Kíla at the National Stadium ..
February 06, 2023
Playing with a drum kit in a large Trad band is controversial enough and here I explain the approach of the rhythm section by doing a video analysis of 5 Kíla tracks and the rhythmic influences we take from around the world.
Home from home for Kíla...The National Stadium. Please don't modernise it!
This sold-out gig we did at the National Stadium last week was part of the 'Tradfest' and we had an 8-piece brass band playing with us. The venue is, for me, one of the few examples of experiencing something akin to experiencing Old Dublin from times past. It’s a soulful place, a place where great boxing contests and great concerts have happened over the years. You can feel it in the ghostly stain of blood, sweat and tears, of sticky gumshields, worn ropes, plastic seats, and red metal barrier bars. It’s got a real 1960’s feel and has so many ‘characters’ working there from families that have been there for generations, and that are the lifeblood, wit and soul of the place. It’s a real treasure of a venue that we are blessed to play in for our annual Feile Kila.
Kíla, as you might know, is an 8-piece polyphonic groove band that has its heart in traditional music. Fiddle, pipes and flute form the frontline melodic section, which is underpinned rhythmically by a bodhran, a kit of drums, darbuka, bass, bouzouki/electric guitar, and various percussive ‘toys’. My favourite trad band, The Bothy Band, got a lot of flak in the 1970’s for not being traditional enough, and Kila has travelled a lot further again from what is considered traditional. The drum kit has been generally a big ‘no-no’ for trad. I started playing trad with what is considered the first Djembe drum brought into Ireland from The Gambia (by Frodo, Rollerskate Skinny’s manager) a long time ago. I loved all the rhythmic possibilities within Trad music and tried to fuse the djembe rhythms into the shape of the tunes. I was taught by a bossy Gambian man in Sweden who often scolded me for my poor technique. But it taught me to respect rhythms that, going back 1000’s of years, have been a communicative device for these tribes and villages. They represent a language. And each rhythm has a meaning; like a call for the rain in harvest time, or a rhythm for an initiation ceremony, or a fight or a wedding. In these rhythm ensembles you usually have different drums and metal sounds and shakers with different tones or voices. It encouraged me to try to be more percussive and ‘conversational’ at the kit later and to try to think of it as representing 3 or more of these percussion instruments instead of approaching it like a rock kit. For example, in Kila, I rarely play snare on the 2 and 4 or anything straight like that. I have low, mid, and high tones to play with, but the rule book is thrown out. The idea is to play in circles, not squares. This is a very New Orleans concept which the legendary Johnny Vidacovich speaks about (2.12 in this video). It makes sense to me as drums and cymbals are circular! And I take influences anywhere from Techno to New Orleans drummers to Cameroonian Polyrhythms.
*I set up 2 cameras for the soundcheck and here are the videos of a selection of percussive drum kit approaches to Kila’s music.
1. ‘Firbolg’. This is a middle eastern style tune and the rhythm is like ‘Fellahi', one of the Darbuka/Riq patterns I learned from a Hossam Ramzy video tape. The origin of the term Darbuka probably lies in the Arabic word "daraba" ("to strike"). I’ll never forget seeing Page And Plant on TV with an Egyptian Orchestra and being mesmerised by the sound and exotic flavours it added.
Here is a short clip from the full video If you want to see the 15 minute video in full please sign up to my Patreon.
2. ‘Pota Oir’
This tune has a March rhythm followed by a 6/8 jig. I learned about African 'Gnawa' 6/8 drum kit rhythms from my dear friend Willie Walsh, who now lives in the South of France but studied drumming in The Conservatoire in Marseille, and has worked with a lot of African Rhythms. He came into the college one day to show how the rhythm is played and he then emerged from the drums singing the rhythm and danced like an African lady to show us the authentic movement inherent in the rhythm! He also showed me the ‘African Island Rhythms’ where the first 2 notes of the triplet are prominent, unlike the blues shuffle where the first and third triplet are the main notes. So, my hi hat and ride patterns in this jig are dominated by the scary and usually avoided ‘middle triplet’! In this clip, I eventually experiment with a polyrhythm from Cameroon, between the tom and snare, while the others stay in 6/8 mode.
3. ‘Disco pigs’
This tune has a kind of backwards Afrobeat kit groove inspired by Fela Kuti and his unique drummer Tony Allen. Tony Allen is one of the few drummers in the world that invented a style all by themselves. He had a light funky feel based on the 'clave' pulse with ‘doubles’ expressed both on the snare and the bass drum in steady hypnotic rhythms. He also had what we call ‘slippery’ hi hats! These Afrobeat rhythms can often start with a snare on beat one, which is an exciting alternative to rock n roll. The bass and bass drum here in the Kila track form a kind of ‘anti-rhumba’ feel. The bodhran itself is also purposefully backwards in its approach in this track. And so the dancer in the audience isn’t sure whether they are on the downbeat or the upbeat. And probably don't care!
4. ‘The Cross Dresser/Butterfly’
This tune was born from a soundcheck, as we don’t have time to rehearse much these days. A lot of ideas come from jamming before a gig. I usually record these ideas on my phone and send around the best of them in case anyone wants to develop them. One such idea called ‘The Cross Dresser/Butterfly’ became a song and video which I made mostly from tour footage in Russia. The rhythmic approach on the drum set is a ‘cross sticking’ technique that I learned from the very African influenced African American jazz drummer Art Blakey. Your arms go under and over each other within the pattern as the sticks travel between snare and floor tom. If you want to see the 15 minute video in full please sign up to my Patreon.
*This is a link to a separate music video I made for this uplifting track which is supposed to represent a freedom and a floating around from scene to scene, the butterfly finally arriving to, and inspiring love.
This is a Middle Eastern type melody inspired by the famous Polish singer Kayah. We took one of the melodic ideas from a co-write with her. The drums are purposely slow and heavy and straight initially to allow double time percussion on top. Then there is a contrasting approach in the 7/8 section where I play an ‘on/off’ poly conversation between the ride and the hi hats while keeping the 7/8 bass drum snare motif. The extra 2/4 ‘on/off’ pulse on the cymbals in this complex kit rhythm is to help smoothen out what can often be seen as ‘ungroovy’ odd time signatures. Oriental dancing, and indeed the connection with all kinds of dancing would be central to how the rhythms evolve. If you want to see the 15 minute video in full please sign up to my Patreon.
*This is another separate music video I made for 'Yaka'. This war themed track which is supposed to represent the different ways men and women express their emotions (war vs dance), and the futility and backwards, destructive nature of war.