In the eyes of River Guerguerian, there are few problems that can’t be solved by percussion. He sees the musical component as medicine for the world, an element that is shared by virtually every culture on the globe, connecting them despite their often polarizing differences.
He sees ancient techniques alleviating the fatigue from tech overload with traditions such as Middle Eastern frame-drumming uniting modern musicians with simpler times. In more chaotic strains, he sees rhythm as a link to nature, an answer to the random movements of leaves in the forest.
For him, rhythm’s applications are seemingly without end. This mindset drove him to create the Asheville Percussion Festival. The celebration and conference matches a week of workshops and private lessons with a pair of weekend concerts, bringing together artists from various traditions and backgrounds and allowing them the opportunity to collaborate and experiment.
“I get really inspired by percussion,” the festival director says with a laugh. “It's the only thing I know. It's my whole life. Is it just because I'm obsessed with something? Am I an addict? No. It's this thing that connects me and, I think, a lot of other people who are into it to the Earth. That's our role, even in an ensemble. Whether it's a rock band or an orchestra, we have a certain connection to the Earth that anchors people as they kind of float away into their improvisations and their melodies.”
This week, the second annual Asheville Percussion Festival will take over the town’s Odyssey Community School. At the time of publication, the 12 musicians who were selected as this year’s main performers were two days deep into a four-day residency, where they will share ideas, teach each other new techniques, and ultimately polish material for a collaborative weekend performance. The diverse faculty includes experts in various world traditions — South Indian music and African djembe among others — as well as progressive artists pushing in new directions — a fiddle player exploring percussive techniques, a drummer who specializes in the appropriation of found objects.
During the day Friday through Sunday, the performers will lead workshops on various techniques. Attendees will be able to learn about augmenting rhythms with digital loops or study technique for playing marimba. On Friday night, the faculty will show off what they can do individually, showcasing their skills during an evening concert consisting of short sets. The following night, they will reveal what they have prepared together.
“World percussion is a very diverse field,” offers Assistant Director Adam Maalouf. Both he and Guerguerian will be participating as performers during the festival. “Every culture of the world has something to say and something unique to give. By having percussionists from the Middle East and from South America and from India and from Africa, we’re promoting this diversity and this community between all of us. It’s a common language that we can all speak. Sometimes people will ask me, ‘Do you speak any other languages?’ My quick answer to them is, ‘I speak the universal language of rhythm.’ Two drummers can get together and play without having the ability to actually speak the same language.”
The 12 voices that will attempt to converse during this week’s festival come from all over the spectrum of percussive art. As important as what they might create together are the unique ideas and traditions they represent. During recent weeks, Xpress caught up with all 12 of the festival’s main performers to find out more about their philosophies and talents.
what: Asheville Percussion Festival
where: Odyssey Community School, 90 Zillicoa St.
when: Friday, June 14 to Sunday, June 16. Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuition and tickets range from $15 for individual concerts to $150 for the entire weekend. Full schedule of workshops and concerts at ashevillepercussionfestival.com.