Crosspulse hits the stage like an international hurricane – a blazing whirlwind of people, color, sound and movement. As they skip, hop, jump, dance and spin around the stage, the five band members juggle an amazing array of instruments: djembe, cajón, congas, bells, shekeres, bongos, guiros, dumbeks, okedo, wok cleaning brushes, maracas and children’s toys – not to mention guitar, mandolin and the human body. They also tackle a diverse array of musical styles, including kecak from Bali, son from Cuba, samba from Brazil and Angola and joropo from the Colombo-Venezuelan region, to name but a few.
They dip their hands and feet into many ponds, living up to their name. Drawn from a cross section of cultures, both from the San Francisco Bay Area and across the world, Crosspulse features Keith Terry, a former jazz drummer, from Albany, California, born in Waxahachie, Texas. Raymond Graham, the group’s expert on West African rhythms, comes from Harlem, New York, and now lives in Oakland, California. Guitarist, singer and vocal arranger Claudia Gómez lives in Palo Alto, California, and is originally from Medellin, Colombia, where she immersed herself in the folkloric music of Afro-Colombian regions of the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Edgardo Cambón was born in Uruguay, raised in Argentina, and specializes in Cuban and South American music. Jackeline Rago, who was born in Caracas, Venezuela, has been singing, drumming and playing cuatro and mandolin since she was four years old. Rago came to the Bay Area to study music and has a BA in mandolin from San Francisco’s Institute of Music and Arts.
As Terry’s brainchild, Crosspulse grew out of his increasing interest in world music, particularly the planet’s diverse drumming traditions. “Strangely enough, I got turned onto world music in the early ’70s, when I was in Dallas, waiting to be discovered,” Terry says, as he putters around his Albany rehearsal studio, sorting tapes and sheet music in preparation for a Crosspulse performance of “Excursion Fare” (a collaboration with Manhattan Tap) at Joyce Theater in the New York City.
“I’d been playing traps in a group called Joint Effort, which mixed rock, jazz and folk music. Very eclectic. We’d recorded about three albums’ worth of material at Electric Ladyland in New York,” Terry laughs. “Our producer was shopping it around and we were holding our breath, waiting for our big break.” While he waited for the record deal that never happened, Terry began delving into Indonesian music, particularly gamelan. “I knew Steve Reich was using it as a source of inspiration for some of his compositions, and suddenly the path opened up for me in ’74. I was on tour with PDQ Bach, and found the Center for World Music in Berkeley, where I heard live gamelan for the first time. That experience made me listen to all music differently. I went back to New York, got rid of my apartment and moved [to Berkeley] to study at the Center for World Music. I started with gamelan, but wound up studying all kinds of stuff – South Indian classical music, West African rhythms, Japanese taiko, and the rhythmic systems from a variety of musics from around the planet.”
His studies at the Center for World Music inspired Terry to return to school, and he eventually earned a degree in world music through an independent study program in Antioch University. In the meantime, he supported himself by playing in jazz combos and supplying percussion for the Pickle Family Circus, San Francisco Mime Troupe, Make-a-Circus and the Jazz Tap Ensemble, a group that included three dancers, piano, bass and Terry on traps.
“Looking back, I can see how the work I did with the Jazz Tap Ensemble started me onto the path that led to Crosspulse,” Terry says. “I started playing what I call body music, by playing what I played on the drums on my body,” Terry says. “It was the older dancers who encouraged me to explore it. I finally left Jazz Tap to explore what was coming out.”
As he experimented with body music, Terry found out that many cultures around the world have discovered ways to use the body as a rhythm instrument. He explains, “There’s hambone in the United States, saman in Sumatra, Ethiopian armpit music, Balinese kecak (ke-chock), Inuit throat singing, palmas in flamenco, and all kinds of slapping, snapping and stomping.
“At first, I did collaborations with other artists, usually as a duo. I did pieces with Geoff Hoyle, who is now on Broadway in Lion King, Blondell Cummings, a wonderful dancer and actress, and Bobby McFerrin, who also uses body music and a cappella sounds to create his rhythms. This all led to doing solo work, which kept getting closer to my core – attempting to find a way to get to the music that was inside of me.”
While Terry developed his body music, he also became involved in multicultural collaborations, working with groups like Gamelan Sekar Jaya, a Berkeley-based ensemble that plays traditional Balinese gamelan, and San Jose Taiko, a troupe that plays both traditional and contemporary Japanese drum music.
“In 1990 I reconnected with I Wayan Dibia, who is a master of Balinese dance and at the forefront of kecak, which is sometimes called ’monkey chant.’ When we first met in 1980, we started talking about combining body music with kecak. The result was the creation of a group of 12 Balinese and 12 American musicians and dancers to combine the two. We called the piece ’Body Tjak’ (body chock) and it was performed in the Bay Area, Seattle, San Diego, L.A., Bali and Java.