Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The BDS Movement and Primal Music

Our collective silence is the playground of despots.

Our collective action is their death knell.

There is more than mere music that happens when you beat a drum and sing a song with others. You break silence. You create together. You build together. You listen to one another. You learn to trust.

And when you trust one another, you can roll up your sleeves in community.

God give us the bravery to work together for good.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Idle No More

Frame drums and a high intention. Perhaps among the most galvanizing forces in the created world.

Don't believe me?

The white slave owners of the Americas knew this. They would let their African charges play anything they wanted, but not the drum.

I only just learned about Idle No More, an advocacy group for indigenous peoples everywhere. They are capturing the hearts and spirits of local communities with their spontaneous, and perhaps even confrontational, round dances. Check them out taking over the Mall of America back in 2012:

May we be led through the permissions granted us by the Almighty Creator toward the pursuit of justice and equity for all people.

In peace.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Primal Music Family Drum 11/23

We’ve got Primal Music Monday coming up in a couple of days. The second Monday of every month. It’s for men only and you can read about that here.

The real news is that sansfife and the good people at Zawiya Perspective are gearing up to host our first ever Family Drum on Sunday, November 23rd from 5-7 pm, insha Allah.

There is certainly precedent for what is being proposed. Elements of the primal music community circle can be seen in social gatherings around the world.

I don’t think we are making anything up so much as drawing from existing traditions to create a compelling whole that is new perhaps only at the level of intention.

And that intention is to smash current musical paradigms that leave us silenced. And to have fun and maybe learn something while doing it.

Our community circle is exactly that. A circle. Or rather three concentric circles that help us to identify and strengthen complimentary energies. More on that in a second.

I just want to mention a few remarkable things about circles. A circle symbolizes unachievable perfection. We can intuit from a circle that such perfection exists, but it is just outside our reach, for “there is no such thing as a perfect circle.”

A circle has no beginning and no ending. A circle is infinite. All points along the arc of a circle are equidistant from the center. Taking up our positions in a circle, we are all equal. Our relationship with the Divine is therefore suggested by the circle.

When the community gathers to make primal music, we place our children in the center of the circle. This is where a circle’s energy is most concentrated. This is the place of movement, of spontaneity, and kinetic abandon. The innermost part of the circle is the place of protection and potential. Children are free then to move with their joy, but they are also learning to function as part of the group.

And so our men surround the children. Masculine energy is recognized by its power to limit and contain. The men are a boundary- their proximity to the children is both protective and restrictive. The men’s circle is also the ring of voice. It is the men who carry the melody in primal music, and this is in consideration of the sad reality that many men have lost their way. Would we have a world so steeped in violence, waste, and disparity if the everyman had enough faith in his own voice that he might speak it? Where is that arresting voice of man that cries, “Enough!” to those who perpetuate injustice with terrible impunity? And so it is the men who must sing.

It is the outer ring of women that contains the gathering, as the womb contains the entirety of humankind. Feminine energy is expansive and passionate, and if men have been cut off from their voices, it may also be said that our women have been cut off from their deepest strength. Our mother’s heart is the first rhythm any of us will ever hear, and her drumming in the third circle will focus her limitless power into the primal pulse that carries the community.

A bit flowery, all that. We could just say that the girls play drums, the boys sing, and the kids dance in the mush pot. And that’s true, too, so look at it how you will. But I’d like to suggest that this is ultimately about shifting our ideas around music and entertainment.

We need to move back into that place where music is not mere diversion. There was a time when music was not the tool of distraction and division that it is now. A primal music gathering is about communal participation, civic engagement, and intentional silliness that revives, refreshes, and connects- the absolute antithesis of the contemporary musical experience.

Anyway, this is actually a real-time opportunity to build not just community, but culture, insha Allah. We haven’t done this before, so I’ll be haughty and even call it historic.

It all goes down on Sunday, November 23rd, from 5-7 pm. Bring your family and friends to Zawiya Perspective:

1800 E Garry Ave #101
Santa Ana, CA 92705

Women are encouraged to bring one drum or many. Frame drums are preferred. We’ll have a few loaners, but they are likely to go quick. We’ll cover some basic drum strokes and within minutes you’ll sound like rolling thunder. You’ll love it.

Men are encouraged to be bold. A few of us will sing loudly enough that nobody will blame you for anything that happens. But I promise that if you allow your voice to connect and resonate with me and the other men, you won’t soon forget the experience, and with God is every success.

If your kids are having fun dancing in the middle of the circle, great. If they are acting like idiots and pounding on people and equipment, they’ll get thrown out. If they don’t feel comfortable being away from a parent, it’s perfectly fine to keep them near you. Later you can all talk about the importance of pushing past what is immediately comfortable.

Tea and light refreshments will be provided, insha Allah.

Wa billahi tawfiq.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Debut EP: what they took

There's not a lot to show for my tinkering with primal music composition over this last year. There was more, but my house was broken into and my laptop was stolen along with several microphones and other assorted recording paraphernalia. I didn't have most of my songs backed up, so those are gone.

But there were three songs that made it onto my SoundClound page. These were supposed to be demos, works in progress that I would continue to fiddle with, probably forever. But without the master files, all I had was my rough stereo mixes.

The burglary forced a decision. I decided to master the songs and release them as is.

Recorded using only frame drum and voice, the EP is called what they took and it's my first release as sansfife. The title is a nod to the burglars, but also to the loss of our collective voices, something I touch on here, here, and here.

Have a listen:

Downloading the EP is free. You will be asked to name your price. You can pop in $0 without offending me. I'll get your email address, so it's even.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Excellent Primer By Rowan Storm

I have a lot of respect for Sister Rowan.

My family and I have sat in on a few of her classes and we always have a great time. She is nurturing, intelligent, worldly, wise, and incredibly talented. She's a wonderful coach and can really bring out the best in people. And her Thinline drums are the best thing going for new drummers or people that want to get in some serious practice time without getting hurt.

Maybe we can one day arrange for a women's frame drum clinic with Rowan at Zawiya Perspective, but until then enjoy this collection of short tutorials.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Cruel Wars

Celtic punk band, The Dreadnoughts, know how to kill a shanty. I've got their version of Randy Dandy-Oh and Old Maui here.

They do it again with this amazing rendition of Cruel Wars. Listen for the bodhran, the Irish frame drum:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Rock Power

My forays into primal music composition invariably turn up rock. I'm not sure what I thought I might come up with with all my banging and hollering. Indigenous people around a fire, pow-wow drums, African polyrhythms, prisoners singing a trench- all of that rattling around in my head and chest, but it all just comes up rock.

A lot of it is in working alone. You can't really sound like a tribe by yourself. And a lot of it is in the composition. Line by line. Hit on a nice rhythm, mumble nonsense, find the hook, vocal patterns coalesce, memories and ruminations find their way into my mouth and I scream.

And it's all rock.

I send songs to a friend of mine. He's an amazing drummer, a wonderful songwriter, and just a really good guy. I'm working on primal music, I tell him. He tells me it sounds like rock.

I send songs to another friend, maybe one of the best singers I've ever heard. "You sound like you need a guitar, a band."

It got to where I was apologizing. I sent another song to another friend, a classically trained singer who grew up to spin records as a DJ before growing up again to stop listening altogether. "I'm sorry," I said. "I know it sounds like rock."

"Don't apologize. It sounds like you."

He's the one I go to when I need clarity, God bless him.

I sound like me. And that doesn't sound like whooping African caterwauling or medieval Arabic chanting or Native American night-shrieks. I came from none of those places. I was born in the 70s, raised on Joan Baez, Peter, Paul, and Mary, a touch of Willie Nelson, and much later, when these things began to matter, Metallica.

It was 1988. I was going on 14 and I heard somebody mention a radio station that they liked. I tuned in and heard music I'd never heard before. Dark and abrasive. It had a forbidden feeling. These people sounded angry. I'd never heard an angry song.

It became a tonic. My parents had recently divorced. I didn't know what made sense or where I belonged, except maybe with these angry people. The first CD I ever bought was Metallica's . . . And Justice for All. I remember playing the opening strains of Blackened for my brother. It was like nothing we'd ever heard. I'm not sure that we liked it, but we were tied to it by a strange gravity.

We went on to buy their other albums. And we met people. Angry, disaffected people. People that smoked cigarettes and drank. They'd been dealt a raw deal. They weren't like all of the smiling, toothy people on billboards and walking through malls. Our new friends shared other songs, other records, and we learned about punk, the early 80s bands that we had missed. And then we fell in love with Minor Threat. Later, Fugazi. To this day, I check up on Ian MacKaye. What's he doing? What's he saying?

And our sense of community grew. We were skateboarding now, rolling around and carving up surfaces made for gentler things, listening to loud, angry people, people that made so much more sense than all of the candy and glitter. But it wasn't enough to listen. We had things we wanted to say. We were angry, too, and we wanted to scream.

Mom took us to a music store. We promised good grades and I got my first electric guitar. My brother got his first bass. Later we found a drummer. We made a lot of noise and called ourselves Fury.

There were other bands, shows, records, and eventually we were signed to a local independent. And it was all rock.

There's nothing else I know. Not like I know rock.

Rock and roll represents the first real fusion of black and white culture. Way down south, white country music came up against black swing, rhythm, and blues. The only people to get it were the kids, on both sides of the color line. Right out of the gate, rock was the voice of youth and rebellion. When rock becomes the status quo, it isn't rock.

Which makes what I do even more rock.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Free to Choose?

I live in America where choice is marketed pretty hard. Here, we are free. We have options. Nobody tells us what to do.

Except maybe the tax collector. Or the police officer. Traffic lights. The boss. The regulatory agencies that govern business. The divorce lawyers that bleed for alimony. The terms and conditions on your blender’s warranty. The academic standards of whatever institution of higher education you happen to find yourself in. The selection at your local dress shop that boxes you in to whatever colors and hemlines the fashionistas have determined to be the rage this season.

And there are other limitations.

We’re only so tall. Our visual acuity is what it is. Can’t seem to hear frequencies much below 20 Hz and not much more than 20,000 Hz. We’ve only got so much money in the bank and the temperature outside doesn’t really care how we feel about it.

And then there’s the whole mortality thing. We get sick, most times without our consent. And no matter how careful we are, there’s always the other guy- the drowsy pilot, the buzzed driver. My life could very easily end at any moment without a whole lot of input from me.

If only we could be free! Like birds!

And then we’d only have to worry about instinctual migratory patterns that carry us potentially thousands of miles to treacherous breeding grounds to lay eggs at exactly the same time every year! But, ah! The wind through our feathers!

Alright, maybe there are some restrictions out there, but it sure seems like we’ve got at least a few choices that are under the semblance of our control. Our attitude, perhaps. The length of our hair, maybe. What we’re going to have for dinner, if we are privileged enough to have that option. Some people don’t.

Life experience should be enough to demonstrate to all but the most dense that virtually everything that comes our way has so much more to do with factors outside our control than we have been conditioned to believe. And that conditioning has everything to do with the marketplace and nothing to do with our well-being.

Restrictions are real. They cannot be avoided and the enlightened person finds contentedness within those restrictions. This involves cultivating a positive attitude and the liberal application of creativity and imagination to our respective situations. We can’t break the rules, but we can make love to them.

We can learn to see that, without restrictions, whether the laws of physics or municipal building codes, we couldn’t have crops, or running water, or buildings that could withstand earthquakes. We can embrace the utility of restriction to promote the security that allows our powerful individual energies to surge without arcing, to warm without burning, to ennoble without effacing.

So much is written by intelligent people suffocating under the perceived burden of imposed constraints. And their response, tragically, is to dismiss the constraints as limiting what would otherwise be their vast potential for authentic expression. They want to be what they want to be and the whole thing sounds fantastically romantic and sensible.

Except that there is no getting around restrictions. You’ll cast one off to find ten more. Concrete and abstract, we are limited at every moment by gravity, traffic, and the opinions of people we care about.

Quit running away, folks. There is no stepping out of the finite, limitary nature of our existence. We are preconditioned by a thousand laws- just a single chemical reaction out of sync and you’re dead or crazy.

I make music using the frame drum and my voice. I have other options, but I choose to embrace these restrictions as one way of practicing acceptance and resignation.

What other choice do I have?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Protest Drumming

There are terrible things happening in Occupied Palestine at the moment, made all the more terrible by the fact that the atrocities committed against her people are only made possible by the taxes that I pay.

That's an issue that needs to be addressed. I'll have that opportunity today, God willing, at a protest scheduled to take place at the Los Angeles Federal Building later this afternoon. I'll brings my drums and I'll bring my voice and I have invited others to do the same.

We've talked for months at our Primal Music gatherings about the various manifestations of communal music. It makes the work day easier. It helps to internalize shared values. And it can embolden us to speak truth to power as a united body.

When Africans were first brought to this country as slaves, they were forbidden to play the drum. The power of the drum to gather and unite was acknowledged and feared. Not much has changed, and so it was with a great sense of validation that I came across this treatise on the resurgence of the drum in contemporary protest.

Among the many exciting points of this article:

Drumming groups are easily organized compared with melodic marching bands. (I've discussed the comparatively divisive nature of melodic instruments here.)
Drums are most powerful when they are played sparingly and with discipline.
Drums have not quite been defined by modern society, and the media will try to fit you into a category they've dealt with before: hippies, Africans, new-agers, Hare Krishnas, men's groupies, or something "tribal" or cult-like.
Police often get agitated by things they don't understand, and they are intimidated by the sonic power that drums wield. (just like the plantation days!)
And my favorite paragraph, on the politics behind the drum set:
Have you ever thought about the origins of the drumset? The drumset is the percussive symbol of capitalist domination. Where once the percussion section united cadres of dedicated individuals to work together for a common rhythm, to communicate, to learn each other's strengths and weakness, and to come to consensus on the beat and the swing. With a drumset, you fire everybody except the most dextrous drummer and eliminate all of that beautiful social interaction. Why? Is the music any better having one person play everything? No. It is all about maximizing profit. The manager reasons, "Why pay five drummers, when I get away with just paying one!"
A man after my own heart!

There are many, many more interesting and enlightening points, and I highly encourage you read the whole thing here.

Today is my opportunity to walk the talk, to test all that I suppose about communal music. Will I find others to play with? Will I find others to sing with? And what will be the outcome of our melodic and rhythmic interactions?

I'm looking forward to finding out!

Enjoy this short clip of some rock-solid protest drumming out of New York:

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Primal Music and Pain

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned some interesting studies that I came across in relation to our work with primal music. And for those of you just now coming along for the ride, primal music is music that we make together with drum and voice. It's "primal" because it is rudimentary, simple, intuitive, and engaging in the way that music should be for its full benefit to be realized.

What benefit?

You can read through some earlier posts to get an idea, for sure, but here's where we start trotting out some research to back up and build on all that has been said. And we'll start with a study that just blew me away.

People making music increase their pain threshold. This is not true for those simply listening to music. It is necessary that one be a part of the process, singing, drumming, or even dancing. All of a sudden, the work song has some real physiology behind it.

Check out this Alan Lomax recording of prisoners at work back in the late 40s:

It seems that in the making of music we release endorphins. In a nutshell, the researchers put a blood pressure cuff on participants and pumped it up until the the subject cried uncle. The researchers noted the reading. Then the various groups, a bunch of drummers, church singers, practicing dancers, and people just passively listening to music at different tempos, were rechecked with the blood pressure cuff after engaging in their particular activity. Those that were participating in the music had a notable increase in their pain threshold. Those that merely listened to music, no matter what kind, had no appreciable change in their ability to tolerate pain.

Make music together, go farther, harder, and longer.

We live in a time when academics with some grant money are the ones to tell us what's going on. I do enjoy the validation that comes from reading their work, but I should get a whole lot more from my own personal experiences.

Learning to trust that experience is a challenge.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Primal Music, Elliot Rodger, and the Hijacking of Women's Advocacy

This whole Elliot Rodger thing has me all shook up. And I'm really surprised at the total lack of nuanced analysis. It's all second amendment crap, hand-wringing around male brutality, and the inadequacies of our legal and mental health systems. There is little talk of male obsolescence or any of the other nasty, unforeseen consequences of a hijacked feminism. Women have made great strides on a lot of fronts, and deservedly so, but my concern is that such gains come at a price that disenfranchised men are beginning to tally up. I am not here to argue for the accuracy of their accounting, only to point out that I think it's happening.

My concern is that Mr. Rodger represents the tip of the iceberg. I sense a simmering resentment toward women, globally, that could get a whole lot uglier.

God protect us.

Let's go back a generation or two to see how this all got started. And, so you know that I'm not making this up, I got a lot of this information from a wonderful 2005 paper written by Hester Eisenstein, Dangerous Liaison? Feminism and Corporate Globalization.

White women in the 50s were bored. They wanted more opportunity in the forms of employment, education, and political participation. These were boom times, after all, and women wanted a piece of the action without having to work through any middlemen. In this case, the obstructive middleman was her family.

Women got together on this and there were grounds for dissatisfaction. Enough noise was made in the name of creating equal opportunities for men and women, particularly in the workplace, that people started paying attention. Although initially grating, as any break with accepted norms will be, it didn't take too long for corporate America to get behind this new feminism in a big way. A larger labor pool meant lower wages and more profits. A woman with money in her pocket did not have to consult her husband on purchases. This in turn increased demand for goods and services. Globalization, with its lopsided trade agreements, exported these ideas to the developing world. Industry was thrilled to have such a cheap and willing supply of third-world women who were equally thrilled to give up the rice paddies for a seat behind a sewing machine. The circle was complete when, with all of those suburban white women advancing in their corporate careers, cheap female labor could be imported from developing countries to take care of the house. The shackles of domesticity had been plated with silver and passed a little further down the economic chain.

Proponents of neoliberalism took full advantage of the increasing desire among women for economic independence. Welfare programs initiated as part of the New Deal were dismantled. Women and children were expected to work rather than receive government handouts that were initially calculated on the basis of familial support. Except there was no more family to support. The divorce rate soared along with the growth of single-parent homes.

The New Imperialists also came to love a strong feminist. Advocates of American imperialism see the world as divided in two: those that are open to American economic practices, and those that are not. In parts of the world where the family unit remains strong, accusations of outmoded patriarchal repression are linked convincingly with sensational media accounts of brutal misogyny to paint the picture of a people that need to be taught a little something about freedom and the marketplace. Islamic finance, with its various charitable devices and 2% flat tax for all but the poorest individuals and its populist condemnation of usury is anathema to the interest-based financial instruments of American banks. But, with all of their women covering their hair, are such things even worth considering?

Militant capitalism and its rapacious endorsement of profits at the expense of people requires that society be fragmented, broken down into its smallest possible paying unit: the individual. Feminism, for all of its initial promise and intent in rectifying the injustices perpetuated against women, has been totally and completely hijacked in order to further American corporate and ideological interests. This is possible because freedom and independence are the common rallying points for all camps.

What does this have to do with a depressed and totally unstable kid rampaging through a college town with the intent to destroy women?

Selling freedom and independence without qualification sets us all up for some pretty wild expectations. I should be having more sex than I am. I should be having more fun than I am. I should not be forced to respect anything or anybody that stands in the way of my happiness.

Sexual agency, economic opportunity, and the right to do as one pleases without consideration for established societal norms are all objectives of the women's movement that have been amplified and exploited by vested political and corporate interests. And this is accomplished in part by celebrating unrestrained freedom and independence as the only alternatives to oppression and subjugation. These are entirely false dichotomies. And if we buy into them we will come to hate the things that we believe keep us down, whether despots, husbands, or sorority girls.

What happened to cooperation? Compromise? Interdependence? Are these not also alternatives to oppression and subjugation? Is our self-determination really an all-or-nothing enterprise?

Primal music can't happen without a willingness to work together. Whether we are drumming or singing, the music doesn't happen unless we're listening to one another. But it's not necessarily an egalitarian exercise. There must be someone to lead the song. In it's purest manifestation, this is an experienced reality, not an articulated rule. It happens quite naturally, but the participation of all is necessary or the song is compromised.

As we remember the fallen students of Isla Vista and the Dalit girls of Uttar Pradesh and the oppressed and abused peoples all over the world, let us not forget that we are all connected in huge and mysterious ways. Good intentions must always be balanced with a healthy dose of circumspection and when things go bad somewhere, there's no doubt that we had some small part to play.

We are responsible for the world.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Transition

We've had lots of conversations in our primal music gatherings about the lamentable movement away from communal music (and all of the supposed benefits of that model) and the current iteration of music as an industry that disenfranchises and distracts.

Communal singing brings people together around societal requirements: religion, work, national pride, and political protest, as examples. Much of that has changed, at least on our shores, with music still bringing people together, but not around high ideals.

Instead, we come together as fans.

It's a word that derives from fanatic, which is generally cast as a bad thing, at least when applied to things like religion and politics. The social engineering goes like this: do not be zealous when it comes to your beliefs and your ideas around governance and social justice. Rather, take that energy and put it into your favorite musical artist.

That's a really amazing picture. That's the opening of the original Woodstock concert in '69. And what's incredible to me is that I think it captures a point in our transition in moving away from a resurgence in communal music (the new folk movement of the early 60s) and into the vapid stadium bombast of today. It was possible to have a yogi address a crowd of 500,000 in order to frame the event in spiritual terms, as is happening in this picture. The people had already been connected through the folk revival. You could address the crowd's sense of unity and purpose, and you could speak about the event in terms of how it symbolized the possibility of an extended peace. But, just as comfortably, you could also turn the crowd over to their new idols.

And now the idols have taken over and we're no better for it.

We need to get back on track, God willing, and so we need to really lay out the empirical benefits of primal music. I've had a chance to read a number of research papers that I intend to share over the coming weeks, great stuff that really seems to corroborate some of the underlying, intuitive assumptions I have about communal singing and drumming.

Until then!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Primal Music Monday 5/12

Al-hamdu lillah wa shukr lillah, it's that time again. The second Monday of the month is when, for two short hours at Zawiya Perspective, we reconnect to the incredibly rich tradition of communal music. Real music. Music that binds. Music that heals. Music that restores. And music that makes working on a ship a little easier.

I'm in the mood for sea shanties.

We're a family that believes in the importance of a proper musical education. Tonight, Miranda Rondeau will be coming over for a drum and voice lesson for our four daughters. Giving our children a creative outlet is an excellent thing to do on so many fronts. This is worth it's own post, so we'll get back to that later.

But as part of this idea of a proper musical education, my wife was researching communal music that she thought the kids might enjoy. She struck on a rich collection of sea shanties, or what the girls call "pirate songs."

Here are a couple of their favorites:

Now we are ready to sail for the Horn,
Weigh hey, roll and go!
Our boots and our clothes, boys, are all in the pawn,
To be rollicking randy dandy-O!

Heave a pawl, O heave away!
Weigh hey, roll and go!
The anchor's on board and the cable's all stored,
To be rollicking randy dandy-O!

Soon we'll be warping her out through the locks,
Weigh hey, roll and go!
Where the pretty young girls all come down in their frocks,
To be rollicking randy dandy-O!


Come breast the bars, bullies, heave her away,
Weigh hey, roll and go! .
Soon well be rolling her down through the Bay,
To be rollicking randy dandy-O!


I thought I heard the Old Man say:
"Leave her, Johnny, leave her."
Tomorrow ye will get your pay,
and its time for us to leave her.

Leave her, Johnny, leave her!
Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her!
For the voyage is long and the winds don't blow
And it's time for us to leave her.

Oh, the wind was foul and the sea ran high
Leave her, Johnny, leave her!
She shipped it green and none went by.
And it's time for us to leave her.


I hate to sail on this rotten tub.
"Leave her, Johnny, leave her!"
No grog allowed and rotten grub.
And it's time for us to leave her.


We swear by rote for want of more.
"Leave her, Johnny, leave her!"
But now were through so we'll go on shore.
And it's time for us to leave her.


That is undeniably masculine stuff! And I would also call this proof that it is the very heart of a man that has been undermined by the current, dominant model of music performance and distribution. And the kids love it!

We're going to get our hearts back this coming Monday, May 12th, from 7-9 pm, insha Allah. We'll swap grog for tea, of course.

Zawiya Perspective
1800 East Garry Ave. Suite 101
Santa Ana, CA 92705
(949) 394-6090

A quick reminder of the rules:

1) No lassies. Kids are fine.
2) Show up groomed and smelling good.
3) Absolutely no tuned instruments allowed. Bringing your own drum is encouraged.
4) Sound recording devices are fine, but no personal photography or video, please (Note: I have spoken with Brother Abdullah about a commisioned promotional video to help spread the word).

See you soon, insha Allah!


Friday, May 2, 2014

The New Yoga

Community choirs are huge in the UK. Turns out there's more going on than just singing.

We've talked about how singing together builds bonds and how music is a way of reintegrating ourselves.

In addition, some new research actually suggests that when people sing together, their heart rhythms sync up. Singing together requires that participants adopt similar breathing patterns and this is apparently what drives that cardiac synchrony. The authors suggest that the focused breathing brings benefits similar to those experienced in yoga.

Read the article here.

And while your reading, listen to this and see if you don't feel yourself lining right up!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Primal Music Monday 4/14

With God's help and permission, we'll gather for this month's Primal Music Monday next week from 7 pm to 9 pm at Zawiya Perspective:

1800 East Garry Ave. Suite 101
Santa Ana, CA 92705
(949) 394-6090

Recently, a good friend and I were at a conference together. During a break between speakers, I mentioned something about a guy having some troubles and how sometimes we need to be careful in how we help others. We can create a codependent dynamic that does nothing for anybody, I say, and as I'm blathering on he begins to sing a few bars from Bill Wither's classic Lean on Me:

lean on me
when you're not strong
and I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
for it won't be long
'til I'm gonna need
somebody to lean on

I joined him for the last couple of lines and we had just that little primal moment. But it was enough to push back my cynicism and I saw things differently, wal-hamdu lillah.

So you can count on that song making it into Monday's rotation, insha Allah.

We'll drum, talk, and sing. We'll sip lovingly brewed herbal concoctions (hibiscus rose and chaga chai) and we'll burn something nice.

Don't come in looking to be impressed. Show up as you are and do what you can and then think about how few opportunities there are to do just that.

Again, a quick reminder of the rules:

1) This gathering is for men only.
2) Show up groomed and smelling good.
3) Absolutely no tuned instruments allowed. Bringing your own drum is encouraged.
4) Sound recording devices are fine, but no photography or video, please.

See you then, insha Allah!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Drum Circle with Rowan Storm 4/12

This is a great chance to learn from a real master. Women are very well represented at Rowan's drum circles and this is the perfect opportunity for a family to learn and jam with with best!

Get out there this Saturday and make some noise!

Details here.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

". . . no Cuban Spring"

We've talked a lot about what happens when we lose our voice.

Once that vacuum is created, there are others who are more than happy to speak for us, to fill our hearts and minds with desires and ideas that wouldn't have been there otherwise. All the better if we believe that these notions are our own.

Read about how the United States is creating social networks to spark dissent in other parts of the world. And be sure to pass this on to the next person you run into who was ever excited or inspired by the Arab Spring.

Perhaps such findings can help us to reframe some of what we are hearing about Turkey.

They took our drums and gave us "tweets." Trading substance for illusion is nothing that we should be a part of.

Circle up, primes. Bang a drum and sing a song.

That's living in community.

That's the only "social networking" that matters.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Importance of Vernacular

The words are Arabic. The intent and meanings are very traditionally Islamic.

But this recording out of Cambridge is something still more, masha Allah.

Pretty sure T. J. Winter's got something to do with this . . .

Download it while you can, and then send a few bucks over to Cambridge for their building project.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Primal Music Monday 3/10

With God's help and permission, we'll gather for this month's Primal Music Monday next week from 7 pm to 9 pm at Zawiya Perspective:

1800 East Garry Ave. Suite 101
Santa Ana, CA 92705
(949) 394-6090

The last two times we got together we talked a lot about the politics of communal singing. We sang classic protest songs by the likes of Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. We might do some of that again.

But it doesn't always have to be about politics. Communal singing helps the work day go by, whether breaking rocks or pulling oars. Or it can just be a good old time, and there's nothing wrong with that!

We'll be looking at old material by Cat Stevens, and maybe a classic prayer-song that became a camp-fire favorite for generations. And as always, a bit of classical Arabic poetry for the mystically-minded. Should be fun, insha Allah.

And we'll drum. A lot. And drink tea and eat donut holes and burn incense. We really need to get some blacklight posters up in the Zawiya, for sure. Next month, maybe.

Again, a quick reminder of the rules:

1) This gathering is for men only.
2) Show up groomed and smelling good.
3) Absolutely no tuned instruments allowed. Bringing your own drum is encouraged.
4) Sound recording devices are fine, but no photography or video, please.

See you then, insha Allah!


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Muslim Roots, U.S. Blues

If you link out to one thing from sansfife today (or ever), make it this.

The back-to-back recordings of the adhan (the Islamic call to prayer) and the early Delta blues singing of ex-slaves cannot be missed.

And here's the kicker, primes: slave owners let their slaves have their instruments so they could go on and sing their songs. With one exception.

The drum.

Turns out that the slave owners "felt threatened by its ability to let slaves communicate with each other and by the way it inspired large gatherings . . . ."

They were right. And I'm not sure that we ever really got off the plantation.

Find out more here.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

85 People Own Us

The 85 most monied people in the world share a combined wealth equivalent to half of the entire world's population.

I've mentioned this statistic at our Primal Music gatherings, but it's worth getting the details here.

What does this have to do with primal music?

When you steal a man's voice, it's pretty easy to get away with taking just about everything else.

As Primal as it Gets

I just came across the work of this man, Mr. Marc Anderson of Wild Ambience.

He sets up his mics and picks up the music that's in the air!

Dim the lights and check out this fascinating recording from a frog pond in Malaysia!


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Drum Circle Today!

Rowan Storm will be facilitating a drum circle today (2/8) at the Levantine Cultural Center.

Her circles are great, attended primarily by women. Children are welcome.

Take the family!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Primal Music Monday 2/10

With God's help and permission, we'll bellow and bang in ancestral fashion as we gather for February's Primal Music Monday next week at Zawiya Perspective.

1800 East Garry Ave. Suite 101
Santa Ana, CA 92705
(949) 394-6090

The drums went over real big last time, and you can expect that there will again be plenty of pounding. I'll do a quick demo and then it's off to the races. If you're feeling it, shouts, calls, grunts, and all manner of primal vocalizing is more than encouraged!

We'll groove until we're spent or when things start to look like Sunday Service in rural Kentucky, and then we'll break for a happy toast: a glass or two of a cold linden flower-mint infusion. It makes men happy.

Those inclined to keep the rhythm going may do so as we transition to song, some Arabic stuff for sure, but moving quickly into an exploration of American folk and protest songs. We've got Guthrie, Seeger, and Dylan on the menu.

Dangerous stuff, for sure.

Again, a quick reminder of the rules:

1) This gathering is for men only.
2) Show up groomed and smelling good.
3) Absolutely no tuned instruments allowed. Bringing your own drum is encouraged.
4) Sound recording devices are fine, but no photography or video, please.

There are no other rules.

And we've actually got some door prizes for our guests! Show up and get your Primal Music Calendar! I might even have some stickers, and if you get one, do resist the urge to tag your local minbar. Please.

Looking forward to an evening with you, insha Allah.

Circle up!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

On Musical Instruments

I'll cop to this right out of the gate:

I'm a Muslim. I am conservative in my personal practice. As such, I take the conservative position of those Islamic scholars throughout history who have ruled that musical instruments, with the exception of the frame drum, are impermissible.

There are and have been other scholars, good men with a different, more liberal opinion on the matter of musical instruments. They have their followers. I am not one of them.

But I am also somebody that loves a good song. I can think of few things more powerful than the right song at the right moment. There was a time that I was handy with instruments, but I have long since given that up. Suffice it to say, I have lived both sides of the musical coin.

And as long as we confine our discussion to the individual's experience of musical instruments, whether playing them or listening to them, we are unlikely to reach any real conclusions on the matter of tuned instruments being ultimately beneficial or detrimental.

Where we can find some clarity, I believe, is when we look at the effect of tuned instruments at the societal level. And in order to do this, we need to go way, way back.

Jeremy Montagu, in his book Origins and Development of Musical Instruments speculates that it is "likely that musical instruments began with the concussive sounds of two objects struck together." He goes on to say that this striking may have been incidental, occurring as early man engaged in flint knapping. Maybe he was cracking nuts. We don't know, but we can imagine thumping and banging, maybe a whole lot of it all at once as members of the group worked at their projects. Communal rhythm is born.

And this is, according to Mr. Montagu, almost immediately attached to ritual and dance. Communal work leads to communal rhythm that bleeds out to facilitate the communal ties of religious ceremony and celebration.

People being what they are, we can imagine that things changed in a hurry. Some got good at all that rhythmic banging. This may have facilitated more intricate ritual and dance and the rhythmic practitioner may have been accorded greater esteem. As time goes on, man hits upon melodic possibilities. Striking slit logs produces different tones. Perhaps, in the stretching and drying of animal skins, we intuit the membraphones, or drums. A strong wind blowing over a hollow tree stump or a stand of reeds portends the early flute, and so on.

Each of these elements is refined over time, and while the community is still brought together by the sounds and effects of these early instruments, something else is happening. As the instruments become more complex in their construction and manipulation, a new class of person is making quite a splash.

The musician. Or perhaps the shaman? There is a relationship, then and now.

Gilbert Rouget, in his book Music and Trance: A Theory of the Relations Between Music and Possession, tells us that:
For the shaman, shamanizing and musicating are two aspects of one and the same activity. So much so that among the Yaruro, in Venezuela, he is called tõewame, which means "musician," or, more precisely, "he who sings and dances."
Though the ancient shaman's instruments were often quite simple and almost always of the percussive type (drums, rattles, sticks), there was introduced into his performing an element of spectacle that clearly separated him from the rest of the group. It was, as Rouget puts it, "a truly theatrical performance, or, more accurately perhaps, a one-man show."

Captivating, no doubt, with the experience enhanced in many cases with fermented beverages, tobacco, and hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have The Grateful Dead.

We've covered several millennia in a few short paragraphs, but seeing as there really is nothing new under the sun, let's make our points and wrap this up.

In addition to the vocal noises that our ancestors made, rudimentary percussive instruments added new sonic dimensions to our experience in a way that initially brought us together in ritual and celebration. It was all really easy, really accessible, and totally tied to the rhythms of life as they existed.

With the advent of the musician and his instruments, we see the community split and manipulated. We have been separated into performer and audience, respectively active and passive in our societal roles.

Fast forward to the present where communal singing has all but disappeared and stadiums are filled every weekend with inebriated drones professing their love and allegiance to corporate-funded prostitutes squawking their auto-tuned tommyrot through over-driven PA systems in what can only be described as the ultimate circus of political distraction.

Musical instruments, for all they might offer by way of immediate pleasure and distraction, have proven to be seductively divisive.

But what about a little campfire guitar? That brings the kids together real good, don't it, mister?

Sure. But what if someone forgets the guitar? Are we courageous enough to sing anyway?

Or have the instruments stolen our voices, cut us off from engaging one another in song, in celebration and remembrance?

There are some very conservative Islamic scholars that have gone as far as to say that it is legally permissible to break the musical instrument of the one playing it, an act that would be blatant and punishable destruction of property in any other context.

Although I do not advocate this, for all that these musical instruments have broken within us, the ruling does not strike me as unjust.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Communal Singing Disappears in America

The article is a couple of years old, but a good read.

Best line:

 ". . . as civic engagement declined, our store of true folk songs evaporated."

And could it work the other way, I wonder? Through the primal exercise of group singing and drumming, are we likely to become more engaged citizens?


Go on and read a bit more here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger: Practically Primal

He died yesterday, January 27th at the age of 94.

He played a banjo, and that was his thing and he was the best he could be. But it wasn't so much what he played. He taught men to sing.

And he wouldn't let them alone until they did.

There was a time when music was dangerous and governments were shaken and wars were made to stop. And he was a part of that. He knew that the danger was in the words, in the men singing the words. Together.

And he couldn't take it when Bob Dylan plugged in, when song became spectacle. The noise and the amplifiers and the electricity took all the danger away, all the power.

Primal music is about reclaiming that power. We'll lay Seeger's banjo aside and drum and cry our way through his music, through his words, and into that great stream of his generous passion.

God guide and protect us all and may He grant the Seeger family ease in this challenging time.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Getting the Word Out

Inspired as I forever will be by the 80s punk aesthetic, I fiddled with copy machine and newsprint until this happened.

With any luck, it'll keep away all the right people.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Primal Music Monday 1/20

With Allah's help and permission, we will gather for our inaugural Primal Music Monday on January 20th, from 7 pm to 9 pm at Zawiya Perspective:

1800 East Garry Ave. Suite 101
Santa Ana, CA 92705
(949) 394-6090

We'll start off with a down and dirty frame drum clinic. The frame drum is an amazing gathering tool and I can almost guarantee a tight, locked-in rhythm circle within minutes of even newcomers picking up the drum. Show up and we'll prove it, insha Allah.

We'll move on to a round of tea before singing. The lift we'll get from the drumming and the warm relaxation we'll get from a good cup should have us ready to sing, insha Allah.

And sing we will, somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-6 Arabic qasidas. We'll work to select those pieces that have simple refrains to allow for increased participation, insha Allah. And if singing isn't your bag, bang a drum (in time!) and we'll love you for it.

At the end of the evening, we'll workshop an original composition, Tea.

The music and lyrics are here. Print, download, and practice.

In addition, or perhaps even as a substitution, I am inviting any and all to show up with any English language song for a group sing. Be prepared with lyric sheets to hand out and be willing to lead the songs you bring, insha Allah.

After all that (whew!), we'll settle in with more refreshments and just bask in how beautiful life can be, wal-hamdu lillah.

Finally, a quick reminder of the rules:

1) This gathering is for men only.
2) Show up groomed and smelling good.
3) Absolutely no tuned instruments allowed. Bringing your own drum is encouraged.
4) Sound recording devices are fine, but no photography or video, please.

Looking forward to an evening with you, insha Allah.

A Primal Moment with Nader Khan

It's happening, men. And here's the proof, from the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania:

Read about this incredible moment (and get the translation!) here.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Toward an American Diwan

In the eastern Muslim world, a collection of poetry is called a diwan.

Qasida Monday has been about bringing the majesty of these diwans to the attention of the men in our local community. We can read this poetry, sing it, and reflect on what it means to invest and ground ourselves in deep, deep tradition.

If we know Arabic.

Drumming is a big part of our gatherings, and that can help many of us lock in even if we don't know the language. We can still be a part of the experience, and there is serious merit in that.

There is something else to consider, though.

Much, if not all, of the sacred poetry that we read is set to traditional Arabic folk melodies, tunes that were and are very familiar and much beloved by the people of that region.

We're not from that region.

If we are going to get serious about building community, then we need to think very seriously about what we are trying to accomplish by doing so. Are our attempts at fostering community really about memorializing a tradition so that a select group of initiated individuals can feel good about coming together around a common interest?

Nothing wrong with that. There are clubs for people who collect stamps and look out for birds. Those are communal activities, for sure.

It's not a model that I want to perpetuate, though. And the reason, quite simply, is because I am Muslim.

And Muslims have an unfortunate tradition of social isolation that has played nicely into the hands of those with a vested interest in tagging us as alien. And here, Muslims have this crazy idea that Islam is some timeless, universal phenomenon. Then how long will we continue to import values and traditions from far off times and places that have little relevance in our current cultural context?

And our current cultural context, by the way, sucks in a lot of big ways. This is no argument for mainstream alignment. We need a revolution, prime.

The entertainment industry is keeping us down. It's tearing us apart, and we'll talk a lot about that as we go. But it's the absolute truth and we need to confront this.

But not by running to the deserts of Arabia.

Rather, we draw on the deep roots of our homeland to show our people a better way. The throbbing, ancient drum, the shrieks and howls of our indigenous people, the bluesy moan of a black prisoner at work, the syncopated rhythms of the urban poet . . . it's all there waiting to be pulled together, reified and dropped like a sonic bomb- the American Diwan.

So no more Qasida Monday.

It's primal music from here on out and you are totally invited, whoever you are.

Sacred Harp This Weekend!

The 26th annual All-California Convention is happening in San Pedro this weekend, January 18th and 19th.

Check it out!