blood drum spirit is an American quartet that performs original works reaching across the jazz spectrum. Continuing a collaboration going back more than three decades, under royal hartigan’s leadership the group has toured in the USA, Asia, and West Africa, and recorded three CDs and a DVD. As part of its mission, the ensemble engages in cultural sharing; its members have lived and worked with people from different musical traditions around the world.
Ensemble members explore rhythm, melody, form, and style, incorporating West African polyrhythms, Javanese gamelan structures, Philippine gong music, Native American songs, African American clapping plays and rhythms, and Indian time cycles (tala) into original compositions and improvisations. The group’s original works push boundaries of tonality and harmony; works by master composers from the jazz tradition round out the group’s repertoire.
The name blood drum spirit was originally the title of research into global music and culture and concerts produced by royal hartigan. These events brought together performances of multiple world traditions in a single place, each with its distinct history and heritage. Becoming attached to the quartet during a tour of China, the name describes the mission of the ensemble: blood, the heart and connection we all share through the ancestors; drum the metaphorical heartbeat/rhythm felt by all musicians, physical/psychological existence of the universe, and all people (“if you can walk, you can dance…” an African proverb); spirit the connection to something larger than ourselves.
Beginning as a collaboration between drummer royal hartigan, bassist Wes Brown, and saxophonist David Bindman at Wesleyan University in the early 1980s, and joined in 2003 by pianist Arthur Hirahara, the ensemble has performed, taught and collaborated with artists and community members across the United States, in China, the Philippines, and Ghana. Venues have included the Midi Festival in Beijing, Philippine Jazz Festival (CCP), the World Music Institute (NYC), the Chale Wote, Nkabom, and Pun Africa Festivals in Ghana, and numerous other festivals and clubs, as well as educational programs at universities and conservatories. Ensemble members’ experiences range widely; group members have worked with artists across multiple genres and generations.
The group’s trip to Ghana that led to the Film We Are One was the outgrowth of years of studying and sharing by drummer/ethnomusicologist hartigan. With the permission of his teachers, royal brought the music he learned home. The ensemble members, all who have studied West African music in the U.S.A., adapted these rhythms and songs to new compositions and arrangements. Assisted by a Fulbright Scholar Award, royal was able to bring the group to Ghana in 2015. Caught on camera by a three-person team led by Martin Adi-Dako, the footage captured the intent and joy of this collaborative cultural exchange.
Please visit www.blooddrumspirit.com for more