October 14, 2004
The Daily News – Halifax, Nova Scotia

"Thrilling DRUM! pounds out heartbeat of Nova Scotia"



Why “drum?” Why not fiddle or bagpipes? Surely they’re more associated with the music of Nova Scotia?

Not so, says Drum! producer Brookes Diamond.

“The idea is that each culture — Mi’kmaq, Black, Acadian, Celtic — has a rhythm that’s distinct and the drum is the instrument in common — the musical heartbeat.

“Drum! brings together these distinct rhythms in a way that’s totally unique,” he adds.

An abbreviated 55-minute version of Drum! was presented to audiences of cruise-ship passengers all last week up to Thanksgiving with hopes that the sneak peeks will lead to bookings next summer.

The full two-hour version, directed by direction of Timothy French (The Producers) and Nova Scotia’s own Doris Mason, debuts Friday for seven evening performances at a brand new theatre space within Pier 20 on the Halifax waterfront.

Hurriedly assembled in just two weeks, it’s an impressive theatre, with a semi-circle stage and the audience seated in risers all around. The view is perfect, no matter where you’re sitting.

And Drum! doesn’t end there. With its strong, 20-person cast, it tours to Moncton and Port Hawkesbury in late October and November, with a sidetrip to Edmonton, where it’ll be performed for entertainment bookers from across Canada. Diamond is also negotiating to bring Drum! to Expo 2005 in Aichi, Japan.

“We really hope interest will be strong enough that we can have a more permanent facility in Halifax,” explains Diamond, who predicts longevity for the high-energy show.

So, what’s all the excitement about? Performances last week had tourists clapping in the midst of numbers and exiting the theatre in a buzz, making a beeline straight to the table where Drum! CDs were being sold.

The show begins with the projection of surf on a drum-shaped screen. Mi’kmaq drummers take centre stage, beating out elemental rhythms on a large ceremonial drum. Moving seamlessly into an Acadian number, spoons pick up the beat, supplemented by accordion, fiddle, even the swiftly moving feet of the dancers. The same performers pick up different instruments and three singers take up a stirring Gaelic ballad.

At one point, George Paul and Trevor Gould are joined onstage by Jeremiah Sparks bringing with him a Ghanian kpanlogo drum, then Cathy Porter who’s welcomed with smiles from all round. In no time, there are a dozen percussionists with different kinds of drums straddled between their knees to create a terrific, heart-stomping racket.

“It’s so amazing to see the emphasis on percussion — it’s so rare in North America,” says Ian MacMillan, with the precision-drumming band Squid. “I’m just having the best time.”

“For me, it’s such an honour,” says Gould, from Afton, near Antigonish. “At first, I didn’t know what to expect — how would us Mi’kmaq be depicted? But I feel really proud to be a part of it — the Mi’kmaq are celebrated, not just as a culture but as a part of a greater whole, Nova Scotia.

“No matter what colour you are, we’re all together making music.”

R and B singer Dutch Robinson also speaks of the production in glowing terms. “I love it, love it,” he says. “The whole cast is like a big family.”

With a budget approaching $1 million, Drum! has been supported through a $235,000 loan from the Nova Scotia Office of Economic Development, marketing support through the Tourism and Culture Department, a yet-to-be-announced ACOA grant and corporate sponsorship.

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