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The songs played by Kandombe, a Boulder-based percussion ensemble, represent musical freedom in its truest sense. The performers believe their music cannot be contained or categorized, because the sounds they make are not modeled after various styles or genres. Rather, they derive from the basic rhythms of life.
"We put a lot of time into it," points out Felipe Brun, Kandombe's originator. "We start rehearsing sometimes around four in the afternoon and go until one at night, three times a week. And I never hesitate or wonder about whether the things we do are going to be effective, because the things we do are very primal. Rhythm and drums were around before there was even a basic understanding of music. Some guy probably killed a dinosaur and started beating the ground because he was so happy. That's why I believe if you can patch into that fundamental instinct, you can reach anybody."
This brand of positivity has taken Brun a great distance in a very short period; he moved with his wife, Maggie, from New York City to Boulder less than a year ago to teach African and Latin polyrhythms at the Naropa Institute. And for much of that time, he's been working to gain for the nine-month-old Kandombe the exposure he believes it deserves. "I've done this type of project before--three or four other times in New York and Massachusetts," he divulges. "I decided to do it again even though it is very hard to put a whole group of people together and work on spec. Something may happen with it, but nobody knows. You've got to sell that belief to the people who join in before you can take it to anyone else. And it is very hard to convince them to work in something that is not there yet."
The players Brun has enlisted thus far include drummers Kem Stralka and Josh Neil, keyboardist Paul Murphey and Brazilian percussionist Sidney Silva, who was a former colleague of Brun's in New York. Together with frequent guest drummer Raoul Rossiter, roadie/assistant manager Dan Ischay and lighting technician/self-described "computer geek" Doug Pintar, these artists serve as a foundation for the growing outfit. But Brun continues to look for more collaborators. "We're still negotiating our lineup," he concedes. "We've got the young ones in the band, where they learn the social development. But you know, we still don't have elders in the band, because I couldn't find them yet, and I don't have sisters in the band, because I haven't found them, either. So we don't have the feminine energy that we do need to represent a whole social environment. We have a part of it." Recently, this last problem was solved: A new female member, Raven Tekwe, just came aboard.
The assortment of instruments used by Kandombe's present membership would make most worldbeaters' mouths water. The list includes trap drums, keyboards, marimbas, congas, timbales, cowbells, snare drums, wood blocks and gongs, as well as lesser-known items such as the Brazilian birinbow and surdo, tamborim, agogo, African wooden slot boxes, gan kogui, ganza shakers, quixa, djembe and the singing pipe (the latter is actually a creative name for a vacuum-cleaner hose). When all of these devices are played in tandem, the result is a collective sound marked by high energy, vitality and sensuality--a rare and precious combination.
Brun says it takes more than musical mastery to play in his cooperative. "I don't want this to sound like some new-age thing--you know, `turban time' or anything. It's just the facts of how we approach it. We meditate before we start the sessions; whether it's a rehearsal, an audition or even a business meeting, we still meditate before. If we don't all calm down and come to a very centered place, we're not able to deliver as good as we could if we are centered."
"If it's right for a musician to be in the band, then it's also right for the band to have the musician," adds Maggie Brun, a nonplayer who still manages to make her presence in Kandombe felt. "But there's also levels of ability that are necessary, too. There have been some young musicians who might have liked to be in the band, but they didn't have the level of musicianship needed. And that wouldn't exactly be fair to them, because we'd expect things of them that they would not be up to. Nobody wants to be put in that type of situation. Also, lots of people have shown great interest and wanted to play, but they had other agendas, other life plans to work through, and they couldn't spare the time to become a part of this."
Her husband agrees that commitment is a requirement for Kandombe. "Polyrhythms are something that need more than one person to appear. Actually, it is like a communion, or teamwork in a basketball game. To get a group of people into the same place where they can share the making of the music as a whole, it's a psychological process that is very tedious. It's like a family. But once in a while, you get that magical return when you play. Something happens--that moment of enlightenment--that makes it all worthwhile. If it wasn't for that, this is hell.