From 1999 to 2006, the Halifax Drum Festival was a successful event that showcased some of the best drumming, music and dance Nova Scotia has to offer. When the festival's founder, pianist and percussionist Matthieu Keijser, passed away, a hole was left in the community. Keijser's friend Chris Kennedy, owner of Goatworks African Drums, decided to revive the celebration. Kennedy says, "I wanted to bring back that sense of community and collaboration that was missing, to expand on Matthieu's original dream and make the show more appealing to a broader audience." This year's festival boasts a diverse lineup, featuring groups who take cues from a colourful list of genres (Celtic, salsa, hip-hop, beatbox, flamenco, jazz), with styles ranging from the traditional to the more experimental.
You'll see Kennedy onstage at the festival, too, playing the djembe in West African-influenced group Fola. Kennedy traveled to Guinea in 2006. "I took lessons eight hours a day, and the rest of the time we shared stories, swam in the ocean and drank very warm beer. I made lifelong friends on that trip."
Local drumcorps Squid credits Keijser's creation with helping to launch its career back in 2000, so playing the festival again is "kind of like a homecoming," explains member Ian Macmillan. The musicians in Squid were all trained in the highly technical style of competitive Scottish bagpipe bands, but their current show incorporates "as many stick tricks and eye-catching movements we can fit into the routines," says MacMillan, who describes their "high-tension drum heads built from materials that are used in bulletproof vests, which is why they come across sounding like machine-gun fire."
The opportunity to attend a drumming event live is a special one. "In a live show, all the audience's senses are engaged. You can see the expression on the drummer's face and feel the pulse of a bass drum as it fills the room. The sound washes over you, your pulse quickens, you are right there sharing the rhythm with the drummer," says Kennedy. "Try getting that from a CD."
The Halifax Drum Festival, Friday, September 9, 8pm. Saturday, September 10, 12pm and 8pm, Alderney Landing Theatre, 2 Ochterloney Street, $15-$40 ($110 weekend pass), 461-8401 or ticketpro.ca