The best thing of Washington, DC is the diversity – of people and thus of activities. Last night I went to the Asian and Pacific Islander Celebration at the Lincoln Theater in order to watch Samulnori, i.e., Korean drummers. And wow. The drumming was what I expected, but the attitudes were not. More below, but first…
This event was held at the Lincoln Theatre at U Street, which reopened about two years ago, and of which I had never seen the inside. It was the place where Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole used to perform. [U street used to be known Black Broadway, and harbored incredible blues musicians, and the house of Duke Ellington is close by]. This theater was an incredible backdrop for shows, and now is again. It’s wonderful having it back. I would so, so give anything to have Ella Fitzgerald back to see her sing in this theater. Still, others like Natalie Merchant, The Funk Brothers, and others now play there. In easy metro, bus, and biking distance.
The website’s pictures do far better justice to the place than mine do. But here is a shot of the house lights. I really seem to like to take pictures of theater lights.
The event was free, sponsored by DC and a number of organizations, but the tickets were already “sold out” unfortunately, when I heard about it. I put my name on the waiting list, and then, unexpectedly on Thursday, I found out I was in – for one ticket. Sorry friends; I hate to say it, but it worked out for the best – because with only one ticket I was able to find a seat way down near the front.
I wound up among a group of ten older Korean women in white Fedoras with red bands, in front of a set of elderly Korean gentlemen, next to a Korean student (woman) who sat oh-so-straight, and also close by a Korean family with a young ~ six year old daughter. The audience overall was somewhat diverse, but not in my section. This meant that I had the pleasure of watching the women listening to the introductions via translation headphones, while one of the men behind me translated everything to the other, rather loudly. I also saw the excitement during the drumming session – one of the women was doing some crazy drumming right along.
There were a lot of announcements about the Asian Pacific Islander Celebration, with Mayor Gray there declaring that May will now always be the Asian Pacific Islander month, and more. I won’t get into that. What rocked were the two separate Asian-American women drummers, who played on drum sets. Isabelle de Leon played more my type of music – merging rock with Filipino traditional music, the other woman (Kiran Gandhi)was more grunge, but did a great job on her last set. She also provided music for the mostly Asian break-dancing group The Rockvillains Crew, who were very good. (Their routine included a guy who danced on one hand for about 30 seconds…)
But in between the focus was a collection of Korean samulnori drummers. Samulnori is ” a genre of traditional Korean percussion music,…[rooted] in farmer’s music, says the evening’s program.
Most of the drummers were young (within a range in their 20’s, early 30’s perhaps), and based in the States. But the lead for this evening was the drummer Kim Duk Soo, who was the founder of the ensemble SamulNori in S. Korea, and who is apparently a rock star out there. He had flown in from S. Korea, and had the biggest, friendliest smile on his face the whole time. Go to minute 3 of this video from 2009, and you’ll see what I mean (but don’t miss the earlier parts of the video either – you’ll see why!).
And that’s where the evening didn’t meet expectations. For some reason, I had expected stoic, powerful drumming. This was powerful, but fast-paced and fun, and there was just as much head-banging by the drummers here as any 80’s rock bank. They had a fantastic time playing.
Damn, this New Year’s resolution is leading to fun things. I mean even more fun things, of course…