Ring my bell, bang my drum

Michael Burnett discovers his sense of rhythm in time for this year's WOMAD

When we play the bongos it stresses our sense of feeling", says Lensin Clair. "And the rhythms bring out the cultural background of the music".

The music is Afro-Caribbean and Clair is a member of a 25-strong percussion group rehearsing as part of a world rhythms project run by Beatroots Community Music for Reading Council.

Gavin Lombos directs the group. "Beatroots is a collection of musicians who put on workshops in samba, reggae and music technology", he says. "I've been running this series each week since last September. And we've involved people with physical disabilities and learning difficulties from agencies like the Acorn Resource Centre".

Lombos skilfully leads the group in activities based on the two-against-three rhythms which play such a characteristic part in Afro-Caribbean music. The effect is electrifying, with all involved caught up in the excitement of communal music-making.

Participant Angela Face is a special needs teacher. "I can't read music but you get into the rhythms. And you just feel relaxed and not self-conscious at all. I love it".

Tonight sees the involvement of musicians who will be performing at this year's WOMAD (World of Music and Dance) festival in Reading. The musicians are led by Williams Cumberbache. Their aim is to prepare the group for a performance during the festival and they begin by demonstrating some Venezuelan music using three drums (pitched low, medium and high in typical Afro-Caribbean fashion), chekere (shaker) and call-and-response vocals.

Cumberbache then publicly auditions members of the group. His intention is to form smaller ensembles according to rhythmic ability. The process comes close to undermining confidence in some individuals but fortunately the participants soon recover and Reading's South Street Arts Centre resounds to bongo and chekere rhythms.

The WOMAD festival offers a weekend of sights and sounds from around the world for families. Workshops for children will include making musical instruments, samba, storytelling and carnival activities. And, on stage, there will be more than 70 performers. Including, of course, the Beatroots group from Reading.

WOMAD festival: Rivermead, Reading July 19-21. Information 01225 744 494. Tickets (one child under 14 free per ticket, second child Pounds 8): Weekend Pounds 50 (concessions Pounds 44); Friday Pounds 16, Saturday or Sunday Pounds 22 (concessions Pounds 16). Bookings 0118 939 0930

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