Baton Beats is a percussion group for adults led by PMZ Music Leader Rob Tilsley. At the time of writing, the group is having a summer break, so Rob thought this would be a good time to reflect and take stock of the year so far…
When I tell people that I lead a community drumming group catering to ‘all abilities,’ I often wonder about the mental images it conjures. Does it evoke thoughts of earnest, ‘simple’ rhythms? This year, the Baton Beats members showcased in an impressive manner what’s truly achievable. We recorded two polyrhythmic pieces: ‘Arará’ and ‘Kpanlogo.’
Arará means many things, it refers to a people, a religion, a dance, and a music. We learned a polyrhythmic hand clapping arrangement of a style of Arará music. This particular Arará arrangement is based on a Cuban version, the roots of the music go back to the Ewe-Fon of Dahomey in West Africa. We hear four voices of clapping here, listen for low, medium, and high timbres.
One way of looking at this music’s structure is that there’s a foundational pattern in a 12/8 time signature, forming the backbone on which other patterns interlock. The divisibility of twelve by three, four, and six facilitates the integration of patterns that ‘feel’ like they’re in these subdivisions. By ‘feel,’ I’m referring to a subjective aspect of the music – the beat you would tap along to. This amalgamation of rhythms, embracing various divisions of the backbeat, culminates in a highly syncopated and ‘complex’ interplay of beats.
Here’s a snippet of audio from the recording we made. It starts with two of the patterns going, and you’ll hear the third and fourth joining in towards the end.
Kpanlogo is a modern (written in the 1950’s), Ghanaian style of polyrhythmic ensemble music. Similarly to ‘Arara’, ‘Kpanlogo’ has different meanings. It means party, refers to a specific drum, and a piece of drumming/dance. I think you could describe Kpanlogo music as ‘funky’. The reason for the funkiness is that a traditional bell pattern traveled out of West Africa, and then got altered in America, where it was influenced by a ‘western’ feel. Then the pattern made its way back to West Africa, Ghanaian musicians built on it, and created Kpanlogo. In my opinion, this makes Kpanlogo a bit easier to tune into for ears not accustomed to ensemble drumming music. Many people will be familiar with the bell pattern used, it’s sometimes known as the ‘Bo Diddly Beat‘, because it was used in Bo Diddly’s track ‘Bo Diddly’, but has been used millions of times in other things including Faith by George Michael.
Baton Beats members demonstrated remarkable proficiency here. Despite my perception that Kpanlogo is slightly ‘easier’ than many other polyrhythmic pieces, it remains challenging. Even as a university music student, I grappled with it. Holding numerous interlocking parts in sync is impressive, but performing them at this pace and also playing with good ‘feel’ is truly remarkable. This progress stems from extensive hard work and persistence, further fuelled by the group’s social dynamics. Mutual support and a wonderful atmosphere undoubtedly contribute.
Presented here is our recording of Kpanlogo, gradually introducing the parts while omitting vocals this time. We may explore vocal elements in the future. We hope you enjoy listening!
For context/comparison, here’s a video of Kpanlogo filmed in Ghana:
The progress made by the group this year has utterly astounded me. Every member has achieved significant growth, a feat that warrants immense pride in both what they play and how they play it. These polyrhythms have posed challenges even for trained musicians, making the accomplishments of this all-abilities community group truly remarkable. Reflecting on the year thus far sparks my curiosity about the potential that lies ahead.
If you’d like to find out more, or book a place to come along and try out Baton Beats, please do Contact PMZ.