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Interview by Sean Mitchell // February 02 2011

Things are different in percussion group. The surdo part, for example, is like playing only one note of the bass drum part. It means that you should concentrate on the common sense of rhythm and almost breathe together with the other members of the group. 

We as drummers enjoy a good gathering. In fact, it is safe to say we are the only species of musician who seek out reasons to be togther. Ironically we rarely find occasion to create and form bands together. Very often when we are in the same room we are either (a) fawning all over the next uber drummer trying to cop their latest and greatest chops, or (b) gathering at drum conventions to talk gear, music, technique and get lost in the love of drumming. While these are our rights of passage, imagine taking the stage every night with a group of drummers you not only respect, but who are among the greatest drummers in your country—and all the while realizing you are changing a generation. This is the priveledge enjoyed by Poland’s very own Ritmodelia.

It was not very long ago that Poland suffered under the tyranny of Cold War communism and oppression. Coming from such a bleak existence has left many hungry for culture, and Ritmodelia has become the spice upon which ravenous ears feast, by exposing the masses in Eastern Europe to the rythm and grooves of Africa, Latin America and Brazil. What once was considered the Iron Curtain has now become a cultural bridge, built by the bond and love of drumming. Not a bad gig at all. 



First off, let’s introduce our readers to the members of Ritmodelia. 

Miki: Ritmodelia was actually formed by Nikodem Bąkowski, Magda Kordylasińska, Miłosz Pękala, Maxime Piazza, Kuba Pogorzelski, Jurek Markuszewski, Ania Patynek, Rafael Reif de Paula, Wojtek Sobura, Bogusz Wekka, Hubert Zemler and myself, Miki Wielecki. We are all professional musicians residing in Warsaw, Poland. We usually perform with 7 or 8 musicians on stage but we all practice together. All of us are making time for Ritmodelia between many different projects. 

Tell me a bit about how the band was formed and what the name means. 

Miki: The band has existed since 2003 but developed very slowly. At the beginning we had a few performances and rehearsals. In fact, it really moved with the decision to record the album. The first album always brings huge changes in every band's history. It makes you more critical of your material, makes you improve it, and encourages you to make a big effort together. It’s hard work but eventually you see the fruits of your labor. The name Ritmodelia is a neologism, a play of words. It combines words ritmo (rhythm) and psichedelia, so we are psychedelic but with the rhythm. We are kind of “possessed by the rhythm.“ 

Let’s talk a bit about the instruments used in the band. Who plays what? 

Miki: We play only percussion. We are using basically Brazilian batucada instruments and we add some other traditional world music percussion like cowbells, jam blocks, cuica, djembe, chekeré and many more. The only exception is that we are using classic snare drums instead of samba caixas. The snare is a more elaborated instrument and simply sounds better in the non-samba tunes that we often play. Generally the drummers advanced in drum set—with an excellent snare technique like Wojtek or Jurek—play snares and surdos. Percussionists like Ania, Nikodem, Kuba, Rafael or Maxime had spent months in Africa, Cuba or Brazil learning to play chocalhos, agogos, tamborims and other hand percussion. When it’s necessary they can play fine djembe, chekeré, batá, tama or other traditional instruments as well. But some of Ritmodelia’s members like Magda, Hubert, Miłosz, and Bogusz are graduates of Music Academies and experienced drummers so they can play every batucada instrument at an excellent level. 

Are all the songs original compositions? 

Miki: Well, the steady groove patterns are mostly our interpretation of some traditional or modern club beats (for example samba, samba-reggae, Cuban comparsa/conga, afro beat, ragga, jungle, etc) but all the arranged parts (intros, kicks, accents, breaks) are composed and we have transcribed those. Maybe one day we are going to realize a Ritmodelia songbook? 

Hubert: A tune called "Baron” was inspired by a rhythmical structure of Joey Baron's composition called "What". You can find it on his album Down Home.  

Miki: But we haven’t an opportunity to give him a copy of our album It’s Not Batucada! yet. I’m really curious what will he say. 

Where does the band draw inspiration for their original compositions? 

Miki: We have taken from Brazilian batucada two fantastic inventions: the instruments that allow us to play in motion and the idea of directing the orchestra with hands and whistle (apito) signals. We have practiced various elements of the show but we vary their duration and their order. To give an example, imagine that you have prepared some complicated tamborim riffs and you load it on cue whenever you want it, in the tune wherever you feel like it. So those signals make it possible for the leader to compose the music live, a bit like a good dj does. 

Please tell me about the music scene in Poland. Who would be the players that a traveler might seek out when visiting Poland? 

Ania: I can say something about the percussion music stage and it’s ethnic-inspired side because I have been dedicated to drumming for 20 years. Before 1990 the borders were closed, there was no internet, nor other access to the sources, few instruments, and no teachers. There was one man, Słoma, who had spread the idea of drumming circles and ethnic drumming. He learned how to make drums conga type and taught this skill to the others. He was also teaching simple rhythmic patterns and his followers broadened this knowledge. Djembes and other West African drums started appearing, then Brazilian instruments like those we are using in Ritmodelia. The end of communism opened the borders and gave us an opportunity to travel and to learn rhythms directly in Cuba or Africa. And, at last, the internet was a real revolution in accessing the knowledge and general music level. The bands performing ethnic percussion music in Poland are Konoba, Sambal, Wadada, City Bum Bum and Foliba. Some of them focus on repeating exactly traditional forms. Others, like Ritmodelia, are searching for their own way and characteristic style. Ritmodelia is a band of musicians coming from different ambiences but the joy of playing together is common for all of us. The public can see this during our shows and I hope you can hear it on our record. 

Magda: There's a lot of great musicians in Poland, and depending on what music you're looking for, you can find really fantastic artists all over Poland. In Warsaw, Ritmodelia of course will be the best choice (laughs), but there's also a very wide range of alternative and multicultural groups like Mitch & Mitch, Incarnations, Mikromusic, L.U.C., Warsaw Village Band, Calle Sol, Kwadrofonik, Loco Star. There's great number of musicians specialized in contemporary and improvised music in the north of Poland. There’s an excellent batucada group Sambal in Szczecin, a lot of well known jazz musicians in Wrocław, Katowice and Krakow (Tomasz Stańko, Leszek Możdżer, Aga Zaryan among them) and a lot of superb festivals from world to classical and contemporary music during the whole year such as Warsaw Autumn, Warsaw Summer Jazz Days, Cross Culture (Warsaw), Sacrum Profanum (Cracow), Heineken Open'er (at the Baltic sea), Przystanek Woodstock, Malta (Poznan). Welcome to Poland! 

Kuba, you founded a school called Strefa Rytmu Ethnic Percussion School. Tell me a bit about the school and what types of classes you offer. 

Kuba: I opened Strefa Rytmu school in 2008 in Warsaw and we teach mainly traditional percussion music of West Africa (Mali, Guinea), Cuba and Brazil. As we travel to these places to learn to play, we want to share our experience and knowledge with others and let people get to know the music of these cultures here, in Poland. We offer various drum classes, for example: djembe, dundun, conga or batucada. Apart from that, we organize concerts of African artists to make people familiar with their music. 

Tell me about the album. You are all accomplished musicians. What was the recording process like trying to record multi drummers? Is there a difference between an all-drum album and an album with mixed instrumentation? 

Bogusz: The album is really colorful. Of course I’m talking mostly about rhythm because the melody is being created in the listener’s mind when listening to the album. There are a lot of differences between recording an all drum album and an album with mixed instrumentation. The most important is the fact that we have no melodic instruments, so we need to create really good rhythms and energy to keep the listener interested and relaxed. 

Wojtek: For me, being also a sound engineer, the most interesting fact while recording this album was the place where we recorded. It was a huge space, a basement below the barocco church. There were even Camedolese tombs from 18th century in the next room. It is a really nice place to record soft and quiet instruments, like string quartets or any small acoustic bands. What I find interesting about this recording is the fact that usually you listen to the batucada in open air, but in this case, you can actually hear huge reverb on the whole record, and I think it gives a really distinctive color to the whole album. Almost all of the numbers were recorded simultaneously by all members of the band (except for few solos and overdubs). So, while recording we had to play quite soft and pretty quiet to hear all other instruments. This was a big difference for us, because usually we have to play very hard while playing outdoor.

Is there a market for this type of music in Poland? What sorts of gigs do you get? 

Miki: It isn’t a very popular kind of music. We find the people who share our passion for beat and percussion are ethnic percussion fans, Brazilian music fans, general world music fans, but also the club music audience. It’s fantastic to play such an energetic music in some club for people dancing. So we are invited to play in some serious festivals, we are playing concerts for our fans in music clubs and sometimes we act more like a batucada group on parades, and from time to time we work hard as an attraction in corporate events. It gives to us grounds for group developement. At the moment we have about 2 or 3 concerts a month mostly in Poland.

What has been your most interesting gig to this point? 

Nikodem: Every gig with Ritmodelia is very special, especially because of the members of the group. Everyone is a very gifted musician and a cheerful and lovely person. Each and every one of Ritmodelia's members is interested in a different kind of percussion, so we share experiences and observations from various perspectives. It's very inspiring. Actually, the greatest advantage is that we all like each other very much, so we enjoy longer gigs because we are able to spend some time together. I really enjoyed our trip to Saragossa, Spain. We spent almost one week there playing at EXPO exhibition. It was fun, as it always is.  

As a drum group how different is it to play with other drummers versus playing with more melodic instruments? 

Hubert: Playing with other drummers is a very interesting experience. The biggest difference between regular band and percussion group is that you are just a small part of the whole rhythmic structure. The drum set player uses a whole kit to create a rhythm. Things are different in percussion group. The surdo part, for example, is like playing only one note of the bass drum part. It means that you should concentrate on the common sense of rhythm and almost breathe together with the other members of the group. 

Jurek: It is no big difference, because we play melodies all the time. There are melodies between surdos, snares and other instruments and all of these melodies combined together make a groove that moves your feet. If you listen to our pieces, you will notice that every instrument has its own role like in band with melodic instruments, as you name it. For example, surdos play the bass line. We always think of drums in musical context and just speak on drums with other musicians in band. I think that working on music with other drummers is slightly different, because we have our own drummers' language and this is an advantage. 

What do you have coming up in the next few months? 

Miki: We have just performed on 7th Sources and Inspiration Festival in Cracow, Poland, perhaps the most prestigious and well-organized international percussion festival in our part of Europe. This spring and summer we are going to play batucada on some university fiestas and big festivals. One of them is called Przystanek Woodstock in memory of the legendary American festival. It‘s an huge independent youth meeting comparable with Rodskilde Festival, of course not as famous yet. In May we are going to take part in an international social project: we are going to spend one week giving workshops for under-privileged children in a holiday camp near the Belarusian border. Batucada is a perfect activity to develop not only musically but also the collaboration abilities, and it sometimes gives us an opportunity to use our skills for good causes. We also have a proposal to take part in a completly composed piece in a classical modern music festival. It will be a great adventure and experience.

Visit Ritmodelia online: http://www.ritmodelia.pl/



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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.

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