Last weekend, I travelled back to Berlin to participate in a three day course in Candomblé percussion with my friend and mentor Dudu Tucci.
I was first introduced to Candomblé percussion back in 1999, but at the time, I didn’t have the technical playing skills to appreciate it. In addition, at that time, I felt that it was inappropriate to perform music from a religion that I had nothing to do with, or being more pragmatic: why learn how to play something that I would never be called on to perform in public?
Time moved on, and I came to learn that most of the secular rhythms we play in Masamba, especially arrangements we learned from Dudu over the years, owed a debt to this for of music, and that developing a working knowledge of the music could be an invaluable tool in helping me understand the music better, and in composing new pieces.
As always, Dudu was an excellent host, and the course was pitched at a level that was challenging, but never so much so that I wasn’t motivated to keep going. We covered several toques from the Orixas, and got a little bit into playing technique too, so the course ticked all the boxes for me.
In previous years, a course like this would have taken place in Dudu’s legendary Percussion Arts Centre (PAC) in Kreuzberg, but as with so many other arts facilities, the entire block has been sold out from under them. Masamba has suffered a similar fate recently, and we know how difficult a move can be – emotionally, physically, and from a business perspective.
Dudu has relocated to a smaller facility called PAC NORD, but this course was delivered at the famous UFA FABRIK arts centre in the Tempelhof district of Berlin. Dudu has been working with the team here since the 1980s, and so I enjoyed a special level of access to the facility, and got to meet and chat with a number of staff members while I was there.
I had a long chat with UFA FABRIK veteran, and leader of local samba group Terra Brasilis, Manni Spaniol. He explained the history of how the facility was formed, and how it is run today. The current complex houses 3 indoor venues an outdoor performance area, workshop spaces for percussion and dance, a primary school, a petting zoo, children’s playground, a café/bar, a bakery, a whole foods store, and an accommodation block. In addition many of the workers at the centre live on site in a housing block. The programme is a mix of internally-devised programmes, most of which involve elements of the local community, and external touring shows, who just need a venue.
As well as my own studies, I stayed in the accommodation block, ate in the cafe, shopped in the whole food store, and attended a jazz gig on the Saturday night – all of which were delivered to a very professional level, and with a friendly and positive spirit – there is an infectious feeling of family throughout the complex that’s hard to resist!
So, the weekend ended up having double the expected benefits – I had a great weekend of drumming and learning, and I discovered an amazing arts facility, that definitely got me thinking about what the next Masamba facility might look like!
The trip to Berlin was supported by a grant from the Irish Recorded Music Organisation (IMRO)