Kenya Masala

Kenya Masala has a big plan to change people's lives with drumming. Masala and his cohorts are planning Za Boom Ba, an interactive rhythm project slated to make its premiere in May at the Tucson Convention Center's Leo Rich Theatre. Through his work in leadership development, Masala has seen drumming change how people work together, he says. On May 7 and 9, everyone who walks through the door will be handed a percussion instrument and encouraged to get busy. For more information, visit zaboomba.com.

Where did this idea come from?

My background is actually in education and organizational development, and I've studied music for 25 years. As soon as I learned to drum, my first thought was: How could I share this, and how can I use this as a tool? I would bring elements of percussion in the corporate-training work I was doing, and the response was always positive. People would get it, and they would be naturally energized just from the experience. The more I kept using drumming and rhythm, the more it seemed natural in all trainings—working with young people or Dell, Chevron, Premera Blue Cross and almost every Fortune 500 company. By the end of the day, they knew that talking about working together is a good idea, and by end of the day, they could feel it through the rhythm.

So taking to the stage was the next step?

Za Boom Ba was born out of that. We thought: Wouldn't it be cool to have people go to a theater where they are also interacting?

What if you fill the Leo Rich Theatre? Do you have enough instruments?

We have 500 instruments, and the audience will get a chance to start with a simple instrument, and then build up to a drum. It's the combination of using the dance (team) and the percussion team to excite the audience, but instead of saying, "Here is this; isn't it great? Clap for us now," we say, "Here you go; become part of it." This is what rhythm is all about, what community rhythm is about, and what people have been doing for hundreds of years.

Who are the people performing onstage?

Community members; some have been professional dancers; some semi-professional dancers, mainly selected from the spirit they bring and the sheer energy they share; and (the same goes) with the percussion team, many of whom are part of Batucaxé, and they bring some immense talent. I also want to demonstrate that something with this much power and excitement, and this much excellence, can come out of Tucson.

Are you from Tucson?

I moved to Tucson about 10 years ago, and we lived here for about 5 1/2 years and moved to Austin (Texas). After our daughter was born, we realized all our peeps are in Tucson, and Tucson is such an amazing jewel. Having lived here before, we knew the richness and what you find when you pull back the cover. ... There is an amazing arts scene here, and the community pool of talent in Tucson is quite incredible. ... We're also lucky to have commissioned Flam Chen to do the costumes and set design—again, more amazing creative talent that's right here in Tucson.

What do you want people to leave feeling?

When they leave, the intention is that one, that feel energized, and they've been able to connect with themselves in joy and joyful experience, which we find happens when people experience drums and rhythm. And (two), that they feel the power that happens with rhythm and community, the unification that happens through the music when 500 people come through that theater. Some will know each other; most will not, but you will be contributing your voice via your instrument to a jam that will be musical and rhythmic. ... (It will be) a unified beat, and each person, we hope, will recognize: "I contributed to that. I was a part of that, and I felt the beat, and it was all of us."

Do you have an ultimate goal or vision?

The vision would be to stimulate more community rhythm jam activity here in Tucson. ... (The goal for) Za Boom Ba itself it is to let it grow to Stomp proportions—it is an interactive Stomp. Maybe we can tour or find a producer who wants to take it and build it up. We're dreaming big, but our desire is to first create an experience right here in Tucson.

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