“I´m sure it calls up some powerful and very, very ancient genetic memories, says Keith Terry, 2008 Guggenheim Fellow, Artistic Director and Founder of the International Body Music Festival (IBMF). Speaking by phone from the Bay area headquarters of Cross Pulse, the festival’s organizing entity, Terry is responding to my comments about the second IBMF. I attended that edition of the fest  two years ago, and I can certainly attest to the joyous tribal resonance that surges forth in the irresistible urge to snap, pop, clap, step,  hum, chant and holler and participate in creating what Terry calls: “music you can see, dance you can hear”.

In the performances of music played on the body- surely  the world’s oldest instrument – it is easy to see how as Terry describes it, “culture really shines through”. In this interview, Terry shares examples of Body Music styles from around the world:

I am looking forward to returning to San Francisco for the festival’s fourth edition (the third was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil and the fifth next year will be held in Turkey). This year the festival will feature traditional and contemporary Body Music styles from the U.S., Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey, Canary Islands, Greece, Canada in six days of activities and events.

Representing the U.S., the performance of Las Vegas-based Molodi is sure to be particularly special, as their art also bears testament to the power of body music as a means of survival and rebellion. Molodi’s powerful, explosive body percussion incorporates three of the most renowned African-rooted forms of the art. Of these, the oldest is Hambone, which evolved in the late 1700’s. Following a large uprising led by native Africans in South Carolina, slaves owners prohibited drums to eliminate the possibility of long-distance communication,  and Africans chose to play the body. Molodí´s percussive music also brings in elements of Gumboot dancing, which first developed  in the South African gold mines during Apartheid and takes its name from the boots that miners wore. Forbidden to speak, the miners communicated by stomping and slapping  their Gumboots. Molodi’s members are also masters of stepping, a unique dance tradition that grew out of the song and dance rituals practiced by historically African American fraternities and sororities in the early 1900s.

It’s also amazing fun to participate in the workshops, discovering one’s own body as an instrument and exploring the musical possibilities of voice, hands and feet in unison with those of others. It suddenly  becomes quite clear that we are all much more alike than different, and that there are no limits to what is possible when we share our individual talents to create a more beautiful whole.


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The International Body Music Festival takes place  November 1-6 in San Francisco, CA

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