A new world of music
So it was good, recently, to attend the Street Rhythms '96 festival in Plymouth during which real musicians - over 30 young performers in bands from South Africa, Brazil and the Gambia - drew on their knowledge and expertise in mounting workshops which informed and enthused participants, regardless of age or musical experience. The bands are in the UK as part of an on-going Music Links project which is to culminate in a World Music Family Feast Day at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on October 21.
In Plymouth, music teacher John Walter was thrilled by the "wonderful, energetic" sound of Thari, a 10-strong group from Soweto which specialises in township jazz and mbaqanga, a South African vocal and instrumental equivalent of the African-American blues. The group is led by Mokale Koapeng.
"South Africa is becoming a prominent player in world music," he says. "The press has painted this false picture of our volatile youth, they call them the 'lost generation'. But Thari shows just how much young South Africans have to offer, given the opportunity.
"Our involvement in the Music Links project goes further, though," he continues. "It's important for young people to come together and share their musical experiences. You can use music, rather than language, to communicate and thereby help make the world a better place."
Samba schools are playing an increasingly significant role in community music-making in Britain. This is partly because the characteristic intricacy of the percussion-based genre results from the interlocking of several rhythmic patterns each of which may in itself be quite straightforward to play for beginners. So the samba-reggae youth band Olodum drew a large number of interested participants to their workshop at Street Rhythms '96.
Kate Wells is 14 and a member of Holsworthy Junior Samba Band. "The workshop was good because everyone was learning together," she said. "We knew the rhythms but it was locking them together that was interesting. And the different breaks Olodum taught us made it very exciting."
"It's fantastic," says 13-year-old Scott Cocks of the workshop with the Gambian drum troupe, Afro Man ding. "Everyone's so enthusiastic and the musicians really help you. If you can't do a beat they stay with you till you get it right."
Scott puts it admirably. And the troupe's sense of lively enjoyment, allied to their ability to match teaching methods and expectations to the widely varying skills of workshop participants, culminates in an electrifying final performance by the whole group.
Afterwards I ask Jon Lillicrapp, also 13, what he sees as the main differences between Western classical music and the Gambian drumming he has just experienced. "With classical music you don't get to make up your own rhythms like you do with African drumming," he says. "And Africans often make their own instruments out of the stuff around them, like the fiddles in this group. "
One of the promoters of the Music Links project is Pat Till. "The World Music Feast Day at the South Bank will feature workshops for 9 to 15-year-olds and performances by the three bands," she says. "We want to release the raw energy and enthusiasm of young people during the workshops. And it's a fantastic role model for them to see their peers playing with such skill."
Music Links Performances: Birmingham, today, Q Club (tickets 0121 212 O770); Nottingham, October 20, Marcus Garvey Centre, (tickets 0115 978 0300). Family Feast Day: October 21, Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London SEl (tickets 0171 960 4242). Workshops at 11.30 am and 12.30 pm. Performances at 2.30 pm.