Ben Carey

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Focus talks to Ben Carey, local Djembe and Conga teacher, about the up and coming workshop he has organised with special guest drum teacher, Elliot Orr.

> Hi Ben. Can anyone do African drumming?
 Yes! Absolutely all ages! Everyone has rhythm inside them.  I do weekly classes, and ages range from 14 years to 62 years old. Novice to more advanced people come.

> Where does the Djembe drum come from? 

The drum and rhythms originate from West Africa, countries such as Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Ghana. A Djembe (pronounced  JEM-bay) is a skin covered hand drum  designed  to be played with bare hands. According to the Bamana people in Mali, the name of the Djembe comes directly from the saying “Anke dje, anke be” which literally translates to “everyone gather together”, and defines the drum’s purpose. 

The Djembe plays a key role in modern music that needs a highly percussive rhythm section. It has been used by such artists as Ben Harper, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel Incubus, Brandon Boyd, Gruvis Malt and Michael Cross.

> Do the traditional African rhythms have different meanings? 

Yes, they sure do! Some are for harvest, weddings, home comings, surprises, battle ceremonies and male and female ceremonies. The rhythms often match the dances.

> What can people learn if they come to the workshop?

They will learn a rhythm with an introduction, with several rhythm parts and a break down. Techniques for hand and sound, posture and stamina. There will also be a dance class hosted by Elliot’s partner Josie, for those who would like to learn an African dance. The drummers will also be allowed to drum for the dance class.

The rhythm learnt can be played on any drum: Conga, drum kit, etc.

 > What is the hardest thing about hand drumming?  

The hardest thing is learning how to create a crisp sound with good technique. Then adding stamina with a tricky drum pattern. To master these is the aim of an aspiring Djembe player.  

> Your workshop is open to everyone. What will this involve? 

Drummers doing the workshop have an opportunity to perform in an evening performance with Elliot and local grove band KATIMBE. 

The African Djembe workshop is being held on Saturday March 7th at Wauchope Arts Hall.

Limited spots are available, so to book please email me at

Elliot Orr Profile

Widely respected as the leading proponent of African drumming in Queensland, Elliott has been beating skins and encouraging others to do the same since 1991! Having moved from Adelaide to Brisbane in 1994 for the specific purpose of attaining a Griffith University Environmental Science degree, Elliott’s focus gradually shifted – such that finishing the degree (with honours) became his part-time occupation while teaching, performing and making African drums became his all-consuming, full-time passion.

Elliott had been teaching Djembe professionally for two years when his passion landed him in West Africa in 1997 to study under master drummers of the traditional form. 

This intense training in Ghana and the Ivory Coast of West Africa instilled in Elliott a deep understanding of the cultural context of African drumming and has allowed him to bring the vibrant energy of this culture to the Australian community. Elliott maintains very close ties with master African drummers residing in Australia, frequently hosting them in Brisbane.

Of the multiple projects Elliott has undertaken as a community-based drummer, perhaps the two most notable include his role in the 2005 Queensland Music Festival ‘Goodwill Drumming Parade’ and the 2003 Queensland Biennial’s ‘Big Percussion Concert’ at Brisbane City Hall. 

The former involved the training of 200 community-based drummers over 8 weeks to parade with drums over the Goodwill Bridge, through South Bank to the Spiegletent to mark the closing of the QMF programme. In the latter, Elliott trained 20 ‘kids at risk’ in the Beenleigh area to make and play their own Djembes and taught 40 young Sunshine Coast people to play bells. Together, under Elliott’s direction, they performed a composition by Brisbane composer Gerard Brophy alongside a large number of Australian and international professional percussionists. 

Over the last 14 years Elliott has taught somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 – 20,000 people how to play African drums through regular weekly workshops with adults in the community, school groups and with corporations and organisations. These classes have occurred throughout Queensland, in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and New Zealand.

He also performs regularly with groups Spankinhide, Yeshe and the World Citizens, Kafka, Ganga Giri, as well as numerous project-based groups. With these groups Elliott has performed in a multitude of venues and situations, including BEMAC’s World Music Cafés, events at the Powerhouse, the Judith Wright Centre and at 9 of the past 10 Woodford Folk Festivals. 

Josephine Ross (also known as Josie Kurukulie) is one of Queensland’s few passionate and highly skilled West African dance performers and teachers. At the age of 22 she founded her own business, Dance Roots, dedicated to bringing joy through dance. 

She has performed widely with respected artists such as Ganga Giri and has touched many people through her performances and workshops. With training under master dancers, she has the rare ability to perform and teach this art form with grace, integrity and power. She holds the cultural significance and context of traditional dances with respect and passes on her passion through this exciting art form. 

She has a wide range of skills, and her creativity level is exceptionally high. This gives her the ability of being able to create exciting, dynamic and fun dance classes and performances. 

Josephine has also studied West African drumming under the close tuition of Elliott Orr, as well as master drummers, for the past four years. This has increased her insight and understanding of the connection between drummer and dancer, which is fundamental to this art form.

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