Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sounding a new beat

Musician J Mathew held a drum clinic in the city. It was the first of its kind in Kerala

By Shevlin Sebastian

“Drums are for boys,” says the ten-year-old.

“Who says so?” says his younger sister. “Girls can also play.”

“Let’s go and ask mummy,” says the boy.

This conversation took place during the tea break at the first drum clinic held in Kerala by drummer J. Mathew at The Mercy hotel, Kochi. In the audience were several youngsters, musicians, parents, and middle-aged professionals.

“The aim of the clinic is to explain technical concepts and to show the evolution of the instrument from the 18th century onwards,” says Mathew. “It will be beneficial for students and music lovers.”

In the first half, Mathew spoke about several methods, which included the single and double stroke roll, paradiddles, the flam, and how to play the snare drum, tom toms, hi hat and the double bass.

This session was interesting for aficionados, but the technical terms did go over the head of the uninitiated.

But the audience reaction was positive. S. Sabu, a marketing professional, who has just started learning the drums a month ago, says, “Mathew made it look very easy, but it is very hard to do.”

Nidhi Suresh, 14, a budding musician, says, “I found it informative and entertaining.” Nidhi’s friend, Anamika Haridas, 13, also liked the performance. “Mathew was able to express his ideas very clearly,” she says.

As for Adarsh Sebastian Monippally, 12, who has been playing the drums for a while, he says, simply, “Mathew is extraordinary.”

This extraordinary musician is a slight, boyish-looking person, who, because he plays with so much of energy and focus, gasps for breath after each segment.

“A drummer’s job is to provide a structure for the group,” says Mathew. “Those who play the guitar, the keyboard and the vocals provide the decorative work, above the structure.”

In the second half, Mathew showed the range of his musical knowledge. As the knowledgeable Master of Ceremonies P. Krishnakumar gave a brief snippet about the music, and played it on the computer, Mathew provided the drum accompaniment.

It started with the Soukous from the Congo, then moved to the Bembe from the Cameroon, on to the waltz, the blues, the cajun, jazz, bebop, Afro-Cuban jazz, country music, funk, reggae, jazz fusion, and rock.

“This is not my type of music, but I enjoyed it all the same,” says Mathew Philip, the CEO of the Kerala Travel Mart Society. “His performance was coming from within.”

Yes, indeed, it was a sincere and passionate effort. Frequently, Mathew closed his eyes and was still able to hit the cymbals and drums without missing a beat. “After all I am doing this for a long time,” he says, with a smile.

Mathew became interested in drums when, at the age of ten, he saw a senior student at the Seventh Day Adventist school play the drums. “I was fascinated,” he says. “Because I realised that all the four limbs -- right foot, left foot, right hand and left hand -- are used. When playing your whole body and mind are involved.”

Today, Mathew has his own institute, Jam Percussive Nexus, in Kaloor where he teaches music. He has also set up a drum-recording studio, Mat’s Project Studio, on NH 47.

A full-time musician, he admits it is not easy. “If the aim is to make a lot of money very fast then it is difficult,” he says. “But I am happy because I am satisfied with what I get.”

Mathew is also an author, having written a book on ‘Innovative Drumming Concepts’.

For the last song on the programme -- saxophonist John Coltrane’s classic version of ‘My Favourite Things’ from the film, ‘Sound of Music’ -- Mathew was accompanied by Saji Abraham on the bass guitar and Sammy Karen on the keyboards. It was a rousing finish to an intense two-hour programme, surely the first of many for this talented musician.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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