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Brian Fleming interviewed by The Irish Music Magazine.

<< 1. When were De Jimbé formed and what were the circumstances of its
formation?

De jimbé played our first gig in the grounds of the Museum of modern Art in
Kilmainham in Dublin in 1995. At the time, the concept of ensemble drumming
was very new in Ireland and we were a percussion only group. The only other
bands at the time playing only drums were samba bands. To this day, people in
Ireland often use the word 'samba' for any type of ensemble drumming. In fact
samba is just one type of drumming, from Brazil.


The original members were students of mine and other drummers who were
interested in the idea of drummers playing together and, in particular,
exploring the traditions of the West African 'djembe' drum and the drums
which accompany it. The original concept was for a kind of drumming
collective that would act as a resource for other drummers and community arts
projects, a kind of anorack club for drum nerds.


<< 2. Are there similarities between De Jimbé and the Afro Celt Sound System or are both acts in your mind two completely unrelated outfits?

I think there are similarities, not on all tracks but definitely some tracks
on our cd and some on theirs could be said to be in the same genre. In terms
of being related, I dont think that either band could be said to have
influenced the other. The fact that the Afro Celts have had such success has
always given me hope, though, that the mix of African and Irish music can
work and that there are people who want to hear it. I've played quite a bit
with Emer Mayock ( current piper with Afro Celts) in the past and she even
did a few gigs with De jimbé. Iarla O LIonard also helped me out with some
tracks in the beginning.


I like listening to the Afro Celts. I think the biggest difference is
probably that we tend to use a bit more percussion and chase the live feel,
even in our recordings, whereas the Afro Celts make more use of programmed
sounds and loops and generally get a more smooth, dance floor feel.


<< 3. Has the multi cultural mix within the band lead to an increased awareness and appreciation of each other's musical culture?

Definitely. I think Bisi has given us confidence to play arround and groove
with the Afrian rhythms. On the other side, Bisi has become familiar enough
with the feel of Irish music and the structures of the tunes that he even
deps for me sometimes with the traditional group Whirligig.
The most amazing thing for me is that a lot of the time Bisi's idea for a
piece will often be the exact opposite to what I was thinking and nearly
always works.


<< 4. Tell me about some of the festivals and events both in Ireland and outside that De Jimbé has taken part in ?

Our first big festival outside Ireland was in Quimper in Brittany, 1996, I
think. We went over with Anuna ant ended up playing in the big finale with
Davy Spillane, Cooney and Begley, we were thrilled. The same year, we did the
Late Late show. We sounded awful but it was a great day out for the mammys,
meeting Gaybo and being on the telly and all..
Arround that time, we also went to Havana, Cuba at the invitation of the
Percuba international percussion festival. I saw the best drummers I've seen
in my life there, and lots of them. We were so impressed,even brought our
teacher, Cuco, home with us. Now he's married, has a kid and teaches Cuban
percussion in Dublin. Two tracks on the cd were directly inspired by that
trip.

We were also invited to play at the Roots festival in Gambia. That was a very
interesting trip. We learned a lot about drumming but we also saw black
supremecists and the Nation of Islam in action. The Gambians themselves
enjoyed us playing, I think it was both highly amusing and slightly
flattering for them to see 'toubabs' go to such lenghts to try and learn
about their culture. The anti white racists, who were for the most part mixed
race people from first world countries, visiting Africa for the first time,
hated us. It was important for me to learn that different races playing music
together is very threatening to people who want to breed hatred between
races. When you want to fight a war, you have to believe everyone on the
other side is bad and if a few black people and a few white people find they
can have a lot of fun and can achieve a lot together, this does not help the
war effort at all.

In 1999, I got a couple of friends of mine to build me the biggest drum in
the world. Its in the Guinness book of World Records 2001 on page 12. I
Directed a big show with 50 musicians, centered arround De jimbé as the 'ESB
Millennium Drum Carnival'. The Drum was designed to resemble a bodhran on one
side and a lambeg on the other to represent harmony between the prodestant
and catholic communities in Ireland in the new Millennium. We toured the show
all over Ireland, North and South. THe high point was when we did the bodhran
and lambeg dual on stage in front of the City Hall in Belfast. The lads were
shitting themselves but the crowd erupted into applause.
The Drum and De jimbé were subsequently invited to be the focal point of the
ceremony to end the week of drumming for racial tolerance at Expo 2000 in
Hanover. That was absolutely amazing. We shared the stage with Kila which was
a great combination, then drummers from every country under the sun joined us
on stage, completely spontaneously. It was the most beautiful chaos you ever
saw. I think the organisers were dumbfounded.
We were invited to Korea twice on foot of our appearance at Expo. Thats
another whole other world. Its a bit like stepping on to the set of
'Bladerunner.' I'd like to go out there again when the world cup is on.


<< 5. Did the album take long to record and mix?

6 years or about 3 months, depending on your point of view. Its been a long
time coming and there's been a few half arse attempts along the way. When we
finally had the right line up, material and the right studio, it all actually
came together pretty quickly. We recorded the backbone of most of the pieces
live in studio for the right feel. This, and the advantage of having an
absolute genius engineer (Bobby Boughton) moves things along quite fast. We
were very lucky to hfind partners and mentors in 'Malgamu Music'


<< 6. Is the selection of material on the album typical of De Jimbé's live show or is there a substantial difference for you between the album and the live show?

Good question. I think the fact that we did so much live recording in the
studio definitely helps keep the feel that people enjoy in our music. We had
all this technology and 'The Wiz' (Bobby) at our disposal but instead of
using it to make everything sound perfect, we used it to generate atmosphere
and to make it easier to play our best in the studio, not necessarily to play
'perfectectly'.

We do play most of these tracks in our live shows but we play them a bit
differently each time. Sometimes totally differently. Theres also things we
do live that just dont translate that well to cd. For example, there's a solo
bodhran piece I do called' The Day The Appaches Rode in To Vietnam' which is
mad to watch because people cant believe all these sounds of helicopters,
bombs, horses, classical music etc. are coming from the bodhran. If you put
it on cd, people just DON'T believe they're coming from the bodhran because
they can't watch you do it.

<<7. Is Muireann, Nicky McAulife's daughter? am awaiting reply from Kerry. Her Da plays fiddle and she grew up on Cape Clear and the Aran Islands, would that be him? I think they live in Dun Chaoin now, or somewhere near Dingle.

<<8. Tell me about the trip to Senegal how did that happen? are RTE planning to do something on De Jimbé if they are sending a camera crew with you?

Imp, which are the production company who film Podge and Rodge are trying to
send a crew over with us, pending funding. Its going to be an amazing story
so I hope it gets documented. I've been invited to bring the group out to
Dakar in Senegal to play, together with a Senegalese group called the Freres
Guisees at a concert to mark 25 years of Irish Volunteers in West Africa in
the International year of the Volunteer.

Apart from the obvious reverse 'Bringing it all back Home' angle, where
Paddys who learned a little about African culture are bringing they're new
fusion music back to Africa, there are a few coincidences. Firstly, this
comes at a time when APSO are scaling back their work in West Africa so this
is unlikely to be repeated and secondly, when I first went to Afrrica in
1995, I used to jam with the Freres Guisees in a bar in Dakar. Now they play
at festivals around the world and own their own bar in Dakar. I guess I've
moved on a bit too so it will be really interesting to meet up again.

<< 9. What native musicans have you brought to Ireland as a result of your trips abroad ?

Cuco Corso, the Cuban percussionist I mentioned earlier has become quite an
important part of the Irish music scene now. He plays for orchestras,
organises the big ESB anual Cuban Music Festival, teaches percussion in
Waltons and has recorded with the Chieftans.

IN 1996, I brought 3 Africans from Casamance in southern Senegal. At the time
there wasnt nearly so many black people in Ireland and they wore their
traditional costume most of the time. It was a crazy time. When we went to
north Donegal, they were mobbed by school kids who had never seen a black man before, hard to believe now, only 5 years on. The funniest thing (and there
were many) was going into the lift in the music centre. First they wouldnt go
in because they couldnt see why I wanted to cram into such a tiny room with
so many drums. Then when I told them to go back out the same door we'd just
come in, they nearly lost their reason. They didnt realise we'd just
travelled down one floor. I think we went up and down the 3 floors a couple
of times while I tried to explain the concept of vertical transport. I think
there's a scene just like it in Willie Wonka's chocolate Factory.
I also brought the big New Zealander who plays the Big Drum to Ireland. His
name is Ken Samson, we've had some great laughs together. He's living here
now and has started his own tribute band to De jimbé called WAP.

<<10. Do you think the album captures what De Jimbé are about or do you think the show is best experienced live?

That would depend on which I was trying to sell you at the time. Actually,
I'll have to let you in on a secret. After you make a cd, you cant enjoy
listening to it for a year or so. Its not that you dont like it, its just you
cant relax to it any more. Its a bit annoying, but it happens to everyone.
Furthermore, I've never been to see De jimbé live so I'm not really the best
person to ask.
We are very much a live band. We use lots of theatrics; costumes, trapeze,
fighting warriors, stilts, etc but the cd also has some of that humour and
drama about it.. Its also got all our favourite guests at once and has the
added advantage of being a repeatable phenomenon that you can transport in
your pocket.

 
© De Jimbe & Padraic Lavin 2001. Hosted by ForumCo