I had an interesting experience yesterday at school. The band was setting up for a pep rally outside my room and the kid on the drum kit was laying down the rhythm for the spirit song, a standard rock rhythm.
She had been in my study hall last year and she was just warming up, so I picked up a couple of sticks and walked over to a snare and laid down a cross-rhythm, simple in structure but difficult in placement. The band director came around the corner and I joked that it was a kid doing it, not me, and walked into my room.
Later, the band director said my playing made him think about getting a faculty band together. I asked when he had heard me play and he said, “Just then.”
To me, that shows the power of cross-rhythms. I just googled that term, cross rhythms, and discovered that Olatunji’s Drums of Passions was a seminal event in jazz and rock history. I bought all of his albums as soon as they came out and bought all the traditional Yoruba music I could find.
Listening to a few people like Olatunji, traditional African music and traditional and popular Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian music helped develop a sense of the music over many years. Some rhythms I can work into a piece just fine, other rhythms I can’t get for the life of me. One time I encountered a couple of Africans playing drums on a stoop and next to them was an African-American failing to integrate his rhythm to theirs. They were getting frustrated with him but I saw how difficult placing this rhythm amid theirs was. I could do it and ostentatiously pounded out the rhythm on top of a pilaster but never caught his eye. I debated taking the drum from him, which the Africans would have appreciated as a kind of “calling out”, but I wouldn’t do that to somebody.
One huge problem I have is consistency. I may play a rhythm fine but have difficulty maintaining it just as I played it. Another problem is the way I hit the drum head, without subtlety or force.
I’m working on all this. One salvation for me is that I found traditional drummers don’t count either; I could never understand counting as a way of playing rhythms.