Sweet drums are made of this…

Kudu horns and drumbeats! In a revamped Drum Struck, at The Market Theatre, not only do you get to join in with your own drum, for two nights only, writes Adrienne Sichel, you can also experience the 80-strong South African Traditional African Orchestra featuring the famed Imilonji KaNtu Choir.

Shock number one: Warren Lieberman, the mlungu with rhythm, won’t be cajoling drum-thumping wannabees into a frenzy, “I was in Drum Struck before because I was the best, but Enoch Mahlangu is now a million times better than me. You’ve got to know when to hand over the reins.

Shock number two (call it a revelation); This do-it-yourself musical spawned from the interactive Drum Café’ concept, is not just a money-spinning gimmick or simply a drum-along for the rhythmically challenged.

Drum Struck is one facet of burgeoning industry underpinned by a passion to research, nurture and promote traditional South African music. This strategy, which has enormous income generating potential, includes a museum linked to a soon-to-be published book. The ongoing research, led by Rhodes graduate and Drum Struck’s new music director, Anthony Caplan, also underpins the South African Traditional Orchestra. An Academy of Music, with its marimba and drumming teachers, is twinned with an African Music Agency which teaches the professional ropes. Instrument making is about to be added to the Drum Café’s repertoire.

The Bus Factory in Newtown is where this 7-year old organization is based after moving from Parktown North. In one corner, beyond, The Beautiful Things exhibition, is the museum curated by dancer-drummers Lerato Ndlovu and Mpho Rasenyalo who are soon off to Holland with their Basadi Women of the Drum show.

After a lighting tour of this intriguing collection Warren Lieberman ricochets around the office-cum-African-music-library, where tuned kudu horns made by Andrew Tracey and co in Grahamstown adorn one wall, uhabi bows and an umhrube another. Downstairs, director Kathy-Jo Ross is putting finishing touches to the musical she directs and co-created with producer Lieberman. Richard Carter is the drum director and Ghananian African Djani is the new lead drummer.

The rehearsal space doubles as a repair workshop and drum store for 300 djembes, mountains of gumboots and sundry instruments. This stash is used for the highly lucrative corporate team building arm of the Drum Café or the social performance wing of children parties, weddings and barmitzvahs. Drum Struck, which premiered at the Libery Theatre on the Square two years ago and triumphed at the State Theatre during the World Summit, is creating its own momentum. In May it tours officially to Beinjin. Then Lieberman’s sights are set on Off Broadway.

Missing from the cast at the Market is master drummer Munkie Mcapayi who is running a Drum Café in Vancouver. In 1995 this Capetonian introduced the Joburger (a UCT electrical engineering graduate who owned his own hardware business) to the wonders of the djembe drum. Music became Lieberman’s life. “It was such a powerful dru we began running with it. We wanted to make a Stomp-style musical, then I saw Blast. We can’t compete with the Americans. We have to use our traditions and not emulate them.”

Apart from Vancouver, The Drum Café now has partnerships and franchises, in London, Sydney and five branches in the US. Before setting up his venture in 1997 Lieberman went to Hawaii to do a facilitator’s workshop with Arthur Hul of Village Music Circles. “Our style,” grins Mr Drum Café, “we keep a closely guarded secret. We are the only people who have a worldwide brand.”

In their search for authenticity and heritage, the Drum Café is collaborating with university music departments and functioning as a networker. “We are trying to do the book as traditionally as possible, from pre-colonial times, but how do you not include mbaqanga into SA music? And look at Amampono who are seen as one of the most traditional groups in the country and they play marimba which is a Zimbabwean instrument.

The tunes are only 20 year-old but we don’t throw that out. “We’re taking a top-down approach to the museum. We’re identifying all the professionals out there, tracking down all the projects, putting all the pieces together. When we first started playing the djembe we got enamoured with the West African style. I then realized SA music is richer and more varied. In fact it is more pleasing to a Western ear.” The 2004 version of Drum Struck features a new finale for 15 drums.

“The whole concept of the show is that the audience must feel they are experiencing how tribes of thousands of years ago used to provide entertainment. They came together round a fire, played drums, sang, danced and told stories. In an hour-and-a-half we try and create that experience. The only thing which is not entirely traditional is the gumboots. It’s been done to death but it is so South African. “So thankfully is Warren Lieberman, musical matchmaker extraordinaire.