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Calgary Herald, Feature >>

Kids can go beat crazy with percussion group Drums United

By Heath McCoy, Calgary Herald

With its explosion of world beats, African tribal drumming and Cuban rumbas criss-crossing frenetically with Indian tablas and Spanish flamenco grooves — to name but a few of the styles at play — Dutch percussion troupe Drums United is an act ideally suited to any world music showcase.

And, indeed, its shows today and tomorrow at the Jack Singer Concert Hall are the last of this year’s BD&P World Music Series.

But the Netherlands based percussion group is also here as part of the Calgary International Children’s Festival, a booking that might seem curious to some, at first.

What, after all, does this blast of multicultural beats have to do with the realm of kid’s entertainment?

Make no mistake, says Drums United founder Lucas Van Merwijk, who’s brought his group to children’s festivals before, “kids love it.”

“Many kids, at a certain age, they love to bang on stuff, they love to hit things, and to see grown up people doing that, kids really respond” Van Merwijk says.

In addition, the drum group incorporates plenty of audience interaction, with children and their parents invited to dance, clap and sing along with the music.

The inclusion of a DJ, a dancer and a percussionist from Senegal who ventures out into the crowd with his “talking drum,” known as the tamma, are aspects of the Drums United performance which children respond to with particular glee, says Van Merwijk.

But perhaps it’s the subtle educational element of the show which best makes Drums United so perfectly at home with children’s festivals.

“We explain where the different drums are coming from and what is the connection to the cultures,” Van Merwijk says. “So besides entertaining the children, they get something out of it too. They learn. Hopefully, they’re inspired.

“It’s a little lesson for them . . . but it’s not a classroom sort of thing. It’s a fun way for them to learn. . . . The small kids might not get it, but they feel the energy. And the older kids, they take in the information.”

Van Merwijk — a punk basher turned jazz drummer has been teaching music at the Rotterdam Conservatory for the last 25 years. With individual departments dedicated to African, Latin, tango and Indian music, many of the musicians who would eventually make up Drums United were ripe for the plucking when the instructor put the group together in 2000.

Initially the troupe was assembled for a one-off music festival in Duesseldorf, Germany, which had asked Van Merwijk to organize a percussion-based performance.

That was such a rousing success that Van Merwijk, who plays with several groups, including a Cuban big band, was soon inspired to make Drums United a full on touring act.

More than any other form of music, rhythm has a universal appeal, Van Merwijk feels, cutting through cultural and geopolitical barriers like nothing else can.

“Music has melody, harmony and rhythm, and rhythm is the part of the music that everybody relates to the strongest,” says Van Merwijk.

“Travelling all over the world I see that people make the strongest connection with the rhythms of all different cultures, even if they don’t understand the harmonies or the melodies.

“That’s the beauty of this group. Borders don’t exist so much. That’s the magic of the drum.”

Drums United will perform three shows between today and tomorrow at Jack Singer Concert Hall as part of Calgary International Children’s Festival. See © Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

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