussionists that I
know to tell you the truth. What he has developed on the hand drums, I
think, conceptually and playing wise is truly phenomenal. Also, Adam is
a great composer too. He has composed some very extraordinary music. It
is stuff that when you perform it, you really have to think seriously
about it because it challenges you on many levels, especially from the
rhythmic perspective. Also, Adam is a good friend. Adam and I, we are
musical buddies, but we are also life buddies. We spent a lot of time
together traveling to different parts of the world, traveling to different
parts of this country, playing in various musical situations, very diverse
musical situations with different people. I have a very high regard and
respect for Adam. He is one of those people that I have learned a lot
from and I continually learn from. Whenever we are in a musical situation
together, I feel that I always learn something from Adam and I am very
FJ: Tragically, Adam rarely gets the recognition he deserves because he
plays hand percussion, a lost form in improvised music.
DRAKE: That's right. He is a multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire. Yeah.
FJ: And Michael Zerang.
DRAKE: Michael and I have been playing together for about twelve years
now in various situations, particularly with Peter Brotzmann, but also
in duet situations. For the past twelve years now, we have been doing
in Chicago, we have been hosting these Winter Solstice concerts every
year. The phenomenal thing is that we have done it twelve years consecutively,
like non-stop every winter solstice. For the last twelve years, we have
been doing this and over the years, it has really grown and it brings
out people of diverse backgrounds and people with their children. The
phenomenal thing is that now, for the last several years, we have been
only doing early morning performances starting at six in the morning.
We still get packed houses at six in the morning of people coming to see
this music to see drums and percussions. The nice things about working
with Michael is over the years, we have had time to develop a way of communicating
with each other and really to develop our own duet style not only from
the Winter Solstice concerts that we do, but also from working together
with various ensembles, but particularly with Peter Brotzmann and the
FJ: You also are part of the DKV Trio.
DRAKE: Yeah, I think Ken (Vandermark) and I started working together in
'92. The first project we did together was a project called Standards
Project and it was Ken, he was doing this project with various artists.
It just worked out that the project that Ken and I were doing was with
Kent Kessler. From doing that project, the Standards Project, it felt
like we had a nice connection, the three of us, so DKV, that was actually
the starting point of DKV. Then we started doing gigs together at a few
places around Chicago and we were doing things on a weekly basis and that
kind of formed, those were the situations that helped solidify the musical
relationship of the three of us. DKV is a situation that I really love
and appreciate a lot because the nature of how we play together allows
us to go in any direction. We have the freedom to explore many different
stylistic textures and landscapes. It is not just one particular mode
of expression, but we express a lot of different things within that group
setting. People seem to appreciate it.
FJ: And Fred Anderson.
DRAKE: There is really, oh, I don't have a lot of words to express the
relationship with Fred other than it is definitely, it manifests in many
ways. Sometimes it is the relationship of teacher/apprentice or master/apprentice
type situation and other times, we are, I can't say equals because Fred
is my elder, so he has been around way longer than I have and he has experienced
and seen more life than I have experienced, so I can't say equal, but
I will say, we definitely share a common, we have a shared love for this
music. It is great to see when we travel to different places to see these
young audiences really being so appreciative of Fred and really digging
and understanding what he is doing. It is such a delight to see.
FJ: And Peter Brotzmann, whom you have worked with in both his Tentet
and his Die Like a Dog Quartet.
DRAKE: Yeah, Die Like a Dog, we have the quartet, which was with William
Parker, Peter Brotzmann, and Toshinori Kondo, a trumpet player from Japan
and myself. Right now, we are mostly concentrating on the Die Like a Dog
Trio, which is William Parker, Peter, and myself. The quartet is a really
great group, but actually, it was too expensive sometimes to always bring
Kondo from Japan. He became very busy doing other projects also. Kondo
and I, we still work together in different projects with Bill Laswell
for instance. In Europe, Peter speaks about how Chicago was a new starting
place for him. Also, he speaks about how it is wonderful for him to be
a part of, and to see, and to experience this whole new generation of
people that are becoming very much into his music. Of course, some people
coming to him through knowing of his son, Casper Brotzmann, but also others
from strictly Peter himself, listening to his music, knowing his music,
and having an appreciation for his music. It is really delightful for
him to see also, this whole new group of people, young Americans that
are into his music. It is great to see that.
FJ: You are the most in demand drummer I know of, how often do you get
to sleep in your own bed?
DRAKE: (Laughing) The last couple of years, Fred, I have been gone more
than I have been home, actually. I just returned home from touring with
David Murray because I have been working with David now for the past couple
of years. I leave tomorrow to do a couple of things with David and then
I am off to start a six day tour of Europe with William Parker and Peter
Brotzmann. Then I come home and I will be home for a little while after
that. Lately, I have been gone more than I have been home.
FJ: You are in the studio enough with others, but only have a handful
under your own name.
DRAKE: Well, that is one of my resolutions for this year actually. I am
glad that you mentioned that. That is something that I really want to
concentrate on this year, doing more of that. It has been good for me
to work with a lot of other people and to be in a very supportive role
because that has its advantages, but one of my resolutions for this year
is to begin the process of putting more things out specifically out under
my own name.
FJ: There was Brothers Together (Eremite) with Sabir Mateen.
DRAKE: Yeah, with Sabir. He is great. Sabir, he is a great musician, a
great artist. I had heard Sabir play quite often from going to New York
and everything, but playing with him was a whole other experience. I think
he is great.
FJ: What are the various nuances between drums and frame drums?
DRAKE: First of all, let me say that all drums are primarily string instruments
(laughing) because historically, the skins for all drums was made from
some animal part, some goat or cow or deer. Also, historically, in the
past, all strings were also made from some animal part. So drums really,
a drum head is really a large expanded string that is draped over something
just as strings in the past were gut or goat skin that was draped over
a pole. The frame drum is probably one of the oldest drums in the world.
We see it in all the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, old Greek statues
of people playing frame drums. It is basically a wooden hoop with a large
stretched string or skin draped over it. So basically, it is a string
instrument also. The frame drum is a type of, musicologists call it menbranophones.
The frame drum is one of the oldest drums in existence. The only difference
between frame drums and your modern, standard drum kit is that the modern,
standard drum kit is played with the sticks. Traditionally, most frame
drums with the exception of a few are played with the hands, skin on skin.
There are some cultures that do play frame drums with sticks, primarily
the Celtic culture from Britain. Some Native American cultures play the
frame drum with a stick or a mallet. Frame drum is just a type of, one
of the many varieties of drums that we find in existence today. Another
unique quality of the frame drum is usually when people play the frame
drum, they sing also. It is the drum that is easy to sing with. It is
the same with congas. Very seldom do you see players of the drumset singing
as they play. That doesn't seem to be a part of the tradition of drumset
FJ: Art Blakey is not breaking out in song on his Blue Note sessions.
DRAKE: Right. It has always been part of the tradition of frame drumming
to sing as one plays and also with other types of hand drums too, the
conga and stiff like that.
FJ: Have you reached the mountaintop?
DRAKE: Oh, no. Definitely, I don't think I have reached it and I can't
say when that might be. I think we are always experiencing hills and valleys.
Definitely, I haven't reached it and I hope I never reach it (laughing).
I always want to have room for more growth and development.
FJ: You are certainly on the hill.
DRAKE: Thank you, Fred.
Fred Jung is the Editor-In-Chief and won the Daytona 500 in a rain delay.
Comments? Email Him