Category Archives: Interviews

Les Moncada Chats with conguero and djembefola drummer Michael Pluznick

Francisco Aguabella once told me, “I do not play the drum, I have lived the drum”. Remembering that phrase, it’s great when one’s daily line of work is drumming for a living, teaching drum lessons and or even selling drums and miscellaneous supplies to drummers, or as a musician full time.

Michael Pluznick is such a drum master, who has been learning and teaching drumming all his life. What a dream job! Any drummer would actually die for! Michael is constantly traveling worldwide, teaching drumming classes and playing with the legends of drums for example djembe drum legend Bolokada Conde.

Michael was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, but he presently resides in Delray Beach, Florida. Michael travels extensively to Asia and Africa and soon will be voyaging on his third trip to Cuba soon!

I became familiar with Michael when a group of young drummers decided to go to Cuba in 1985 for a venture. They wanted to learn more, had exhausted their resources in the San Francisco Bay Area and decided to go to Cuba.

During this trip to Cuba, they studied with the masters and brought back videos that knocked everyone’s socks off. I was one of the sponsors of the group, as an aspiring Latin percussionist also wanting to know more and more.

Michael and his group recorded the famed Changuito timbales solo in front of the hotel in Cuba, saw the show by Juan De Dios, quinto conga drummer and dancer, and met Pello El Afrokan who is the inventor of the Latin rhythm Mozambique, made famous by Pello, pianist Eddie Palmieri and timbalero legend Manny Oquendo.

Pello then invited them to his apartment for batá lessons and a rumba, with elder batá legend, Amado Gomez present. At a certain point, the legendary Afro Cuban rumba singer Carlos Embale walked in. There is a video of this session that might be recovered in the future. I no longer have this video personally.

Michael and the group also met and associated with the Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba and batá elder Carlos Aldama, who was the lead batá drummer for the Cojunto Folklorico. Today, Carlos Aldama resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, and sometimes on a whim, I have wondered, that if that trip inspired musicians to move to the USA and the San Francisco Bay Area.Let’s see what Mr. Pluznick has to say:

Les Moncada – Michael what is your family background.

Michael Pluznick – My family is of Russian descent, via Poland. My grandfather moved here to the USA prior to World War II.

When was the first time you actually heard percussion and realized that it interested you and that you would have a love for drums?

My father was able to get us free trips to Puerto Rico in the 60s when it was first becoming a tourist location. I wandered on the beach and heard drummers there for the first time as a small child. At our hotel, there was a band with a bongo player. I will never forget one Christmas there they were giving out presents and they gave my friend some tack head bongos. I was so disappointed I did not get them! Hounded my father for several months until he was able to find me a Mexican tack head drum and later he got me one with actual hardware.

How did you start studying drums, who were your teachers?

At the time I first started playing in 1967. There were no Cuban teachers in my area in New Jersey, so I took drum set lessons and learned basic fundamentals from a drum set teacher at a nearby music store. I had no technique, no slap and tone but I loved how it felt to play and practiced to Santana and Olatunji records.

I played in several bands as a thunder drummer not knowing how brutal I was! In 1975 I was at art school at RISD in Providence Rhode Island playing in the school jazz band. I met a local conga player, someone who told me I needed to study, that I would never learn, if I did not listen to people better then me.

At first I thought he was crazy. And then I had an epiphany, a realization that I had two possible paths I could partake on; one as a percussionist and hand drummer or one as an artist. I realized the path as a drummer would be incredibly difficult but in that moment of realization I decided to drop out of art school and pursue a path as a drummer.

I contacted a close friend of mine who was a very good player, George Terzis for lessons. He showed me how to hit the drum correctly and told me there was an actual language to playing drums. He introduced me to Gail Philipo in Boston. She had studied with several master drummers and she was able to give me a solid foundation in the concepts of traditional drumming from Cuba and West Africa.


Michael Pluznick with famed master drummer, batá master, vocalist (akpwon) Baba Yagbe Onilu
Michael Pluznick with famed master drummer, batá master, vocalist (akpwon) Baba Yagbe Onilu


After Boston I went to California where I studied full time with Simbo (Craig Goodman) as well as several local teachers there at the time including lessons with Marcus Gordan, Tobagi, Luis Cespedes among others.



My son moved to New York where I visited often and I started studying with John Amira who taught me Haitian drumming as well as Afro Cuban drumming for a few years. He wrote everything out in box notation so he got me into that as well.

Michael Pluznick
Michael Pluznick

I got a job as the percussion salesman at Haight Ashbury Music Center, (San Francisco) after the change of owners from Chickens That Sing Music. That was 35 years ago!

While I was at the shop I would often practice on the many conga drums that were there. Armando Peraza would stop in regularly and we would have a jam session. He would quiz me on each rhythm I would play for him and then he would solo. The shop would completely fill up with a hundred or more people every time he got down to business! It was an amazing experience.

Armando had a friend an African American friend named Ray Gardener (he wrote” Dance Sister Dance” for Santana). Ray would come in often to the shop and he invited me to record with him and Raphael Ramirez in the studio, which was my first experience recording. He and I had intellectual debates on traditional music vs. making world music combining traditional with non traditional.



Tell me about your trip to Cuba.

I had a friend named Jerry Shilgi, who passed away a while back. I met Jerry in the yard at Sproul Plazz in Berkeley California where there were jam sessions on Saturday and Sundays. I would not call them a drum circle, but something like that. Jerry introduced me to my teacher Simbo who played both traditional Afro Cuban and West African styles.

Jerry was connected to everyone and everything at that time.

We became roommates in China town in San Francisco. He found out about the trip to Cuba. No one we knew had gone before and it was a no brainer for me. I had to go.

I was able to acquire one of the first non commercial video camcorders to film with. We went officially as members of an educational group going to the Jazz Festival in Varadero (Cuba). While we were in the coffee shop at our hotel the first day we were there we saw the legendary Pello El Afrokan. We were there with Rob Holland and Bret Golin.



We asked him if we could study with him (Pello) while we were there and he agreed to not only teach us, but he basically brought us around and introduced us to everyone in the music and drum scene you can imagine, as well as set up classes with us for rumba, mozambique and batá. We even had a rumba with Carlos Embale singing in Pello’s apartment!



We were able to sit in at the Saturday Rumba with Conjunto Folklorico Nacional as well as many of the famous night clubs and bands that were playing there at the time, as, Pello was so well respected. We barely slept and I remember several times passing out on the bed with all my clothes still on and waking up early with Pello waiting for us outside.

How did you get involved with the djembe drum?

My teacher Simbo insisted we study West African rhythms as he taught us that all rhythms on congas were some how rooted in and related to West Africa.

At the time there were no commercial djembes available so we were taught to make and skin our own drums.

Also, one thing a lot of people today do not realize is that in the mid-late 70’s there were no internet, CD’s or information readily or easily available. Plus most teachers were very secretive at the time for various reasons.

The rhythms, parts and arrangements were simply not out there like they are today. There were very few records available and there were not a lot of groups performing traditional music from Cuba, Africa or Haiti.

Professional percussionists and die hard students would learn any rhythm or percussion piece that came through. There was so little information compared to today. So therefore, many of us learned and played whatever came to us, or whatever we could find. There was not as big of a separation in styles as there is today. And if you wanted to get work you needed to be versatile in many styles.


Michael Pluznick
Michael Pluznick


Michael, who have you performed with or studied with, djembe wise?

I started with Simbo, then I took lessons with whoever would come through locally in the Bay Area including a talented griot named Karamba Diabate. When Abdoulaye Diakité came to the Bay Area, things changed drastically as he was open to and taught both women and white people. I personally believe that Abdoulaye is almost single handily responsible for the birth and explosion of the djembe in the USA. His philosophy is “Djembe Bara” or “unity of the drum”. He spent a lot of time in Santa Cruz where Drumskull Drums was born and many teachers came out of.

The next wave of djembe related music and drumming came with Mamady Keita who I studied with, in group scenarios as well as Mabiba. Wade Peterson a student of both also tutored me regularly for a couple of years.

I moved to Maui, Hawaii where I got to study with Mohamed Camara, M’Bemba Bangoura, Dame Gueye and many others who would come through on extended stays.

When I moved back to the Bay Area about 15 years ago I was able to study with and then perform with several groups. The most notable is Bolokada Conde from Guinea West Africa.

While I was living in the Bay Area, my chiropractor told me he wanted to record some music. I had a friend who was an engineer at Bear West Studios in downtown San Francisco. I took the chiropractor to the studio and helped organize the session. This was the start of me producing and recording regularly in studios. I was eventually able to play on several rock and pop albums and created several of my own recording studios and music and drumming CDs over the years.

I recorded and performed with members of The Grateful Dead, Clarence Clemons (from Bruce Springsteen), The Tubes, Todd Rundgren and some other pop stars in the Bay Area over the years. In the 80’s i was able to get a recording deal on the Narada label for 4 CDs of my own world music combining traditional themes with western instrumentation as well. You can see and listen to samples of all my stuff on my website:

I see that your travel all over the planet, which I think is great. Do you teach, give clinics and can you mention the different locations that you travel to, can you tell me more about this.

Yes, 25 years ago I started to travel to Asia and fell in love with it. I also started going to India on various pursuits. I started bringing my drums here, both congas and djembes and found the local pockets of friendly and curious drummers.

Most drummers here in Asia are talented and self taught, these days from the internet. One thing led to another and I started to share and teach wherever I went. People here are appreciative like I was and still am when someone shows me something I don’t know.

When I can I sit in with the local jazz or funk groups for fun. Of course the musicians are struggling here so it is not a great place to gig.

Michael who is your all time conga drummer?

My favorite conga layer who I actually played with is Armando [Peraza]. I also love his bongo work. My favorite recording conga player is Mongo Santamaria. I love Giovanni and Richard Flores. They have taken it to a whole new level. I used to listen to a lot of Los Papines, they were my favorite for a while, especially Luis. Then of course there is Patato! And Daniel Ponce.

How do you pick one? Thomas Cruz really has super cool stuff…there are so many fantastic and unbelievable players I love… but for me, what rocks my world is old school, deep pocket and groove. Maybe I am just getting old!


Armando Peraza
Armando Peraza


Who is your favorite bongo drummer?

Bongo… again it’s Armando and Dandy. I saw Karl do a bongo and an amazing bell solo the other day and I was quite impressed. I feel his playing has sky rocketed as well.

How about your favorite timbales drummer?

Timbales… I am an Orestes fan as well as Changuito. And I do love Chepito as well. He ripped in the day! The first time I saw Changuito was with Los Van Van in Cuba in 1985. I was filming them and standing behind him. I had no idea who he was in those days. Rob Holland did, but I did not. He was not an international sensation then.

Anyway, he did about a 15 minute solo and I filmed the whole thing. I had never heard anyone play like that except maybe Elvin Jones. So outside, so revolutionary”. All I can say is he blew me away!

Michael, who is your favorite djembe player?

Bolokada Conde and M’Bemba Bangoura for Guinea style; Abdoul Doumbia and Moussa Traore for Mali style; Dame Gueye for Senegalese; and Dr Jobi for Ivory Coast style. These are all older and some people consider “old school” style. There are several super hot young players who I listen to but I prefer to study with and play the older style(s).



Of all the drums and instruments you play, which is your favorite and why?

I cannot honestly say I have a favorite, I love congas, bongos, shekere and djembe. I practice and play as much as I can. These days, I suppose, because of the popularity of drum circles I get most of my students wanting to learn djembe so as far as work, it is almost always on djembe these days.

For me it is all related. When I study Malian music (I lived in Mali 2 times) I hear the roots and a direct undeniable connection to Afro-Cuban drumming. It is so plain and clear!

The 6/8 (or 12/8) bell, the root to all the drumming we do is in every drum music that comes out of the West African diaspora be it Cuban, Haitian, Brazilian or other regions in the new world. It is all connected and so are its instruments.

What is the future for master drummer, teacher Michael Pluznick? Recordings, lessons, travel?

Ha, ha, ha. Brother, I am not even close to mastering anything. Fortunately, I have contact to and I am able to study with masters, and I see them online.

Mastery is a far off place for me. I am happy and will always be happy to be a student of this fine art and I am motivated to continue learning and studying every day.

I feel I have very good methodology for sharing and teaching, I can help people so I teach. I continue to record projects whenever I can and whenever there is a opportunity. I love traveling and hopefully with God’s help I will continue to do so.

I would like to thank Michael Pluznick for his time with this interview due to his busy schedule and wish him the world of the best in the “spirit” of drumming for many years to come!

Solo discography:

Where the Rain Is Born (Sona Gaia, 1989)
Michael Pluznick – Where the Rain Is Born (Sona Gaia, 1989)


Michael Pluznick - Cradle of the Sun (Sona Gaia, 1990)
Michael Pluznick – Cradle of the Sun (Sona Gaia, 1990)


Michael Pluznick - Rhythm Harvest (Narada, 1992)
Michael Pluznick – Rhythm Harvest (Narada, 1992)


Michael Pluznick - Drummer's Journey (Antiquity, 1994)
Michael Pluznick – Drummer’s Journey (Antiquity, 1994)


Michael Pluznick - Heat Beat (Well-Tempered, 1995)
Michael Pluznick – Heat Beat (Well-Tempered, 1995)

Les Moncada Chats With Legendary Latin Percussionist and Orchestra Leader Angel “Cachete” Maldonado

There are at times special musicians with the utmost talent and creativity. Angel “Cachete” Maldonado is this type of musician. We will refer to him as “Cachete” during this interview. Cachete has played the rhythms of Puerto Rico, which are bomba and plena, with his folkloric groups; but he also preserves the Afro-Cuban guaguanco (rumba) style, with Cachete’s style and flavor.

Cachete had, and still has, an outstanding Latin orchestra by the name of Batacumbele that performs on a regular basis on the island of Puerto Rico. Let’s see what Cachete has to say about his life in this interview.

Cachete, tell me a little bit about your childhood background. Where in Puerto Rico were you born?

I was raised in the Barrio Obrero, the nest of a lot of musical groups, as well as sportsmen, playwrights. A nest of all the big ones, like (composer) Tite Curet Alonso, adopted son of the Barrio Obrero, The Rodriguez, Tito Rodriguez (Latin orchestra leader), Arturo A Shimburg, Rubén Gómez, to mention a few.

Were any of your parents or family members musicians?

My father was a bassist and guitarist. My sister was a singer and my aunt Ana Maria Cruz was a singer, of the famous Fiestas de Cruz, very well known on the island.

What is the first group or band that you were in and what was the instrument that you played?

The first professional group was with Johnny El Bravo López and Danny González. I would play bongo and cowbell with Johnny and timbas with Danny González. Prior to that I would perform with other groups, although they were not known and I used to sing at 13 and 14 years of age.

What bands have you performed with during your musical career?

Larry Harlow, La Conspiracion, Luis “Perico” Ortiz, Eddie & Charlie Palmieri, Leandro “Gato” Barberi, Machito, Tito Puente, Típica 73, Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barretto, Jaguares, Ricky Martin, Lucecita Benitez, Celia Cruz, etc.,  etc.


Batacumbele - Con un Poco De Songo
Batacumbele debut album Con un Poco De Songo


What gave you the idea to form the band Batacumbele?

It was my first trip to Cuba. It was born out of a development concern for rhythmic music. There already existed rhythmically an example, Los Van Van with Changuito, creator of the songo rhythm that revolutionized the musical wave in Cuba. The Ritmo Oriental de Cuba, Irakere and other groups who spearheaded the new wave of music. A new form of playing the drums of the Ritmo Oriental and the tumbaos (beats) of Nino Valdes with four tumbadoras (conga drums) and Batun Bata, etc.



I have a love myself as a conga drummer for Afro drums of Rumba music. What inspired you to love and play that type of music?

Even when I was really young, studying drums, my love for the rumba and its drums (congas) was born. I remember that my father would take me to a rehearsal of Rafael Torres Silva. That was my first contact with the percussion of conguero Celso Clemente. He was the first person I saw play the timbas.

Later, Papo Román, the second conguero that I saw in the group. Then I began to listen to Mongo Santamaria; Carlos Patato Valdez; Francisco Aguabella; Julio Collazo, my first teacher of bata drums; Tommy Lopez; Mr. Ray Barretto; Ray Romero; Francisco Aristides Soto, better known as Tata Guines; Yeyito Iglesias; Guillermo Barretto; Tito Puente; Willie Bobo; and Jose Mangual.



Cachete, what’s the latest with Batacumbele these days?

With Batacumbele, now I am working with a group of young talents in union with Luis Marin, the musical director, and Pablito Rosario one of the original members. Noel Rosado, Tono Vazquez, Angie Machado, we have continued with the hard work of continuing with the group.

Due to my condition, I had to readjust my involvement with Batacumbele, but I keep working with the group Batacumbele Sangre Nueva (New Blood) and Los Majaderos de Cachete Maldonado, a group of rumba, bomba, and plena.



What are the future plans for you as a drummer, bandleader an artist?

Right now we are currently in the process of finding a location to give workshops and classes of Afro-Antillean dances, bomba, plena, rumba and other rhythms of the Caribbean, where all local and international people can enjoy the work in a patio.

I await to serve the public in general this year, 2016.


With Batacumbele:

Con un Poco De Songo (1981)
En Aquellos Tiempos (1983)
Afro-Caribbean Jazz (1994)
Live at the University of Puerto Rico (1994)
Hijos del Tambó (1999)

With Cachete y los Majaderos

Cachete Maldonado y los Majaderos (SMG Productions, 2003)
Rumba Boricua Campesina

Facebook Page: Los Majaderos de Cachete Maldonado
For Bookings 787-533-6909

I would like to thank Cachete Maldonado for his great time and effort to make this interview possible.

At times, when I’m writing, I’m aware of conditions suffered by artists or craftsmen that due to age, and the fact that we are all human beings, have maladies that are not discussed on our Facebook page(s) Timbales Congas Bongo Bata & Bells, nor in our interviews for personal reasons. At given times, there are impolite or abrupt remarks made by readers that are unaware of the condition of the artists and craftsmen because they do not know them personally; those are overlooked at this time.

I would like to give a “great thank” you to Pablito Rosario for making this interview possible. Thank you Pablito!


Les Moncada Chats with MOPERC Company owner, Michel Ouellet

When you talk about drums, there are the handmade versions of drums and then there are also mass manufactured drums. Michel Ouellet the owner of MOPERC located in Canada has one of the most outstanding handcrafted drum companies around, making congas, bongos, wooden timbales (tarolas) and soon, once again, batá drums.

Michel is an extremely social individual even though he has a busy shop schedule. He made time to talk with me as did the famed Jay Bereck. Let’s see what Michel has to say about himself and his drum company.

Michel, can you tell me little about your background?

I was born in a “not musician” family but very young I loved and listened to much music. My father was a blacksmith and was very clever with his hands so seeing him working daily, I began very young to make and build different things with my hands, spending my time beside him in his shop.

Michel, when did you first discover the drum, conga, bongo etc?

I moved to Montreal to study Arts at college. There, I began to play bongos with my guitarist room-mates. At the first 80s I began to study Latin percussion with different good players in Montreal as my friends Pierre Cormier and Andre Dupuis who studied in New York and Cuba. I learned rumba at this moment with them. This was my passion. I played hours and hours.

What made you start a drum making company?

At the age of 28 I moved to the country with my little family. I was a carpenter. The first month I arrived here, 27 years ago, I made for myself a djembe with a log with my chain saw! I accompanied African dance class with my first djembe. I made a second one that was better and I did more than 20 instruments in this way. Mostly, djembes and also batás.

During this time I was carpenter, as my career, during this part of my life. In the end of the 80s I began to study the construction of congas made by staves. I found different ways to build them. I saw the LP [Latin Percussion] method, with staves in two or three plies, I saw Skin On Skin who steamed and banded the staves (I went to buy congas at the Jay shop in Brooklyn).

I also saw how Valje (drums) would cut some grooves inside each staves to curve them. And I discovered the Junior Tirado; that Junior would cut each staves in a solid piece of wood. But I began with the steam method myself. Then I changed from cutting the staves to a solid piece of wood. This is the method I’ve used for 20 years and the one which I prefer.

The first congas I made I showed them to the percussionists in Montreal and they began to order some, and then ordered more. Later, I went to Toronto and the results were good, In 1990 I found the proper method officially, after 2 years of research.

The 90s were the years I developed my methods and different instruments. I have made batás, tamboras, congas, bongos, timbales, djembes, sabars, dununs, talking drums and different other little drums. Even a couple of drum sets for friends.

Quickly, I knew that my market would be in the bongos, congas and djembe drum making. Therefore, I have put the others drums on the aside and I just started offering timbales.

What kind of styles of music do you play and where have you traveled to expose your great product? Who have been some of the sponsors of your drums for your MOPERC Company?

In the 2000s. I came back on the scene with different models, salsa and grupo de son. I have Cuban friends Habana Café; with a salsa timba band. They still have a good success here in Canada.

I have played this style of music for 12 years on congas. But 8 years ago I quit the scene for keep my energy for my business.

I traveled to Cuba many times where I have concluded partnerships with Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, Yoruba Andabo, Afrocuban All Stars, La Charanga Habanera and different musicians such as Panga (Tomas Ramos Ortiz), Rolando Salgado, Pacha Portuondo, el Chino…

In the USA I have held clinics during these last years in different places as PASIC in Nashville, in Los Angeles and once In New York.

Last year, at the age of 55 and after more than 25 years of business I made a move to sell MOPERC Company and retire. But for some technical and human reasons the sale did not work. I think it is because I have not finished with this work. Now I’m very glad to be here as owner and founder for some more years. I have many projects. The sales go very well. I sell much in USA, much in Canada and a little in Europe. Some of my drums go to South and Central America and some to Asia, Africa …

How is the drum production going? Do you plan to start making batá drums again?

I’m working now on a new model of conga made of oak and mahogany. I used to make many congas and bongos with oak and mahogany in the 90s and I loved the sound projection of these woods. That will be more a vintage style model reminiscent of the old Cuban drums used in the rumba before and after the revolution. I like oak for the great projection and volume it offers. I love mahogany for its warm and rich tone. These are very nice looking grains of wood too. During these years I worked with maple, birch, ash, mahogany, cherry, oak, and others.

I’m working now also on batás drums. I have made some set during the years. Yoruba Andabo, Muñequitos de Matanzas and others play my batás around the world now. I have many demands. I’ll come back with these “high class” models of batá’s soon in 2016.

Michel Ouellet
Michel Ouellet

What is in the future for MOPERC, your drum Company?

We just went out with wood timbales (tarolas) recently and we have had great comments and success with them. We produced 2 videos demonstrating the wood timbales with my good friend and great Cuban percussionist based in Toronto: Rosendo Chendy De León.

I’m working on other different videos with my partner Francis Mercier. We are planning to film videos in Montreal, Toronto and also in Cuba this winter.

I do not have retail dealers, my preference it not to. So the best way for my product to be heard is on videos, and certainly producing live clinics with musicians. That is why in 2016, I will be producing several clinics in Montreal, Toronto, New York in and probably in Miami.

I have a small team, 2 employees in my workshop, plus myself and Francis, who helps me to develop and create the marketing utilizing these videos. We only focus on quality and contact with musicians. It had been always my target; “to make them happy and proud of their instruments”. Money and success come only after when this is well done. I think every craftsman and his craftsmanship should be like this.

I say, that it is much more than the profession, it is a passion, a calling!

By Les Moncada & Marco Moncada


Interview with Melaku Belay of Ethiopian Band Fendika



Ethiopian act Fendika is set to perform at North American world music showcase globalFEST on Sunday, January 16 at the Ballroom stage in Webster Hall, New York City. Fendika’s concert begins at 19:00 (7:30 p.m.).

Cultural entrepreneur, dancer and Fendika leader Melaku Belay talks to World Music Central about the upcoming concert.

Can you tell us about the band you will be taking to globalFEST 2016?

Fendika is a traditional Ethiopian music and dance group based in Addis Ababa. Our performances draw from Ethiopia’s azmari – like bardic – tradition while adding creative movements and sounds that extend these ancient musical forms. At globalFEST Fendika will feature seven performers – two dancers, two singers, and instruments including kebero drums, masenqo (a one-stringed bowed lute), and krar (a five- or six-stringed lyre). I have traveled throughout Ethiopia to learn the music and dance traditions of the country’s 80 plus tribal groups.

Our performances present a cultural journey starting in the highlands of Tigray, Wollo, Gonder, and Gojam, also including dances from the Somali and Afar regions and southern Ethiopian dance forms from the Gurage, Wolaita, and Konso traditions where music is an integral part of life. I have danced with people from all these groups, and sometimes I bring them to Addis to perform with us – this is a great way for us to continue learning about the wonderful diverse cultural expressions of our country and to bring different traditions together.

My artistic vision is to present the rich musical traditions of Ethiopia to the world, while also including a natural innovation in our expressions. I believe that culture is always changing, but should also honor its roots and sustain that heritage while building cultural opportunities for the future. We are creating a new tradition!

Many influential North American arts presenters will be at globalFEST 2016. What do you expect to get out of it?

We are so excited to bring our culture to globalFEST, and hope to meet many presenters who would like to book Fendika for their shows in the future. We love to tour in America and have many supporters from our previous performances here who wish to see us again!

Can you give our readers a brief history of your band?

I am passionately committed to the preservation and development of traditional culture, from my early days as a boy fascinated by the celebrations I saw in the streets of Addis, such as Timket, our Feast of the Epiphany in mid-January. This religious festival is attended by thousands of people, we dance and play drums and express our spirituality and also our joy in gathering with others. Music and dance is a central part of that – I started dancing there and have never stopped! I participate at Timket every year with my group and family and sometimes also bring musicians from the countryside to Addis to dance with us. For me, the experience of dance is cultural expression, life, the practice of culture, it is not just a performance for an audience.

Timket at 2:00



From those beginnings, I went on to work at a club where traditional azmari musicians played every night. I danced for tips and often slept there, it was a rough beginning but I loved performing and now I manage the club, Fendika Azmari Bet in the Kazanchis neighborhood of Addis Ababa. In Ethiopian culture, an azmari bet is a traditional house of music where people come to be entertained, informed, and sometimes playfully insulted by the azmari who serve as current events commentators while they dance, play masenqo, and improvise songs.

In addition to the azmaris who perform every night at Fendika, I established two traditional performing groups – the smaller elite group Fendika and the 12-member Ethiocolor. We present our traditional repertoire of music and dance at the club, and also love to collaborate with guest artists from Ethiopia and from around the world – musicians, dancers, poets, circus performers, all genres! For us this is an opportunity to exchange cultures, to grow and learn, to provide a bridge for all artists, and to connect on a human level.

I wish to mention something that is important to me – at Fendika club, the azmaris and the musicians are paid for their work. Not every music venue does this. Also, I help the musicians as much as possible to set up accounts, attend classes, and find accommodations. It is an investment in Ethiopia’s future, through culture.


Fendika - Photo by Geert Vandepoele
Fendika – Photo by Geert Vandepoele


What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

Fendika brings excitement, quality, fun, authenticity – we present what we know from our lives. We welcome everyone to join us. Yes we begin with traditions but we also create. Our style is not playing “traditional” music mixed with “modern” or western sounds. It is rather a new creation from merging old musical traditions with contemporary innovations to come up with a new set of “modern traditions” within Ethiopian music.

One example of this – I went to the Merkato, the open-air market in Addis that is a city in itself, and an ancient one. There is a place where men are recycling oil drums into new pieces of equipment using only hammers. I was inspired by the natural sounds they make in their work, and I created a dance of spontaneous movements along with them, with no words or music but in total sync with their rhythms of everyday life. You can see this here:



Dance is our language, how we communicate all emotions and how we celebrate together. I dance with Fendika and have become known for my eskista, the “shoulder dance” that tells a story of how a person can outwit a snake by moving his body in an athletic but sinuous trance-like way. Many of our dances have stories behind them, and our movements have meanings. This video explains about this: @ 1:36

Fendika loves engagement and interaction between audience and performer. Audiences become part of the celebration! Also, we love to partner with musicians from other countries and genres of music, to collaborate and to influence each other. We have had amazing musical explorations with Ethiopian jazz bands, American free jazz genius Ken Vandermark, European punk leaders The Ex, Le Baroque Nomade, Le Tigre des Platanes, and Ethiopian legends Mahmoud Ahmed, Getachew Mekuria, and begena master Alemu Aga, among many others.


Fendika - Photo by Lynne Williamson
Fendika – Photo by Lynne Williamson


Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

Ethiopia has many legendary musicians, from regions and cultures around the country as well as the Disapora, some traditional and some from our “Golden Era” of police bands and popular singers and jazz performers. They are our base, our inspiration, even if they don’t perform now. I reach out to them and bring them to Fendika to play and sing with us, they love this and feel they are not forgotten. We learn from them. For instance I found Zeritu Getahun, a beloved singer in her day, and brought her to Fendika. Also recently singer Tadele Bekele was a guest artist at Fendika, also from Zeritu’s generation.

Another inspiration is Alemayehu Fanta, who has taught music for 43 years at the St. Yared School of Music in Addis – he plays many instruments including krar, masenqo, and begena. Ethiocolor includes a legendary washint (bamboo flute) player, Yohannes Afework, so we involve many generations. Alemu Aga, a begena player, is an influence on me for the essential spiritual quality of our music. And of course I love the great Mahmoud Ahmed and have danced on stage with him and also with Alemayehu Eshete, most recently in August in Stockholm. And we gain deep inspiration from the people who live in the countryside and who originated the music and dance of Ethiopia, and practice it, live it, every day. They keep our cultural wellspring alive.


Fendika - Photo by Mario DiBari
Fendika – Photo by Mario DiBari


What Ethiopian traditions do you represent?

Ethiopian musical beginnings go back at least to the 6th century, when St. Yared wrote music and played the begena, a 10-string lute, for spiritual ceremonies and for meditation and prayer. This was our way to connect to God, and became the foundation of our musical traditions. The azmari instruments such as the masenqo (a one-stringed bowed lute) are played in social gatherings and were also used in church ceremonies to thank God.

At Fendika Azmari Bet we begin every performance with a song played on masenqo of thanks for what God gives us. So our musical traditions are deep, and we draw from them in the form and content of our expressions and the spirituality that we feel when we perform. I believe so much in collaboration whenever possible, because working with our legends keeps them in the forefront of today’s music, and encourages the young azmaris and musicians to discover the traditions and learn them and develop them.

For us, our music is more than performing – we live our art in community and spiritual gatherings throughout the year. And Fendika club is a place of exchange and constant renewal, and joy in our culture.

Yes, Ethio-jazz is a wonderful musical movement that fascinates the world. Even though it adds new instruments like saxophone, when a master like Getachew Mekuria plays he makes the sax sound like a masenqo – he has the essential traditional sound and the soul in his instrument. In some ways Fendika’s music is like that – we are deeply traditional, but we add new ideas and movements, in a natural way. Improvisation is an essential part of our tradition, we don’t separate the approaches, they are seamless.



Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

Our favorite way to perform, our main audiences, are live, either at Fendika Azmari Bet or on tour. But we have also made recordings to spread our music. The first is the self-produced Addis Tradition, which includes many azmari musicians and azmari songs from Fendika’s musicians who play regularly at the club. The title is a play on words, as “Addis” means “new” in Amharic.

Our second CD was produced in 2014 by Selam Sounds based in Sweden; it is called Ethiocolor which is the name of our larger performance group and features many of those musicians Selam produced a video from the CD that is shot with a 360 degrees effect, the first time that has been done in Africa:



This year Fendika joined with the Ex to produce a 7 inch single, Lale Guma/Addis Hum, our interpretations of traditional songs and chants. Very cool.

If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?

I have been blessed to be part of many amazing music and dance collaborations. I love to work with the Ex, and Ken Vandermark – improvisation masters! We performed together in Europe this summer and many times before including in 2013 in the U.S. Fendika has experience from the folk festivals of the U.S. and in educational programs in France in participating in “World Sounds” or “World Dance” workshops on stage, featuring musicians from several cultures who demonstrate their art and then exchange and collaborate resulting in a group performance on stage. One I remember especially was with the Moroccan Gnawa musician Hassan Hakmoun at the Richmond Folk Festival – what a great way for audiences to understand different musical traditions, from the musicians themselves – how they are different, and how they can connect.

Also, I enjoy performing with groups like Addis Acoustic Project and the great young keyboard player Samuel Yirga. Musical partnerships and guest appearances happen all the time in Addis. And we mix things together – poetry with jazz and dance, theatre, acrobatics, sound – it’s organic!

Collaborations I would like – with the Taarab musicians of Zanzibar. Also, I love Tibetan culture and hope to learn more about their music. Did you know that Fendika played at a concert in Germany this summer with Usher? …

I wish – I would love to have had a chance to work with Michael Jackson.



Do you have any upcoming projects to share with us?

The musicians and dancers at Fendika will soon collaborate with a young dance group that has won “Ethiopian Idol.” I continue to develop my contemporary dance piece called Misunderstanding. Another project that partners with sax player Jeroen Visser and other musicians and dancers will travel to South Africa to present Fano/Be Ready – “Fano creates a dialogue between the worlds of the Music and the Dance, the Old and the New, the North and the South, the Structured and the Improvised. Having the Shellela – the ancient war chant as a returning theme, it asks for attention and preparation, the Old and the New to be mastered Now, and made our own,”

Future Fendika tours include Portugal, Spain, and possibly Brazil, through the embassies of these countries.

One of my dreams is to organize a street festival outside the door of Fendika Azmari Bet in Kazanchis, that will bring many musicians and dancers and cultural groups together to celebrate and invest in our neighborhood, and this will happen in 2016. And I am working to create an Ethiopian Dance Association.

We are eager to meet you all at globalFEST!! You can keep up with our activities through these links:


Interview with Steeve Valcourt of Haitian Band Lakou Mizik

Lakou Mizik
Lakou Mizik


Lakou Mizik is one of the international acts set to perform at the 216 edition of world music showcase globalFEST. The band’s leader, guitarist Steeve Valcourt discusses the band’s history and upcoming concert with World Music Central. Lakou Mizik’s manager, Zach Niles, provided assistance with some interpretation.

Can you tell us about the band you will be taking to globalFEST 2016?

Lakou Mizik is a modern Haitian roots band. We come from many musical backgrounds; vodou, gospel, rara, even some hip hop. Our instrumentation is part traditional part modern, vodou drums, rara horns, accordion but also electric guitar. We try to defy expectations. We look like a folkloric band but we feel more like a high energy dance band. Lakou Mizik’s focus is on keeping our culture strong and present while also staying rooted in the present.

Many influential North American arts presenters will be at globalFEST 2016. What do you expect to get out of it?

We are incredibly honored to be among the artists chosen for globalFEST. Our dream from the beginning of this band was to bring the real Haiti to the world. Our music is engaged, filled with country pride, positive messages but we also honestly reflect on the difficulties Haitians face. We know these difficulties very personally. BUT our music also makes you dance and smile- whether people understand our lyrics or not, we know that people will feel our music and with that we make a connection that has a lasting effect. So – our dream with globalFEST is that presenters give us the chance to be positive ambassadors around the world of our beautiful and I must say so terribly misrepresented country!



Can you give our readers a brief history of your band?

Lakou Mizik is a collective of musicians who came together with producer and manager Zach Niles in the wake of Haiti’s tragic earthquake. Myself and Jonas met Zach and we came with a vision of using our traditional music and culture as way to paint another picture of Haiti – different than what international news coverage was saying. Our voice is our music and what we wanted to say is that Haiti is more than just a sum of the natural and man-made disasters that gets reported on. We kind of started as a collective with members coming and going – but have now turned into a full band still looking at our old traditional music but also writing new music together that reflects current realities.

What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

Haitian rhythm. In Haiti we say “Tanbou Frape, Ayisyen Leve Danse” – when the drum is beating, Haitians dance. Whether it’s the tanbours or the snare, it’s the rhythm of our country that is at the heart of our music. Also the rara cornet (traditional horns) – Tanbour and Cornet represent Haitian culture and something that every Haitian can have pride in. We each come from different traditions from the vodou lakou, from rara, from the church from pop music this is the blend that really makes Lakou Mizik what it is.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

Me personally, I can say my Dad, Boulo Valcourt is a big influence on me – and one of my musical idols. But of course there are so many legends and I think each band member might think of. For me, Bob Marley and a Haitian legend named John Steeve Brunache who wrote a very powerful album in the 90s that affected me. Jonas I know loves very strong political music and James Brown. Nadine grew up listening to Whitney Houston and Emeline Michel. We are also so lucky to have one of Haiti’s legends in our band. Sanba Zao is a founder of the racine movement and major musicians that we all grew up listening to.

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

Lakou Mizik’s early recordings were in my basement studio in Port-au-Prince. It’s tiny. Dogs and ducks always walking into the recording booth. And there’s not always electricity but sometimes these places bring the best inspirations. We recorded Peze Kafe there in 2011 and it’s really what got the band started. We didn’t think about being a band. We thought we would record different musicians around the country. But we just kept seemed to keep finding the same people; and just having fun together. At some point Zach was asked if we would perform a show. So we had to rehearse and pretend we were a band and I guess we never looked back from there. We’re still a kind of a collective of musicians with varied backgrounds, but we’ve become more like a family now.



What musical instruments do you use?

We are not even sure how we evolved how we did. We don’t have a drum set, but we have a bass player who plays a kick drum and a percussion player who plays the snare drum. We have two tanbou players and two rara horn and percussion players. We have an accordion player and I play guitar. In some way our instrumentation reflects all the musical traditions of Haiti – vodou, troubadou, rara with some rock and roll mixed in too.


Lakou Mizik playing rara horns
Lakou Mizik playing rara horns


How’s the roots music scene in Haiti now?

Of course in a general sense we have strong cultural music scene. You can see Rara bands in the streets, troubadou bands on the beaches and you can walk around any night and hear the drums and chants of Vodou in the distance. But in a commercial or popular way, roots music is, you could say, stale. There are a couple of legendary groups like Boukman Eksperyans and RAM who have dominated the scene for over 20 years. And many Haitians don’t seem ready to see what the next generation might bring. It sometimes feels as though we don’t appreciate what we have in our backyard as much as what comes from “Lot bo dlo” or overseas. So much music now is imported: R&B and rap and now electronic music. But our culture is too strong. I know even with this, eventually our Haitian roots breaks through and we will make it ours. But in terms of real roots music there are very few groups trying to really keep it alive and evolve it.



If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?

I think each musician in Lakou Mizik would want to bring their own. Me, personally, you know I have been a producer for so many years that at times I more identify in that way. So for me, I have always dreamed of working with Quincy Jones. His music has made such an impact on me and on culture around the world in general. That’s my biggest dream. As far as musicians go, you know my dad is a big jazz man so I grew up with that in my house always and early on. I just loved the sound of George Benson’s guitar and voice. Strange for a young guitar player in Port-au-Prince but as early as I can remember me and my friends would try to play along with George Benson. I have been listening to a lot of Santana recently and think that a Santana in Haiti album would be amazing.

Do you have any upcoming projects to share with us?

Lakou Mizik is a band filled with creative minds. We can’t sit still. Every time we are together new songs are born. Our first album “Wa Di Yo” comes out in March but we are already scheming our next album. We have also started collaborating with a Haitian dance troupe, Jean Apollon Expressions, based in Boston. We’re going to be creating original music to go with new choreography by Jean Apollon and text by Edwidge Danticat that is based around the idea of “home”. It’s inspired by the current crisis many Haitians are facing being forced out of the Dominican Republic and the immigration and refugee issues happening around the world.

Official website:


Interview with Vocalist and Songwriter Somi



Somi, an eclectic jazz and Afro-Roots singer-songwriter born in Illinois to immigrants from Rwanda and Uganda, is set to perform on January 17, 2016 at the globalFEST world music showcase. The concert will take place 7:00-7:50 p.m. at the Marlin Room in Webster Hall, New York City. Somi talked to World Music Central about her background and upcoming concert.

Can you tell us about the band you will be taking to globalFEST 2016?

I’ll be there with my all-acoustic chamber jazz septet which (in addition to myself) includes drums, bass, guitar, piano, violin, and cello. It’s different from my usual touring electric quintet in that it’s meant to be a more explicit juxtaposition between definitions of African and western music, in both traditional and modern contexts. We will presenting material from my album “The Lagos Music Salon” which was inspired by my 18-month creative sabbatical in Lagos, Nigeria.

Many influential North American arts presenters will be at globalFEST 2016. What do you expect to get out of it?

I hope to get out of it what I hope to get out of any performance – an opportunity to connect with new audiences. The beauty of having so many presenters in one room for this particular show is it that it will hopefully serve as a more direct connection to those audiences.

Can you give our readers a brief history of your band?

I’m not sure how to answer this one, but I will say that the main rhythm section (Toru Dodo, Liberty Ellman, Nate Smith, and Ben Williams) are jazz musicians that I’ve had the pleasure of working with as my touring ensemble for a long while – some of them for over 10 years. We come from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds but all live in New York City and all share a love for global music.

I’m thrilled to have begun touring with strings as well it adds a textural dimension like no other. Although we’ve known each other through the music community over the years, I have only just begun working with cellist Marika Hughes and violinist Mazz Swift in my band.




What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

Improvisation is an essential element in my music. I am in no way a straight ahead jazz vocalist, but I love the freedom that jazz has always given me both in performance and form. As a songwriter, the explicit freedom of jazz allows me to share and be all of who I am both in sound and word – Rwandese, Ugandan, Midwesterner, Harlemite, New Yorker, Lagosian, etc. I love that. Other elements that are essential to my music are rhythm and color. I play with a wide range rhythms from various parts of the African continent and I always try to privilege a sense of color so that the listener feels immersed in both imagined and lived cultural memory.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

Honestly, there are too many to list, but if I had to pick three I’d say Miriam Makeba, Nina Simone, and Sade.

You have Rwandan and Ugandan ancestry. Did the traditional music of these countries have any influence in your music?

Yes, definitely. My cultural heritage shows up in my music in more nuanced ways than are usually expected though, both linguistically and musically.

What languages do you use when you sing?

Mostly English, but also Swahili and Kinywarwanda. On my Lagos album, I also sing in Yoruba, Igbo, and Nigerian pidgin English.

You lived in Nigeria. What led you there?

I had been to Lagos before to perform at a jazz festival with my band and fell in love with the “Africanize” parallels I saw between there and New York – the cosmopolitanism, the vibrant intellectual and artistic communities, the hard-earned reward that awaits those who persevere. After that first trip, I knew I wanted to come back. I also loved that there was a jazz audience there which spoke volumes about the city’s creative economy and world view. About a year later, I was invited to do a seven-week international teaching artist residency at a university five hours north of Lagos. While there, I was deeply inspired and knew that I wanted to stay.



Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

In my earlier recordings, I was still learning about my voice and discovering the stories I wanted to tell and how I want to tell them. Over time, I’ve become so much clearer about those things. Although we continue to evolve as artists, I have been at it long enough to know what I need for a most generative creative process.

One of the greatest gifts I received from my Lagos sojourner was a reminder to take greater risks because nothing is guaranteed. Living in a context where you are constantly reminded of your position of privilege helps me not to take any opportunities as an artist for granted. So I would say my greatest evolution is probably that I take more risks both on and off stage. Hopefully when people listen to my newer work they hear the honesty of those risks.



Do you have any upcoming projects to share with us?

I am currently working on two main projects. One is my new album that I can’t say much about yet, but will be out on Sony/Okeh in fall 2016. The other is a theater piece about the life of Miriam Makeba that will be in theaters late 2017.




Eternal Motive (SanaaHouse, 2003)

Red Soil In My Eyes (World Village/Harmonia Mundi, 2007)

If The Rains Come First (ObliqSound, 2009)

Live at Jazz Standard (SanaaHouse/Palmetto, 2011)

The Lagos Music Salon (Sony/Okeh, 2014)


Official website:


Interview with Johnny Kalsi of The Dhol Foundation

The Dhol Foundation
The Dhol Foundation


The Dhol Foundation is one of acts selected to perform at the influential globalFEST showcase. Johnny Kalsi, the band’s founder and a former member of groundbreaking world music acts Transglobal Underground and Afro Celt Sound System, discusses The Dhol Foundation’s background with World Music Central.

Can you tell us about the band you will be taking to globalFEST 2016?

The Dhol Foundation has a few different configurations, but I’m excited to be bringing with me to globalFEST an explosive line up of four-five dhol drummers, a tabla player, a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer, and a fiddle player.

Many influential North American arts presenters will be at globalFEST 2016. What do you expect to get out of it?

It’s very exciting to bring the Dhol Foundation to our first showcase. Though I’ve toured North America in other bands, it’s always been one of my dreams to do a six week tour coast to coast with the Dhol Foundation.

I also have 4 possible re-releases to offer as after Narada/EMI (my first album label) closed, we didn’t release any further albums in USA officially, only on UK itunes. So we can also hope to do a deal on all those for a reputable label to manufacture and distribute with a reasonable marketing budget. We do also have 2 DVD’s ready for release of live performances.

Can you give our readers a brief history of your band?

If I had a Dollar for every time someone asked that question… Here’s the short version: I was playing in a pioneering Bhangra band called Alaap in the 80’s touring the planet and thinking this was the life. The material got old and I wanted to grow bigger and expand.

I opened a class in Slough, Berkshire and the people came. The word got around fast and before I knew it council Mayday fairs began to contact us for short showcases and performance slots. It was then I had an opportunity to do workshops for WOMAD and that’s where I got the taste of what it was like to be on a World Music Stage in front of 10,000 people in a square in Spain.

I was in love with performing on that scale and wanted more. One thing we lacked was material. That was a kick on my backside to get into a studio and start producing, having done loads of recording sessions from years before and having seen the process and learned a little programming. This is where I picked up the pace. I began to pick and train an “A” Team to get them ready for the big stages. A tabla & drum kit was added and before long I had a keyboard player and a Punjabi vocalist. The Dhol Foundation Band was born.


Johnny Kalsi
Johnny Kalsi


What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

Essential elements for our music is simple. A Set of Ears, A Heart, Big Speakers and some space to dance! If I had to say that in one word it would simply be “drum”.
Sometimes inspiration is under our nose and we don’t see or hear it. The fact is I find inspiration in lots of things around. Sometimes tunes or a sample might dictate the direction the track wants to go. Other times I just steer it myself to what I hear next.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

I don’t really have a main influence but I do have many various ones. I like the “Old Skool” Bhangra (as I grew up in that era) and I also like a bit of Bob, Lenny, Hendrix and even some James B or MJ. Ultimately, when I grow up I’d like to be like Peter Gabriel & Robert Plant. I have no real one influence. In my music I like to think I have the ability to fuse sounds and colors. Sometimes I like my music to be a blank canvas for listeners and let them make their own pictures that have individual meaning. Every sound has color and every color is in the form of a sound in my head. Like a painter will search emotion or objects to bring them inspiration, I can do the same.



Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

Producing the first album stemmed from my answer about a brief band history. This was a venture that I set out to produce something that I could call my own. Something that I could hold up and say “I did that”. I worked with Sumeet Chopra in other sessions and studios for Bhangra artists. He was a very influential person in my early growing producer career. I wasn’t really looking for a direction but more to showcase the drum and it’s capabilities to push something that was going to appeal to lots of people and styles all neatly bundled together with the sound of the dhol drum.

Real World gave me the publishing deal I was looking for and thank the heavens, within a year the last track on the album “Drummers Reel” made the Hollywood Blockbuster “Gangs of New York”. This turned it all around and other Hollywood Films soon followed in the coming years.

What musical instruments do you use?

I am a “Logic” man and it is my mecca for music production. The plug in’s and soft synth give me so many sounds to choose from. I also have a massive library bank of real wav samples. Some from other sessions that I have not used.

Instruments include: dhol (obviously) dholak, tabla, duff, drum kit, bass, guitar, tumbi, sarangi, strings, vocals, cymbals, fiddles, uilleann pipes, Celtic harp, nylon guitar but to name a few…

Basically whatever sound is needed for particular tracks with flavor and mood.

You are known for mixing acoustic traditional music from South Asia with cutting edge electronics and even Celtic music. How’s the global electronica scene in the UK now?

The influence of the electronica has always been in my production since my early years with Asian Dub Foundation & Trans Global Underground to Afro Celt Sound System. I brought all of these influences on my albums and carry the theme through. The Celtic streak has always been in me from a young age. I fell in love with jigs & reels before I knew what they were called.

The electronic influence has sometimes been a little experimental and sometimes with intent to be influential. I think I have had the right abroad and the right aptitude to drive The Dhol Foundation in the right direction. Sometime I get the “Folk Police” after me and saying things like “It’s not traditional” & “You shouldn’t mess with traditional beats”. But I like moving with the times and trying a variety of sounds.


The Dhol Foundation
The Dhol Foundation


Tell us a little about the dhol drum institute you run in London.

The Dhol Foundation was the very first dhol drum group in UK. Dhol as an instrument has always been a solo instrument. Never was it played as an ensemble. I was the first person to gather up troupes, teach them a sequence of beats and rhythms and perform together. Gradually as the team became stronger in the playing, I began to move a bit to the beats and almost like a dance. Some of the lads started to copy and before I knew it we had a routine and small choreography sorted.

If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?

Great Question. If I could gather up a “Super Group” it would probably be something like this:

Dhol drum – Me & my A Team of course
Dholak – Kukki Jogi (Ludhiana, Punjab)
Tabla – Zakir Hussain (Shakti)
Drums – Meytal Cohen
Bass – Tony Levin
Guitar – Santana/Slash
Fiddle – Mairead Nesbitt
Keys/Samples & FX- Simon Richmond
Piano – David Arnold
Vocals – Amy Winehouse (If she was still alive), Shin (Bhangra Band DCS), Robert Plant, The Weekend, Neo, Beyonce, Missy Elliot, and any other wicked vocalists I’ve missed.

Do you have any upcoming projects to share with us?

I have been working on our 5th album and it’s a killer! This is one that will be special and different. I’m hoping at this stage the mix & mastering turns out ok.

Dhol Foundation tracks end up with sometimes 198 channels of audio. So mixing something like that down needs an amazing set of ears and an engineer that really knows his tools. For the ones that know us and our back catalogue, all of our albums have the word “Drum” in the title: Big Drum Small World, Drum-Believable, Drums & Roses, Drum Struck and the new one (Working title) Stick to the Drum.

I’m seriously hoping for a 4 week tour across USA with The Dhol Foundation. The tour-bus thing I’ve missed for ages now and its time to hit the road again. A few stops I would love to make are Houston (Texas), Boulder (Colorado), Twin Falls (Oregon), and Los Angeles (California). Various reasons why I’d love to go back. Some sentimental and others to see how it’s changed over 7-10 years.

My other band “The Afro Celt Sound System” have a new album and plan to head that way 2017. Let’s hope this can happen too. My dear friend Mairead Nesbitt has been touring USA in a show called Celtic Woman for many years now. I love listening to her stories and miss being out there.

While touring you get the feeling of how wonderful the world actually is. What else is out there and it makes you wiser to the “Real World” and not have your face lit up by an LED screen 18 hours of the day. Between work, laptop & mobile phones, our faces are constantly in front of a screen. To be in a vast and beautiful country looking out of the window and watching the flats of the planes drift by is the most real feeling in life.

The sheer size of the States and knowing some of the history about it, holds a fascinating knowledge that I want to share with members of my band. We can’t wait to bring our love in the form of our music to everyone. We’re all really looking forward to being there. Just don’t miss the show!!


Big Drum Small World (2001)
Drum-Believable (2005)
Drums & Roses (2007)
Drum Struck (2010)

Official website:


Interview with Te Vaka Founder Opetaia Foa’i

Te Vaka
Te Vaka


Polynesian fusion band Te Vaka has a new album titled Amataga (Warm Earth Records, 2015). Te Vaka’s founder, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, choreographer and composer Opetaia Foa’I talks to World Music Central about the band’s background.

Can you give our readers a brief history of Te Vaka?

Formed in 1995. Began touring internationally from 1997, with 8 albums now and another to be released end of 2016.

Te Vaka performing a Polynesian dance
Te Vaka performing a Polynesian dance


Te Vaka members performing a Polynesian dance
Te Vaka performing a Polynesian dance

What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

The language, the stories, chants, log and skin drums.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

From traditional chants and dances of the South Pacific to Jimi Hendrix, Peter Gabriel, Ali Farka Toure plus many more.

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

The first album was something that I needed to do, so there was much excitement in the studio at that time and I found out that I can quickly create songs in that kind of environment.

The experience of sharing the WOMAD stages around the world with some amazing bands was a big influence in my writing the next four albums

To collaborate with others is probably what I’d like to do more of at this stage.


Te Vaka
Te Vaka


Your current band include family members. Tell us about the musicians in your current band.

My son, Matatia is on drums. Olivia, my daughter, plays keys, sings and dances. They are amazing as they keep the band together and me in line. The other members are chosen depending on the gig.

Your lyrics incorporate influences from various Polynesian islands. What languages do you use?

Tokelau, Samoa, Tuvalu and English.

What are the differences and connections between the music of Tokelau, Tuvalu, Samoa, Cook Islands and New Zealand?

Stories, chants, dances and language. Though they sound different, you can tell they all came from the same canoe. It’s just a matter of emphasis.

What musical instruments do you use?

Puha (wooden box), pate ulu, toa, liki (log drums), pa’u vili, loko, malu (skin drums), guitars.

You currently live in Australia. How do you keep in touch with the Polynesian island culture?

I fly to New Zealand regularly, and to Samoa last year. Keeps me connected.

Do you have any initiatives to transmit Polynesian music and dance traditions to new generations?

I think my involvement with Disney as songwriter on their next major release will get not just the music but the Polynesian culture into many homes around the world.

If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?

Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Mozart.

Do you have any upcoming projects to share with us?

Working on album no.9 and on a Disney musical movie.




Te Vaka (ARC Music, 1997, re-released through Warm Earth Records)

Ki mua (Warm Earth Records, 2000)

Nukukehe (Warm Earth Records, 2002)

Tutuki (Warm Earth Records, 2004)

Olatia (Warm Earth Records, 2007)

Haoloto (2009)

Havili (2011)

Amataga (Warm Earth Records, 2015)


The Magic of Christmas

Various Artists - The Magic of Christmas
Various Artists – The Magic of Christmas

When you get a creative composer, musician, Latin band leader, studio engineer, along with another composer and saxophonist together, the outcome you get is a tremendous Christmas album.

In northern California, Frank Lizarraga, and saxophonist Bernie Torres combined their thoughts and with a host of musicians compiled this great Christmas album, The Magic of Christmas.

Les Moncada – How did you get the idea to do this new 2015 Christmas Album and or what inspired you?

FL – The idea was to write one Christmas song for 2015 year. After two months, we wrote three songs and just decided to write an album. We just wanted to write the best Christmas songs that we could.

BT – Frank and I have been collaborating musically for over 30 years. So when Frank was approached by one of the vocalists featured on the album to write several Christmas songs we went to work writing and one song led another. As Frank said, our goal was to write some really good Christmas songs.

What did you do to get the project going?

FL – We decided to write a Christmas song for a local singer.

BT – After writing several songs for this local singer she decided that she wanted to record more of the standard Christmas songs that are out there. After realizing that we had more material than was required for this vocalist, Frank came up with the brilliant idea of creating a Christmas album sampler which featured regional vocalists and musicians. This was the motivating force to get the project going and keep writing songs.

So who composed the songs that were recorded on the album?

FL – I wrote most of the music and Bernie wrote most of the lyrics. One session I would write a melody and he would write lyrics to it. Next session, he’d bring lyrics and I’d compose music for it.

BT – I wrote a couple of songs (music and lyrics) for the album but primarily I wrote lyrics.



Where did the ideas for the lyrics come from?

BT – The ideas for my lyrics came from my own personal family experiences and also from ideas that Frank shared with me. When I write lyrics, I try to elicit an emotional response from the reader or listener. I want them to feel what I was feeling when I wrote the lyrics.

So tell me a little about your project regards to recording this Christmas album, who was the recording engineer, who was the mixing engineer?

FL – I recorded most of the initial “basic” tracks in our project studio. Then Bernie and my son, Francisco would help record the dubbing tracks. Francisco performed all of the mixes with Bernie and I assisting.

BT – Yes, this was a “one stop shopping” approach to recording and producing this album. We did all the engineering (excluding the mastering) because we were operating on a shoe string budget. We financed this project ourselves because frankly (no pun intended) we don’t have the resources that other producer/songwriters have.

So what genre of an audience do you feel would be attracted to your album or purchase your album?

FL – The album consists of various musical genres from jazz, pop, and rock to several Latin genres; bachata, bolero, mariachi, rock en español and to world beat. We’re hoping to attract eclectic listeners with our wide range of musical styles.

BT – As Frank said, we are hoping to attract eclectic listeners but who are also looking for fresh new original music. Not just the same old classic Christmas songs that have been recorded over and over again by different artists.

Do you both plan to do more future recordings and if yes, in what genre?

FL – We plan to do more recording but I have no idea when. I don’t even have an idea what genre I’d be interested in the future.

BT – Yes, we plan to continue to work together and record each others’ music as we have been doing for the last 30 years. As song writers we are always trying to write the next great song. That’s just the nature of songwriting. The genre? That’s a good question….maybe it will be another Christmas album.. Ha ha.

So what does the future bring to your Christmas disc and future recordings?

FL – As far as the Christmas project, we’re going to try to secure other performers to record their rendition of the songs from the album.

BT – Our hope is to bring some national attention to our songs. Getting a national recording artist to re-record our songs would certainly help to get our music out there to a broader audience.

FL – You can download it at iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and CDBaby.

Purchase The Magic of Christmas


Interview with Ukrainian Artist Mariana Sadovska

Mariana Sadovska Photo by Oleksandr Fraze-Frazenko
Mariana Sadovska Photo by Oleksandr Fraze-Frazenko


Ukrainian singer, actress and composer has developed a hybrid music style that combines traditional folk music and avant-garde sounds. She is scheduled to perform at world music showcase globalFEST 2016 on on Sunday, January 17, 2016 in New York City. She discussed her career and upcoming concert with World Music Central in November 2015.

Angel Romero – Can you tell us about the band you will be taking to globalFEST 2016?

I will be coming with my newest project Vesna, duo with Christian Thomé, multi-instrumentalist and composer from Cologne, Germany. Last year we have being performing in Albuquerque during Revolution International Theater Festival and in Joe`s Pub in New York and we are looking very much forward to meet with an American audience again.

AR – Many influential North American arts presenters will be at globalFEST 2016. What do you expect to get out of it?

Since 2000 I am performing and working in music and theater projects in USA. My every visit was full of amazing experience, inspiring meetings and collaborations with American artists, great exchange and challenge. I had an incredible chance to work with such artists as pianist from New York Anthony Coleman, legend of klezmer music Frank London, theater director from La Mama – Virlana Tkach, Kitka Vocal Ensemble from San Francisco, Pig Iron Theater from Philadelphia, and last but not least Kronos Quartet.

I always felt at home in New York. And I love the energy, openness and challenge, which this city and this country has to propose me every time. In other hand, through all my life I feel my small mission – to open the door to the world for the Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian music. So, of course, I am looking forward to move on. I wish to be heard by the arts presenters and producers and with their help and ideas to be able to share my music to the brother audience, to bring the voice of Ukraine to you.


Vesna: Mariana Sadovska and Christian Thomé - Photo by Meyer
Vesna: Mariana Sadovska and Christian Thomé – Photo by Meyer


AR – Can you give our readers a brief history of your band?

We started our project 2012 with an idea of combining ancient Ukrainian folk songs and contemporary electro-acoustic sounds, interweaving different cultures through poetry and melody. The premier of our first full concert program was at the well-known Stadtgarten Concert Hall in Cologne in June 2013. Just few weeks later we were invited to perform at Germany’s biggest folk, roots and world music festival “tff Rudolstadt”, where I received the RUTH World Music Award. Since that we have been performing in Ukraine, Germany, Poland, England and produced our CD “Vesna”, which we are bringing with us to the globalFEST!

AR – What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

Once women from the village, from whom I learned a huge amount of my songs, have heard me singing life during a concert in Kyiv. I felt I am going through one of the most serious test, exam. After the concert they told me: “you change the songs a lot, but, you keep the soul.“ This is my answer. It is crucial for me to hear the heart-beating of the song. To try to understand, what this song want to tell us today? The time has changed, the sounds around us are changing, but what is still so important? So painful? What make us feel joy, what make us cry? What shall we remember? What shall we protect? How this ancient music should be sung / performed today?

For me it is even more interesting to discover all this together with somebody, who has no Ukrainian roots. Christian Thomé, my musician partner, while working, is searching for his own answers in his own way. He brings his own musical sensitivity, his own imagination. Because of this, I believe, we manage to find a very special meeting of old and new, we manage to cross many borders, between the cultures, between the styles. This is fascinating – to combine old and new stories, rhythms, East and West and – music instruments from the oldest one – drum till the newest – laptop!



AR – Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

I am often compared with and I love and admire the work of Diamanda Gallas, Laurie Anderson and Iva Bittová (even though, I discovered their music only after I heard a compare. If I will speak about all people, who inspire me – the list will be very long. Lately, big influence on my music research made vocal artists from England Jason Singh. I am singing ritual music, so I have to be conscious of emerge energy, which is coded inside this musical incantations. Last years during each concert I repeat the words of Leonard Bernstein “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

AR – The best known Ukrainian act in world music circles is Dakhabrakha, What Ukrainian traditions do you represent?

While working with Traditional music, I want to be brave and to risk, to be open and experiment, to provoke the tradition, to be in dialogue with it. Otherwise, tradition can became a cage. Somebody told, there is nothing more changing and moving as a tradition. I think, we can bring a life into it, only, if we will make it our own, if we let it go through our heart, musical fantasy and dreams. In my musical work I am looking very deep into the soul, heart of the song, trying to find a hidden there 1000 years ago treasure for to be able to bring it on today’s light. In today’s sounds possibility.

Somebody called me nationalist and cosmopolitan in one person. I am balancing between the words, between the east and west, between tradition and new music, between being at home and being in immigration, between being deeply rooted and very free… Maybe you can call it Neo-traditional Ukrainian music???

AR – Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

My first recording happened, actually, in New York. My very first impulse to perform was coming out a necessary to tell about all this women and men, which I met in Ukrainian villages, during my expeditions. To share all songs, stories, legend, anecdotes. How with your voice you may call the spring? How may you push the rain clouds away? What songs you should sing during the fertility rituals at 5am, while accompany the bride and the groom to their first night? How the small boy was transformed into the bird and so on, including my meeting with the shaman men in the Carpathian Mountains.

I grew up in the West of Ukraine with the thoughts that Soviet time destroyed completely this culture, everything ancient, and everything that we call Ukrainian tradition. It was forbidden to sing in Ukrainian or even to speak Ukrainian.

When I went to my expedition and discovered, that this older women and men managed to protect, to keep the old knowledge and rituals and that they seems have been waiting for somebody to come and to learn it from them. That is why I started my solo concerts, combining story-telling and singing. My real premier was in New York. After it I got amazing reviews in the New York Times and a proposal to record an album for Global Village label. My very first CD I called “Songs I learned in Ukraine“.

Right now, while searching for new and new possibilities of human voice, while working with different singers from different cultures and while including into my instruments i-pad and laptop, my biggest question still is – what is my dew as musician and as a human being. In our days, where my country is in war, protecting its independence, where many of my friends are involved as volunteers or as soldiers…what is my task as an artist and as a musician?

So I am singing benefit concert in the cities in Ukraine, which were occupied. Or which are just on the border of military operations. I am sharing my music and hope with people, who lived there, bringing humanitarian help to the refugees, working with the children, who experienced bombing and loss, while leading singing workshops.

Women in the North of Ukraine believed, that if we will not sing the spring, spring might not come. More and more I feel, that my responsibility is to sing the piece, to sing the love and to sing the Ukraine.


Live performance by Vesna: Mariana Sadovska and Christian Thomé - Photo by Oleksiy Khoroshko
Live performance by Vesna: Mariana Sadovska and Christian Thomé – Photo by Oleksiy Khoroshko


AR – What musical instruments do you use?

From the oldest one – drums, Jewish harp (which is one of the most beloved instrument in Carpathian Mountains). From the newest one – electronics, laptop and i-pad.

AR – If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?

It will be the biggest gathering of musicians from all possible countries and stylistic – Kronos Quartet, Jason Singh (UK), Outi Pulkinnen (Finland), Jonathan Hart Maquwaja (New York), Taras Kompaniczenko (Ukraine), grandmothers from Volnovacha (Ukraine, Donbas region), Nick Cave, Diamanda Gallas…. and the best will be, if Stravinsky may be reborn and compose for such an ensemble.

AR – Do you have any upcoming projects to share with us?

After performance on globalFEST I am looking forward to sing my composition “Chernobyl.The Harvest“, composed for the Kronos Quartet on Fev 4th in San Francisco. Later one, please come to Switzerland in the beginning of May 2016 for the Naturstimmen Festival, where traditional Yodel choirs will meet with the world music artists from around the world.

I love to joke, that I am pregnant now with my new solo project, and it will be born very soon.


Songs I Learned in Ukraine (Global Village CD819, 2001)
Budemo wesnu spiwaty (SEIAK 001, 2001)
Borderland (2005)
The Rusalka Cycle by Kitka, composed by Mariana Sadovska (2007)
Singing through darkness, DVD with Kitka (2010)
Just not forever (NRW Records 2859681, 2011)
Might be (2012)
Vesna, with Christian Thomé (Flowfish Records ff0068, 2015)