Rhythm 101

Ubaka Hill returns to Tucson to teach drumming as a path to liberation and well-being.

Here are a few points of essential etiquette that are not common knowledge: never ask a rancher how many head of cattle she has; never set foot on someone's boat without asking for permission to come aboard; and never start tapping on someone else's drum unless you have been expressly invited.

The last, by far, is the hardest to obey.

Drums are irresistible. Kids know this and aren't ashamed. If there's a drum in front of them they just reach out--they just want to touch that skin. It's more than making noise. In fact, I'm certain the desire to smack something that amplifies and gives back our own gesture in larger than life proportions is a basic human need. It is empowering.

Tucsonans have an invitation to indulge and explore this weekend as nationally known songwriter, poet and master percussionist Ubaka Hill returns for a series of drumming workshops and performances.

Hill is, in an important sense, a music activist. Not in the sense that she uses music to enlighten us about issues or causes--you won't hear any old Wobblie classics here--but rather that she believes in the power of music to heal and transform a world and the people who have been ravaged by outside elements. She teaches drumming as a vital expression of our health and well-being.

A native New Yorker, Hill began performing with an inner city New Jersey jazz group at the age of 18. Since then she has released two recordings, Shapeshifters and Spiral Dance.

Hill has founded and serves as director of the Drumsong Institute, a museum and archive of women's drumming and percussion traditions in Catskill, N.Y. She also is the founder and musical director of the Drumsong Orchestra, a national, multi-cultural ensemble of female percussionists of all ages and experience levels.

Hill's journey for Tucsonans begins with a three-hour workshop on Friday at 7 p.m. "Drumsong: The Art & Spirit of Drumming I" will focus on basic skills: technique, understanding drum language, rhythm vocabulary and group playing. At 10 the next morning, "Drumsong II" builds on those skills with a five-hour workshop, applying the lessons of the previous session to tutorials in multi-cultural rhythmic styles.

That evening, Hill will show off her talents in a concert at Nations Hall in the Muse complex. Hill's performances are known as dynamic and inspirational. Through the study of styles ranging from Afro-Caribbean to jazz and folk rhythms, she understands the power of drumming from its roots in ancient ritual and in community building as well as she understands laying down a rhythm you can move your body to.

Hill brings her visit to a close Sunday with a five-hour intensive workshop, "Ear to the Ground--Drumming at the Edge," which will focus on drumming as a vibrational healing tool and the regenerative power of rhythm, patterns, songs and chants. This last workshop is open to women only.

Proceeds from the weekend will benefit the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation and the Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona.

By the way: if you attend the Drumsong workshops, you will be invited to become a member of the Tucson Drumsong Orchestra that will perform two to three songs with Hill during the Saturday night concert. You'll have your fifteen minutes of fame and half price tickets to the show. It could be the invitation of a lifetime, one that perhaps you didn't know you've been waiting for.