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World Music Features

Global Drum Project

By John Ephland
Published February 15, 2008

Hard to believe it’s been 15 years since Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum entourage last played together, but all that’s changed with the reunion of Hart and tabla master Zakir Hussian. They’re the driving forces behind Global Drum Project—a unique update on Planet Drum that includes a new album, a recent U.S. tour and a tighter emphasis on melding drumming with modern technology.

Whiz-bang, globe-trippin’ Grateful Dead drumming Mickey Hart has always gotten a kick out of traveling—conceptually as well as physically—and his latest venture with tabla master and longtime cohort Zakir Hussain certainly fits the profile. “It’s very Marco Polo-ish at this point,” he explains. “We’re trying to connect the earth with sound in a real way, kind of like a space probe. That’s basically the overview for this project—that and to get the old gang together.”

 

That “old gang” is the latest incarnation of the Grammy-winning Planet Drum percussion ensemble that took the world by storm over 15 years ago. Newly tagged as the Global Drum Project, with a self-titled album produced by Hart and Hussain, the group flexes just as much rhythmic muscle now as they did back in the day (just ask anyone who caught their wildly successful Planet Drum reunion tour in 2006). Puerto Rican conguero Giovanni Hidalgo and Nigerian talking drummer Sikiru Adepoju return to the fold, and they’re joined by percussionist/ vocalist Taufi q Qureshi, sitar player Niladari Kumar and

Dilshad Khan on sarangi. There’s even a “cameo” on the album via sampled vocals from another Planet Drum alum—the late great Baba Olatunji.

 

Hart says that new discoveries created the impetus for this fresh collaboration, and he bubbles over with enthusiasm for the “sophisticated machine processing we use on stage in real time. Global Drum has a new sonic quality that used to only be available in the studio. Now we have sound-on-sound, and we can do it on stage. As a result, the palette and the colors have increased a hundred-fold.”

 

On the eve of their fall 2007 U.S. tour, Hart and Hussain were primed for a discussion about all things rhythmic and technological. Hussain, in fact, was excited to talk about how his ancient tablas have been transformed for the better. “The technology being used has actually opened up a different way of listening to my instrument,” he points out. “It calls in a different way, and it has opened up other ways to respond, so there are new ways to address it.” Perhaps looking back on his childhood days in India, or imagining the landscape of his adopted home in northern California, Hussain evokes poetic images when contemplating his creative process. “There are mountains, valleys and rivers that were not explored on this age-old instrument. Now when I hit one skin on the tabla, I can feel each vibration, and those colors—you respond to them in a way that’s inspired.”

 

Compared to the effusive Hart, the more taciturn Hussain acts like an anchor he’s the methodical one who keeps the ship steady, seated behind his tables as if immovable. “He’s the grounding force,” Hart says with pride. This becomes obvious when the two are asked about the music on th