Truro School of Samba, which was originally formed to be part of Truro Carnival, has for many years been central to public celebrations, both in Truro and generally in Cornwall. We have frequently been in the lead in the City of Lights procession, and were the first musical group to greet the Olympic flame when it reached the UK in 2012.
In the same year, we were one of only two groups to be invited to take part in the Mayor’s Parade in London that weren’t London based.
Our performances of Brazilian, Cuban and Jamaican Samba grooves have always been popular in our community, and workshops we have delivered have shown people how accessible this exciting music is.
From the above it would look as if the only connection the group has with Cornwall is one of geography but as musical director of TSS as well as musical director of “White Noise”, a youth Samba group I founded some years before TSS began, I had been keen to explore the way in which Brazilian and South American rhythms such as Samba, Rumba and Bossa Nova could be used with Cornish and other Celtic musical styles as a percussion accompaniment. Some these collaborations were with Merv Davey, and it was frequently proved that these rhythms did indeed work very well. A good example is Plethen Lullyn /Newlyn Reel, which we are currently playing with Merv. Glossary:
Tamborim = small, high pitched handheld frame drum
Ago = high pitched pair of bells
Caixa = thin snare drum, slightly sharper sound than European equivalent
Repenique = small high pitched drum, Surdos = large drums, rather like military bass drums.
The rhythmic tension caused by this hemiola is very exciting, all the more so as the Tamborim is alternating 3/4 with 6/8 and the Agogo and Repenique are completely 3/4. This fusion of music from Africa, the Caribbean and Europe makes this version truly world music; added to which there is a theory that the tune has quite a Russian flavour due to music played by the crews of Russian ships that once docked at Newlyn!
Other tunes we have collaborated on are “Hevva”, “An Awhesyth”, in which our accompaniment includes a rumba pattern: and again, having a cross rhythm feel between the tune and the accompaniment adds an extra dimension.
“Kostentyn” which I played with Merv as a solo drummer at the start of the Truro City of Lights festival two years ago, and which we now play using a Samba groove that was used on the Michaels Jackson video for the song “They don’t care about us” which was filmed in Rio de Janeiro. “Helghya”, which has a fascinating rhythm structure of three bars of 5/8/ followed by one bar of 2/4, works really well with percussion. No added complexity is needed as the rhythmical structure is already so strong. “Kid on the mountain” is a jig with three beats to a bar and we play a fairly traditional style accompaniment to this. We are hugely enjoying “Hamsterheid”, [not Cornish but very much in the Celtic musical canon] which has been popularised on You Tube by Clanadonia. Rumba rhythms really work well here. “Kan Dylly” is a beautiful simple tune which goes well with a military sounding accompaniment that occasionally gets a Latin Flavour.
And we have played the Breton tune “Ronde de St Vincente” at Truro City of Lights using a fairly traditional percussion accompaniment. Percussion has, of course, always been part of the Cornish music landscape. Fife and drum bands were part of our tradition, and ‘Obby ‘Oss without drums would be unthinkable. Cornwall has its own equivalent to the Irish Bodhran in the form of the “Crawdy Crawn” (derived from the Cornish Kroder Kroghen – sieve of hide). This hung in the kitchen as a container for odds and ends which was taken down and used as a drum when occasion arose. The Cornish tradition of a “Shallal procession” where people improvised percussion on any available utensil is interesting. When many households would have been on a low income and where access to music shops would have been limited to those with the wherewithal to travel, use was naturally made of household items. There is a parallel in Brazil where one of the instruments traditionally used for Samba percussion is the “Frigideira”, literally frying pan! As well as contributing information about the ”Crawdy Crawn” and “Shallal procession” Merv Davey kindly drew my attention to this quotation: “At Helston, the eighth of May is ushered in early in the morning by the music of drums and kettles, and other pleasant sounds” [Richard Polwhele, The History of Cornwall, Vol.7, (London: Cadell and Davies, 1803), p.138].
It might seem as if our approach, linking percussion techniques from a culture several thousand miles away to Celtic music, would lead to something artificial and synthetic. The proof of its validity is in the way this approach is actually hugely successful in inspiring players and audiences. In truth, any performing art, however “traditional”, can only survive and thrive if it is regularly nourished, and that nourishment can only be judged on its success, not its origin. Treating any form of artistic activity as an object in a museum that needs to be “authentic” and which can never be altered in any way is a sure recipe for sterile lifelessness.