"This is not just a fringe, faddish
kind of music that is cropping
up. People are getting into it.
They're dancing to it, and
it's the beat of the future,
the groove of the future.
- Mickey Hart
We have a special treat for you. This is an in-depth interview with one of the most influential drummers in world music today, Mickey Hart. His recording, Planet Drum, was (and still is) very influential in exposing drumming and world music to New Age music lovers. The album received the first Grammy ever awarded in the world music category. It was number one on the Billboard world music chart for an unprecedented 26 weeks. After many years, Planet Drum is still one of the top selling drumming titles in New Age stores.
Mickey Hart is best known for his role as an integral part of an extraordinary three-decade expedition into the soul and spirit of music, disguised as a rock'n'roll band called the Grateful Dead. As half of the percussion tandem known as the Rhythm Devils (Bill Kreutzman is the other Rhythm Devil), Hart has transcended, even shattered, the conventions of rock drumming. Hart and Kreutzman's extended polyrhythmic excursions have long been highlights of the Dead's live shows.
The pair has introduced the band's audience to an ever-growing arsenal of exotic percussion instruments from around the world. Exposure to these exotic instruments caused Hart to start a journey focused on learning about the cultures that produced the instruments. Hart's lifelong fascination with the history and mythology of rhythm is documented in his two books, Drumming at the Edge of Magic and Planet Drum.
Hart's study of the world's music also has led him to record with many great collaborators from around the world. He has helped to make world music more readily available by creating 20 recordings of world music in his "World" series on Rykodisc. His latest release is Mickey Hart's Mystery Box, a work that weds world rhythms to the most appealing qualities of pop music and features a dream team of world class drummers and musicians.
In the following interview from 1997, we ask Mickey Hart to explain what is behind the current explosion of world music and speculate on what might be the next trends in world music.
Steve Gordon: What is it about drumming that is currently creating such a strong response in listeners?
Mickey Hart: It's all about rhythm. We are rhythm creatures. Our whole body is made up of rhythm. We are part of a rhythmic world. And drumming is a great way for the species to make rhythm. Rhythm seems to be an integral part of our makeup as humans, as mammals, as interlocking organisms. So, rhythm is very important. Rhythms are all around us. We live in a rhythmic universe. We are embedded in it.
But when you make a rhythm of your own, something wonderful happens. It's someting totally unique, because no one has exactly the same rhythm, but we are full of rhythm. So, rhythm becomes an innate kind of language. It feels good. It increases adrenaline. It makes you dance, and it drives the party. It drives the dance.
All of the sciences now are rhythm-based. It gets right down to the nature of molecules and the firing of the neurons. When you understand that this is a rhythm-based universe, the power of the drum becomes obvious.
David Gordon: Could you say more about the idea that this is a rhythm-based universe?
Mckey Hart: There is some kind of discernible pattern, a certain kind of repetitive motion. We could call it a groove, a feeling. And those are the kinds of things that we look for in resonance - that's what this is all about. When I play a rhythm I am trying to resonate with the things around me - not only myself, but the universe.
Steve Gordon: So, it's a way of harmonizing yourself with the universe and how you fit into things.
Mickey Hart: Rhythm is a meditation. Rhythm is a focusing technique. It's also a superior entrainment maneuver. People used to create rhythm all the time to move in and out of altered states - trance, basically. This has always been frowned upon in the West. I've written about some of the history of trance and rhythm in Drumming on the Edge of Magic. Judeo-Christianity, and modern religions in general, "missionized" certain rhythms. When missionaries colonized indigenous people, they also brought their music and their rhythm. Not only did they have a superior God, they had a superior music and rhythm to lay on the people. "We'll take your culture, and we're go- ing to take your music, no extra charge." That's really what happened. But the legacy with rhythm is too strong to let the establishment of these benign aesthetic religions take the music. They didn't want trance. The last thing they wanted was anything like that.
David Gordon: They wanted to provide the only access to the trance and the transcendental?
Mickey Hart: They didn't want people going off and seeing other worlds and going inside to reveal the innermost self.
You asked why people now are responding to drumming and rhythm. There are-a lot of reasons. It has to do with entraining with ourselves and with the things around us. And it feels good. That's a really big thing. When you make a rhythm, you feel good.
Steve Gordon: What has been the response to your release, Music to be Born By?
Some people send me their whole experience of prenatal stuff, and how they've used it after birth, and how sometimes the children even want to hear it later in life. Every once in a while parents play it for them, because the kids recognize it. I've gotten all kinds of reports on it - it's fascinating.
Steve Gordon: It has an appeal to many different people.
Mickey Hart: It really took away the horror of the delivery for my son's mother. She concentrated on that beat, and the next thing we knew he popped out.
The whole thing is about rhythm. My baby heard his mother's heartbeat at 130 deci- bels for seven or eight months. And that was the beating of a giant bass drum to him. It's the big beat, like a big tattoo. It was dark and watery, and there was this loud bass drum, vibrating his whole being, for many of those months he was in her belly. That's a fascinating thought. And then he came out to a whole new rhythm.
His mother was able to move into an ecstatic state, a rapture state, and concentrate and then entrain with the beat on Music to Be Bom By, while he was being born.
I intended for that album to be played in the delivery room. But people play it afterwards, while they're going down the street. I remember my son didn't ask for it for years. He's 13 now, but when he was about five or six years old, for about a year he kept asking for it to be played, like when he was going to school. He'd say, "Dad, play that Music to Be Bom By.' Id play it for a few minutes, and he'd take off for school.
Steve Gordon: What are some of your favorite world music albums?
Mickey Hart: I really love the Gyuto Monks and the rainforest music from South America. I love indigenous music from New Guinea. I love the music of Egypt. I love all extended-voice techniques like the Tuva throat singers. They're really special to me. I have an appetite for the world's music. I love the beauty in a lot of different kinds of music. To tell you my favorite is really hard for me to do, because I've been able to hear a lot in my life that resonates with me.
David Gordon: What are some of your favorite drumming recordings?
Mickey Hart: The real pristine recordings, the early stuff. As a matter of fact, I have the first recording from the field, from March 15,1890, done by Jesse Walters Fieks. I listen to a lot of the Indian stuff that was done in Oklahoma on the plains.
Steve Gordon: Are these available?
Mickey Hart: You can get some recordings from the Folk Wave company, That's a great place for this kind of music (earlyameri- can indigenous native recordings). Some recordings are now being reissued from the Smithsonian. Rhythms of the Word with them on that. I'm also sorting out recordings at the Library of Congress in the Endangered Music Project.
David Gordon: What exactly is the Endangered Music Project?
Mckey Hart: As you know, there are endangered species. Musie goes away with cultures.. And, as cultures get wiped out, their music gets wiped out. The project has to do with those types of music such as the Gamalons and the music from South, the Renon choir music and the Caribbeans, and so forth. As cultures disappear, the music goes away. This project has to do with shedding fight on the problem and also with the beauty of these people and their music.
We have both been inspired and influenced by Mickey Hart's world drum explorations. If you would like to check out some of our drumming albums, click these links below. - David & Steve Gordon
Drum Cargo - Rhythms of Fire