Get Drumstruck!

Billed as the world’s first interactive drum theatre production, Drumstruck not only gives theatre audiences a taste of African drumming, but makes them part of the show too.

After its hugely successful debut at the Liberty Theatre on the Square in February this year, it is back for a two-week run at the 1300-seat Spoornet State Theatre Opera House in Pretoria, to coincide with the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development.

In a true celebration of African culture, organiser say Drumstruck offers audiencesthe “unique opportunity to become part of a show that is unlike any other: a show of criss-crossing southern and west African rhythms, a show of colliding, intersecting cultures, a show of stomping, clanging percussion, a show of heartstopping dance and movement, a show of hands”.

This vibrant show is directed by Kathy-Jo Ross and features the exuberant Warren Lieberman, who launched the Drum Cafe drumming phenomenon, together with musical director Richard Carter, master drummer Munkie Ncapayi and a talented cast of traditional and urban African drummers, dancers and choristers.

The Drum Cafe evolved from months of small, informal drumming circles in the lounge of Lieberman’s Joburg house every Tuesday evening. Lieberman opened his first Drum Cafe next to one of his hardware stores in Greenside, Johannesburg, and several branches followed. Before long, it had spread to Cape Town, London, Sydney and Kenya, and had a loyal following of drummers.

As unlikely as the success of the Drum Cafe was, so is Lieberman an unlikely protagonist. He studied physics, applied maths and electrical engineering, dabbled briefly in the formal business sector, before realising that the world of hardware retail would never satisfy him.

His Drum Cafes developed organically into one of South Africa’s most successful corporate entertainment companies, he adds, with big name clients. Its corporate division has expanded to cover a wide spectrum of events, from team building and conflict resolution to roadshows, conferences, product launches and promotions. The Drum Cafe boasts a client base profiling numerous top South African companies, including Investec Bank, Deloitte & Touche, Ernst & Young, M-Net, BMW and SAB.

Drumstruck was born last year when Warren approached his childhood friend, Kathy-Jo Ross, a Wits Drama School graduate who had enjoyed a successful career as a performer in theatre, musicals and on radio. Says Ross: “It was the most exciting creative endeavour I had heard about in all my years of being in the theatre and I jumped at the chance of being involved.”


Warren Lieberman and the Drumstruck cast (Photo: Drumstruck)

The Drumstruck cast, led by the exuberant Warren Lieberman Lieberman says: “It happened through one of South Africa’s oldest and most intuitive group traditions: drumming. Today the Drum Cafe is synonymous with interactive modern day drumming, and has performed to well over 100 000 people around the world. In the last two and a half years it has grown from eight people to 24 in an unconventional set-up of talented performers and entrepreneurs with shared vision.”

The progression from passive to interactive theatre is a natural one, he adds. “Some people go to the theatre purely to be entertained, some to escape from the stresses and strains of the world around them. Others go to the theatre to be confronted with their own worst fears and prejudices.

“Rarely, if ever, do people go to the theatre for the most primal and compelling reason of them all – the natural, instinctive desire to be part of the show. Drumstruck addresses this need by bringing audiences into the show itself, allowing them to share the energy and excitement of an hour or two in the spotlight.”

Other recent exciting projects include opening a music shop which offers the largest selection of African drums and world percussion instruments in South Africa; the launch of a CD, Mama, directed and choreographed by Wendy Oldfield; and the Drum Cafe’s African Music Agent (AMA) division, which aims to market, book, direct, choreograph and co-ordinate authentic African performers.

Using the same informal methods that evolved in Lieberman’s lounge drum circle, everyone in the audience is given a small African drum and are encouraged to participate throughout the show. The infectious Lieberman teaches the audience a few simple drumming techniques, adds them into a series of musical riffs and before long even the most cynical person is happily drumming.

But the show is also about investing in South African arts and culture through the empowerment of new South African performers, say the organisers. They have trained 12 talented former street buskers as performers and hope it plays a role in building the local music industry.

Now, with established branches in London, Sydney and Kenya and a recent tour to Lithuania under their belt, the Drum Cafe’s international success has been a triumph for African culture.

Source: Johannesburg World Summit 2002