It would be a mistake to judge the Global Music Project on its Grateful Dead pedigree. Though organized by former Dead drummer Mickey Hart, the world music performance appearing at Lisner Auditorium would appeal more to students of ethnomusicology than to students of Jerry Garcia.
This does not mean, that only someone who can tell the difference between conga and bongo drums, or a djembe and a talking drum, will enjoy the show. Hart’s Global Drum Project contains enough grooving beats and musical curiosities to entertain even the most stoic of audience members.
In fact, aspects from Hart’s years with the Grateful Dead do turn up in the Global Drum Project. Of greatest significance is his collaboration with Indian tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, which began in the 1970s. Interested in ethnic music, Hart studied Indian percussion techniques with Hussain’s father in 1968. When Hart began to play with Hussain, they formed the Diga Rhythm Band in 1976 with other notable percussionists. In 1991, Hart collaborated with Hussain on the album “Planet Drum,” the precursor to the Global Drum Project, which earned the first-ever Grammy Award in the World Music category.
Other “Planet Drum” collaborators, which appear in Global Drum Project, were Nigerian Sikiru Adepoju and Puerto Rican Giovanni Hidalgo. Adepoju lends his skill with the African talking drum, and Hidalgo brings Caribbean flavors to the ensemble with his practiced conga technique. The distinctive sound of the ensemble owes as much to these ethnic influences as it does to Hart’s use of technology to augment them. The ancient and the modern are melded effortlessly via reverberation, digital layering and other techniques to create something wholly new.
Listening to the recently released “Global Drum Project” album, which coincides with their concert tour, it is clear that Hart and his colleagues are masters of their art. Their rhythms are ethereal and infectious, without the boisterous bravado of modern rock bands or jazz big bands. The ensemble is seductive in their subtlety; rhythms are relaxed and hypnotic, filled with a restrained energy that propels the audience forward, but never outpaces it. Various drums from around the world are layered with spirited shouts, cymbal crashes, Latin shakers and whispered invocations. Hart makes full use of his ability to manipulate his music electronically, including vocals from former “Planet Drum” collaborator, the late Babatunde Olatunji, on the album’s first track. Two other tracks on the “Global Drum Project” album contain a sitar modified to adopt characteristics of an electric guitar.
To reproduce such in-studio manipulation on stage at Lisner, the members of Global Drum Project have prepared certain prerecorded segments to layer live during the concert. With so many variables and drums involved, the four Global Drum Project members recognize the ever-changing nature of their music. Neither the album nor the tour represents the culmination of their creative process – their collaboration began decades ago, and it will continue into the future as they explore new sounds in new venues.
The Global Drum Project featuring Mickey Hart and Zakir Hussain will perform at Lisner Auditorium tonight, Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. Discounted tickets are $15 for GW students.