24 Aug 2016

Clash of Drums – a whirlwind of rhythm, movement and fire

Off to Freedom Festival this year? Here’s one performance that’ll rock your socks off.

If you’re heading to Freedom Festival 2016 then prepare yourselves for an explosive fusion of music and fireworks by two extraordinary companies, who have combined powers to showcase something a little mad, a little otherworldly and filled to the brim with energy and excitement. Both companies have one clear objective: to reclaim the streets. And they’re doing a pretty fine job of it too.

Originally conjured up by Raymond Gabriel – artistic director of French percussionist troupe Les Commandos Percu – after attending an empty jazz gig in France, the show made him question why the audience had to go to the performer. Why not come to them? This inspired his idea of taking the performance to the streets to engage with the audience on a more direct level.

20 years on and Les Commandos Percu continue to travel the world with their unique percussive performances. These bold, brash percussionists have now joined forces with the equally loud and electrifying Spanish street theatre company Deabru Beltzak to create their unforgettable performance Danbor Talka – the ultimate drum-off between two cultures that’ll make you wish you were up there battling alongside them.

Danbor Talka by Les Commandos Percu – photo © Los Commandos Percu

If you’ve never witnessed a drum battle, expect a whole heap of passion and a right loud racket. The whole performance is split into two sections, starting with a parade through the streets of Hull where a group of drummers march out of nowhere, squaring each other up whilst twirling drumsticks. This then morphs into interaction, gradually building into an intense eruption of fiery fury. The confrontation develops its own unique language which becomes shared energy.

The performances then moves into a 30 minute set which takes to the stage for the clash of drums. They light a mammoth fire that seems to burst from their instruments, as if every percussive note sparks an explosion in the starry sky. The group soon return to the streets and disappear just as they came, surrounded by fire.

Even the instruments are a spectacle within themselves. When the company first started, they had no instruments and only sticks. Inevitably, they soon decided if African drums really can talk, they will create their own. Some of these include titan rectangular gongs, giant two metre wide drums and two-string bass guitars that crash together to make one big beautiful noise.

Danbor Talka by Les Commandos Percu – photo © Los Commandos Percu

Aside from their raucous noise, the thing that really sets these companies apart is their dark and disturbing characters, portrayed through sinister, theatrical make-up and costumes which are just as mesmerising as the performance itself. Some even appear to dress like gothic stormtroopers that’ll be sure to keep you hooked from start to finish. Initially inspired by Deabru Beltzak when both companies first joined forces, the gothic, devil-like make-up adds an ominous, dramatic element to the performance.

Danbor Talka brings two mesmerising European companies together in Hull – but there’s local talent involved too. Local drumming group Hull Samba will be joining the groups on stage at Freedom, and they’re currently rehearsing hard to get ready for the show. It’s been a challenging but amazing opportunity for Hull Samba, with Les Commandos Percu’s producer Lisa Trouihet commenting on how ‘interesting it will be to see how the performance works artistically given how differently the groups operate’.

Chloe Birr-Pixton from Hull Samba added that ‘Freedom Festival have been fantastic in nurturing local talent’ as well as ‘providing impetus for the artistic development of local people’ through collaborations like this. The local drummers from Hull Samba – which consist of a mix of university students, professional drummers and keen amateurs – will be a key part of the show alongside Deabru Beltzak and Les Commandos Percu.

Despite the challenge involved for Hull Samba, the experience has pushed the group forward, helping them develop as drummers and performers. ‘Many of the less experienced drummers are right on the edge of their ability’ Chloe says, ‘but we are supported by the more experienced drummers’. Rehearsing with Danbor Talka performers Metty Benistant and Stéphane Augier, as well as Les Commandos Percu artistic director Raymond Gabriel, has been ‘wonderful for the group’ says Chloe. The group have learnt an incredible amount about their customised ‘cool drums’ and other bespoke instruments. ‘Even the language they use is fascinating, I can’t wait for the performance!’ says Chloe.

Les Commandos Percu and Deabru Beltzak present Danbor Talka (Clash of Drums) will perform at 8.45pm – 9.45pm at Humber Quays on Hull Marina on 2 September 2016. The performance will be free of charge.

For more information, or to see what else is happening at this year’s Freedom Festival 2016, visit their website or check out their social Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube.

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