We've got the Talla Walla Vibrations
24 March 2012 | Placencia, Belize
Beth / 80's and 90's
We met a group of serious looking dreadlocked fellows as we walked along the sandy path from Wallen's grocery store. We said hello and passed each other until the last one in the group stuck out his hand with a slip of paper. It announced, "Emmeth Young and the Talla Walla Vibrations - Live Belizean and African Drumming at J. Bird's Bar tonight at 7."
My little brain cogs clicked and I exclaimed, "Oh! I read about Emmeth in the Lonely Planet Guide! He's supposed to be really good!" The whole group halted, smiles appeared, Emmeth himself walked back and shook our hands and we promised to show up.
Are we ever glad we did!
J Bird's is a distinctly unfancy bar; a pool table, a couple of dart boards, a bar and a small porch on the beach - next to the Shell Station. We got there about 7:30, heard a few practice drumbeats inside the empty bar, and hesitantly walked up on the porch to join a few laid back rasta guys. I don't know why I am still surprised about the welcome unlikely looking people give us, but it happened again. Chairs were hauled up along with (very laid back) greetings and we sat and conversed for a few minutes. Once again, we had taken a start time as a "real" start time, instead of a "sometime after that" start time so we chatted a few minutes before the beat started and we moved indoors.
Emmeth was in full regalia with colourful pants and sleeveless shirt and dreadlocks flying everywhere, the Talla Wallas wore green woven shirts and toque-type hats. Double ended drums and djembe drums filled the corner and these four guys made them sing. The rhythms were intricate and subtly varying. It was like jazz, where each takes a turn in the lead. The songs lasted 15 - 20 minutes and I cannot imagine how they had the strength and steadiness to keep the beat that long. Emmeth and one of his students riffed off each other, and when a white guy visitor (also a drummer) took a seat with them, there were 3 of them playing off each other while the other 2 kept that bass pulse. It was absolutely awesome and mesmerizing. The visitor said it was like being in a car going 90 miles an hour and knowing if you can just hang on it will be OK. His smile was ear to ear.
When they took a break 2 hours later, Emmeth explained that the higher toned drums are the sun and the moon, while the deep toned ones are the earth. Thunder and lightening each had its own sound, and I know that's what I was hearing when the hands flew and staccato notes came ripping forth. The music we were hearing combined Belizean and Creole (Kriol) traditions and there is a wealth of history and stories in the rhythms. These fellows started playing when they were 10 year old boys and are now 18 - 20; Emmeth teaches drumming and drum making, and as one of the bass drum guys said - "This is what we do. We make drums, we play drums, we learn and we practice." Emmeth seemed really tickled that we, gringos a few decades older than he, had read about him ("easily one of Belize's most respected Creole drummers") and recognized his name. Thanks again Lonely Planet Guide!
It was a great pity that the room never did fill up with people - a few visitors came and went, and a handful were there as we left, tired but with senses filled and knowing that we had spent a few hours with an artist.