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Can you count this one?

I'm playing this Sunday (1/21) at the Baked Potato in Los Angeles with Armand Sabal-Lecco (bassist on the big Paul Simon tours in the '90s), with Joel Taylor on drums and Toshi Yanagi on guitar.  And like every musician I know from west Africa, Armand has this incredibly highly evolved approach to rhythm and time, so sophisticated that it takes the other 3 of us a good while to get our heads around some of the tunes we play.  The song below is a good example.  Like a lot of polyrhythmic music from Cameroon, it starts off in a way that makes you think "I got this".  But then, about 10 seconds in, you start to think "oop...maybe this isn't where I thought it was".  And about 40 seconds in:  "Ooh.  I don't got this".  See if you can tap your foot to that groove, or to the funny, lopsided "montuno" thing that happens on the electric piano after (this is just Armand's demo of this tune).  The first part sounds almost like an old English sailing or drinking, or drinking-and-sailing song;  you can pat your foot 1-2-3-4.  But when the drums come in?  What is that person thinking?  And finally, you get to where it's actually in 9/8, like 4/4 with a wart on it.  And all 3 of us non-Cameroonians have to come up with a way to count this so we could at least stay in sync while we assimilated the groove enough to play it without chapping our lips counting it.  Now that I've been shedding on it for 3 weeks, I feel it pretty naturally the way it's meant to be felt.

I think.

Below is the chart I made for it;  I started out with one advantage in that I could write the chart in a way I could understand it.  From there, you can see that I marked it up to help my reading-challenged brain count it.  I often, when something's kind of weirdly syncopated, write the count in carefully so I can see where the syncopated stuff falls in relation to good old 1-2-3-4.  But in this case I decided it was easiest for me to hear it as 1-2-3-4-5, where 5 is a little half-beat.  You can also see on the chart a couple other things I do:  I make giant red "idiot flag" markings on repeats and DS's and other "road map" markings.  Somehow I have always just ignored those "nuisances" when I'm reading a chart, which of course makes for a merry chase when I realize I got dusted and have to go find that DS sign later and add 3.5 bars for the time I was lost.  So I mark them like this, and as we open each tune on the gig, I make sure I see the road map, and I stay pretty much in sync.  I also mark some of the chords with symbols;  my musical brain will struggle to register a 6-note chord written, but I can play an "Falt7" in my sleep.  I even do that on classical stuff that I'm going to have to read, and it makes things incredibly easier on me!

Armand always laughs when he finds out how the rest of us are counting his music;  to him these weird feels are as natural as breathing, and while they're fun as hell when we get them rocking, those of us who grew up listening to the Captain and Tennille have to do a bit more work to get where we can surf these waves.  We play several tunes like this and Armand has this special face he makes when he finds out where each of us is hearing beat "one", but he says it's been like this ever since he came to the States and he's learned to just groove it.  I have to say that these literal "fusions" of music from different continents and cultures are one of the greatest things about being an improvising musician;  there are few musics from around the world that, if they're played great, I'm not tempted to get up and just sit in with.  And if everybody plays great, it's an incredibly great sensation and huge fun.  

Take a listen to the mp3 linked here:  

and see if the chart makes any sense to you.  And if you'd like the craziest 30-day challenge ever, send me a video exchange with you playing this first page of the chart!  

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