He’s Got a Slammin’ Body

Keith Terry hosts the International Body Music Festival.

Keith Terry discovered the musical capacities of his own body
decades ago, long before he learned that “body music” is actually a
serious discipline with its own genealogy. It spawned from other dance
forms like hambone, which supposedly had its genesis in the Stono Slave
Rebellion of 1739. Lore has it that slave owners seized their slaves’
drums in the aftermath, so the slaves began improvising and ultimately
turned themselves into human percussion instruments. Hambone is one of
the world’s most elemental forms of dance, but its bedrock rhythm
bleeds into everything. By mixing with European clogging and Native
American dance forms, it created tap, which is considered a progenitor
of hip-hop and step dancing. Meanwhile, body music developed
independently in many other parts of the world. Spanish flamenco uses
hand clapping and stylized footwork. Arabic dancers came up with their
own form of interlocked clapping. South American gauchos created their
own zapateo or “shoe-tapping” dance. One could even say that
krumping (a street dance from Los Angeles) and hyphy turf dancing (from
Oakland) are descendents of the form.

The protean nature of body music impressed Terry as much as its
longevity. Now well known as a scholar of the form and founder of
Oakland’s own Slammin All-Body Band, Terry recently added to his list
of accomplishments the International Body Music Festival
a weeklong celebration of cheek slappers, beatboxers, and shoe tappers
throughout the diaspora. Terry launched the first all-body fest last
year after securing a Guggenheim Fellowship. He recruited dancers from
Brazil, Turkey, and France, as well as Inuit throat singers, hyphy turf
dancers from Oakland, and a Balinese composer whose kecak chant
piece featured gamelan rhythms. Some will return this year, not to
perform but to check out the second iteration, which promises to be
equally broad in scope, with performances of Spanish flamenco, South
African gumboot, zapateo criollo, step dancing, and Samoan
sasa — a call-and-response from that involves a lot of
chanting and slapping the floor. Vocal percussionist Kenny Mohammad
will unveil his vast arsenal of polyrhythms. Oakland’s Rashidi Omari
will showcase contemporary hip-hop dance with a one-man rhythm section
provided by Slammin beatboxer Steve Hogan.

There’s no set rubric for the festival, and Terry’s only rule is to
eschew outside instrumentation. He’s even asked tap dancers Evie Ladin
and Max Pollack to perform in leathers. “One could say that shoes in
general take away from the body,” Terry explained, with the caveat that
he’s still playing with the concept. At present, he wants to make the
performances as spare and primal as he can, the way body music was at
its inception.

The International Body Music Festival runs Dec. 1-6 at various Bay
Area locations, including La Peña Cultural Center (3105
Shattuck Ave., Berkeley) and Freight & Salvage (2020 Addison
St., Berkeley). CrossPulse.com

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