One Drum: A Review

Holly Haebigby Jeremy Berg

At first it seems that Shank Hall is the wrong venue for One Drum. There are tables and chairs right up front, and if ever there was a band to get up and dance to, it’s One Drum. Inside of 20 minutes, though, I’m proved wrong — the venue works, as the hall fills up with people swaying to the rhythm. As for those still sitting down, hey, if that’s what you really want… There’s a little bit of everything in the music. A rotating selection of instruments keeps the band moving through African, Middle-Eastern, Latin, and other rhythms, while the inclusion of such non-“world music” instruments as harmonica and electric guitar prove they can build on their influences, not merely copy them. An instrumental flavor of a different kind is added to the show when the band passes out hand-held percussion instruments to the audience. Holly Haebig explains, “it diffuses the illusion that we’re the stars and they’re the audience — that’s the one drum.” Roman Edirisinghe adds that the practice originated in school performances, and “the schools go nuts.” Though One Drum plays clubs and festivals, as well as birthday parties, weddings, and even retirement homes, schools hold a special place in the band’s philosophy. “It’s about education,” says Haebig. Indeed, the band started with nothing more than Jahmes Tony Finlayson’s involvement in the Community Drummers, a loose group of musicians who shared an interest in African drumming and would get together to play. Finlayson and David Stocker started performing regularly as a duo, and the band has expanded that way ever since, from trio to quartet to today’s eight to ten member line-up. The educational aspect of the band hasn’t wavered, either. “Everybody brings in such a huge variety of ethnic backgrounds…training…and then we teach each other,” says Haebig. One Drum sings in English, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Yorba, and Senegalese, among other languages, and possesses a similarly diverse list of musical styles. The band’s lyrics and message are informed by the same inclusive spirit, with songs that encourage peace and understanding, and they have worked with a number of peace organizations in town. One Drum is a regular fixture at peace rallies and similar events. The philosophical aspects of One Drum are backed up by rock-solid musical skills. The CD gives some idea of the band’s sound, but the live experience is something else again. “We’re more like a traditional jazz band in the sense that we trade off solos…except with world music,” says Edirisinghe. Improvisation lies at the heart of One Drum’s shows. There is a setlist, but “we flow with the energy of the crowd,” says Haebig, adding that the band will alter the setlist to reflect the audience’s mood. “It’s like the music starts to play us,” adds Edirisinghe. With such musical prowess, One Drum’s success, both in Milwaukee and on a national level, hardly comes as a surprise. While the recognition is nice, One Drum’s main motivation continues to be musical exploration. As Edirisinghe says, “I feel like I haven’t even dipped my finger in this great pond of musical life.” One Drum has a self-titled CD out. See for upcoming events. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 7 – July 2003