I'm hooked to Bollywood, Indian beats: African drummer Sabal-Lecco

By Madhusree Chatterjee

New Delhi, May 21 (IANS) He's a tall African from Cameroon and is a master of beats, having set the rhythm for musicians Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Sting, Lenny Kravitz and Herbie Hancock on his drums. But Bollywood and other Indian beats bring out the musician and child in drummer Felix Sabal-Lecco, who has been on the global music scene for 35 years.

Sabal-Lecco bonds with India in a strange way. In leisure, the drummer, who also doubles as a vocalist, hums "Piya, piya...", a Bollyood favourite.

"It is typical for us from Cameroon to relate to Bollywood because we have grown up on music from Hindi movies. Everyone in Cameroon wants to be Dara Singh - the macho hero," the drummer told IANS here.

He is on a tour of the country as member of a French pop-rock-jazz band.

Cameroon, with its culture of 350 dialects, is earthed in music, said the percussionist. "Music is born in the cradle when a mother sings to her son and goes on throughout the life."

The drummer, who is currently working on a new solo percussion album "Melting Pot", is a "Devdas" fan.

"I know all about 'Devdas' - the book, movie and Paro. I have seen 'Lagaan', I have jammed with guru Zakir Husain and friend and fellow drummer Trilok Gurtu. Now I want to see the Taj Mahal, the tiger and the traditional music on the streets and the states of India," Sabal-Lecco said with a laugh.

The drummer, whose beats are a combination of Afro-retro and rock, is most comfortable when playing for Peter Gabriel.

"Peter is a very simple person, not really a star. Peter makes you feel that you are with a friend. As for Peter's music, it is like a travelogue. You can journey through 10 different countries through his music - it's like switching channels. He mixes different rhythms and sounds," Sabal-Lecco said.

Paul Simon, meanwhile, loves African beats.

"Paul's experiments with Afro-beats started when we started working in South Africa in 1982-83 on the album 'Lady Smith and Black Mambazo'. Then we decided to get a Brazilian percussionist for the album, 'Rhythm of the Saints'," Sabal-Lecco said, recounting his association with the famed musician.

Playing with Sting is much easier, the percussionist observed.

But Indian rhythm has a strange hold on the Cameroonian drummer. "Your beats are kind of staccato-layered with different sounds," he said, chanting Indian tabla rhythms like poetry.

"It is very difficult to chant them to beats. I have learnt to recite rhythms and sing Indian songs from Trilok's mother. She is a great singer. Zakir is of course the guru of percussion and fusion. He is very big in Africa," the drummer said.

Sabal-Lecco's new album, slated for release in November, is a mix of Irish folk, African percussion and Indian melody.

"I have used tabla and the bansuri, the flute. I love the sound of bansuri," he said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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