Poetry and Percussion

“Little YELLOW Slut” and “SuperMom” at CoZmos Cafe in Tokyo July 19, 2008, with Winchester Nii Tete on the talking drum, kpanlogo and djembe.
Winchester Nii Tete has been studying drums since he was a baby because he is from a family of professional drummers in Ghana.
Many Americans have heard of Obo Addy, one of the originators of Worldbeat. Well, that’s Winchester’s uncle.
Many Japanese have heard of Aja Addy, who played with Kodo. Well, that’s another one of Winchester’s famous uncles.
His mother’s father, his own father, his father’s father, his brothers and cousins … they’re all part of the Addy-Amo-Boye family of drummers.
Being Winchester is probably a bit like being born in a Kabuki family in how that art is a part of your everyday life, family ties and legacy.
But Winchester never makes you feel that he is different from you.
If anything, he makes you feel as though you have known him all your life, that maybe you can go visit him and his wonderful family in Ghana one day, and that he will make you feel welcome.
He has never had to actually say this. It is a feeling.
Not only is he obviously a talented musician, he is also sensitive to the person he is with _ what that person is trying to say and do _ and this makes him a very special artist.
I guess what I am saying is that you feel this understanding and respect.
This happens to be sadly rather rare.
Most people who are talented and intelligent are strong. And they become self-absorbed.
Winchester is accomplished in his own art, but he also has that magic of being able to make his art work in a way to enhance other people’s statements without compromising his own.
To feel complete as an artist, we ultimately need the Listener.
We say we are not afraid to be alone. But in the end we want to communicate and that is why we write/play music/paint/etc.
The artist you collaborate with is that first Listener.
Winchester makes me feel complete in this process of communication.
He also somehow makes me feel that I want to _ and that I must _ communicate more and more and more with more people, the whole world, anyone who will listen, anyone who will care, everyone, though I may find that may be no one at all except for Winchester.
Winchester has played at many places with his family. But he is still new in Japan and so he plays with a lot of people who aren’t rich or famous in small bars that are like holes filled with cigarette smoke for little money.
Sometimes this happens to great musicians.
And so once I said to him: you will be a star soon then you wouldn’t want to play with us.
And he looked me in the eye and said: No, that’s not true. If I am free, I will come and play.
This kind of conviction he has about his calling as an artist is basic and pure.
But it’s something we tend to forget with age.
He is right: We have to keep going, and we have to show up to play/write/paint.
If we start questioning that, if we can’t believe, then what are we doing to begin with?
For our reading in the video above, Winchester drove several hours from a concert he was performing with his students near Mount Fuji, and then drove all the way back after this 10 minute performance.
I am just amazed.
I am not sure if I would be able to do that.
I did not realize he was in Fuji until he arrived at our door.
He had just said on the phone earlier in the day: I am quite far, but I will be there.
And to make it all the more amazing, Winchester’s father has just died.
He will not go back to Ghana for the funeral but will keep playing music in Japan.