Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: 4th Annual International Body Music Festival

Last weekend, I attended my first International Body Music Festival in SF. It's a almost a week full of workshops and performances from artists around the world, and run by Keith Terry, musician and body percussionist extraordinaire.

Last year they held it in Brazil, but the year before it was during our annual retreat. I had to miss SFTD's International Taiko Festival to go this time, but it wasn't much of a contest for me. I see taiko all the time but body percussion is something I'm really curious to learn more about.

It was sort of like the NATC, but not as intense or compact. Although there were workshops and performances throughout the week, I only experienced one day - Saturday - from morning until late night. What follows is an accounting of my experiences, which might be boring to some of my readers, but this blog is also for me! :)

There were eight possible workshops: four time slots of 75 minutes each, and two possible worshops per slot. The first session had the workshop I was really jazzed about. The Stepping group Molodi started off getting us in a big circle for some call-and-repeat off of one of the members, then moved into learning some interlocking patterns. I found the material easy enough for me to get quickly and it was the most fun I had across all the workshops. The energy and personality of the group was infectious, keeping the workshop abuzz and a lot of fun.

Second workshop was from Korpu Kantu, a Greek group with an Italian leader. (Not sure if he was the leader, but he led the workshop.) For me, the learning curve for this workshop was like a 45-degree line that sometimes pointed straight up! We focused on an 11/8 rhythm, which is so not intuitive to my brain. The first pattern we did used clapping and stepping, which I was able to get ok, but the second pattern was all hands (clapping, snapping, chest hitting) and without my body to connect the movements, I kept losing the sequence. I would get it at times, but then they had us walk around and interact and I had to stop moving just to have a chance at the sequence. After that we took the first pattern and turned it from 11/8 to 12/8, which went ok...until they sped it up to a high speed where I lost it again. Although I found parts of the workshop frustrating, it was more because of the pacing than the instruction. I know if I work on the patterns, I'll understand them better. But still...11? 11 sucks. Heh.

Third workshop was by KeKeÇa, a Turkish group. The difficulty here was extremely low and the pace really slow, but their style and personalities made everything a lot of fun. Their style tends towards the slower side of rhythm which at first seems too simple but allows for a lot of character to emerge and a layers of complexity. We spent time on simple patterns in three, four, and five. We split into groups and were asked to pick a 3-syllable word/phrase to use in our pattern, and the KeKeÇa member in my group liked my "Got Taiko?" shirt and used that as our phrase. Ha! This was an interesting workshop that challenged my perception of rhythm - by taking things much slower - but also kept me highly entertained through the members themselves and the humor throughout.

The last workshop was run by Sandy Silva, who reminded me a lot of PJ in her style of teaching. She had us all sit down and tell our names, backgrounds, and what we wanted to get out of the workshop. I must have missed out on where the workshop descriptions were posted; I picked workshops based on the bios/videos of the teachers and the title of the workshop. This workshop was directed at educators and teachers, so I think I might have learned more in the other workshop, but I appreciated how Sandy taught her workshop. Although the patterns themselves were pretty simple (three patterns with singing on top), since I'm still really new to the world of body percussion, it was good to get a sense of different styles and options.

A long dinner break later, the concert was held. I got a seat center row 4, two leaps away from the stage. I'll summarize the acts as best as I can remember (not quite in order):

- Danny "Slapjazz" Barber did hambone as the opening act, and made me wish I could have taken his workshop as well! He showed some real mastery of the art and had such a great style that even just sitting in a chair, his presence filled the stage.
- Keith Terry did a solo performance as he usually does, and is always such an entertainer. I've seen him in action maybe a dozen times and although I recognize stylistic things he likes to do, I really like how he does them! To me he embodies what I really love about body percussion.
- There was a beatbox solo, which was the first time I've ever seen beatboxing live. It seems like something I could enjoy doing, but he was clearly damned good at it!
- Slamdance, Keith's current group, did a long multi-part performance full of shapes, rhythms, and a cappella vocals. Although interlocking polyrhythms were featured, I really appreciated the group movements and how they used the space of the stage while doing all the other stuff.
- Cambuyón is a group from the Canary Islands and had three of their members in this show, each member specializing in drumming, dancing, or singing. The vocal component was interesting, simulating musical instruments amongst the rest of the body percussion.
- There was a commission for this show, performed by three artists (and at times an accompanying musician/percussionist). It was to feature three different foot percussion/dance styles through several pieces, and did a good job but my critical eye (and ear) did catch a few mistakes! I found myself really liking the addition of the Québécois singer/percussionist, probably because it was completely new to me.
KeKeÇa performed a few pieces but I found myself wanting something faster at times. It was interesting, however, to recognize that feeling in myself and tell myself to take in the experience. In the end I found that I really did enjoy their performance and am glad they were able to get me to appreciate a very different style!
- The final group was Çudamani, doing Indonesian Kecak and quite a bit more. I expected it to be "just" Kecak and variations, but since I don't know much about it to begin with, I had no idea what they would do. They combined Kecak, body percussion, and choreography with a very genuine, playful energy that lit up the stage and the audience.

So what do I take away from all this? I want to explore what sorts of body percussion can be incorporated into taiko, even if it turns out not to be something the group can/would do. I also want to look more into Stepping for my own purposes. The festival goes to Istanbul next year so I'll have to wait until 2013, but I really want to go again!

If you can check out any of these artists or the festival sometime, I have nothing but the highest recommendations for them all. A taiko player could learn a lot from just watching this stuff, let alone taking workshops: how to feel rhythms, how to move your body, interlocking patterns, odd time signatures, interpreting rhythm through movement, etc.

So yeah, I liked it. :)

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