Sunday, October 31, 2004


One for Nick

Tim Bray is one of the creators of the xml internet language and a leading proponent of open-sources software. Tim has lots of interests, as you'll see if you check out his blog. Here, he's writing about percussion.

Sly and Robbie by Tim Bray in Ongoing.

That would be Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, approximately the world’s greatest rhythm section; we spent a couple of hours with them Friday evening at Vancouver’s venerable Commodore Ballroom, a fine place for listening to electric music. That bass line has a direct karmic connection to the secret heart of the sun.

Sly and Robbie, both Jamaican, started playing together in the Seventies (this evening was billed as the “25th Anniversary Tour”) and I first heard them backing Peter Tosh (R.I.P.) singing Downpresser Man; Tosh was one of the great singers but, you know, I could have sold records singing in front of that band.

The Rhythm There’s this rhythm that’s already out there, everywhere. It’s your mother’s heartbeat that backgrounded the birth of your mind in the womb, though you don’t remember. It’s the creaking in the roots of the world tree, and the secret resonance of the inner heart of the Sun.

All the best music is about getting closer to that rhythm, and anytime you’re in a room with Sly & Robbie, you’re inside it looking out. Sly’s impressive, but for me, Robbie Shakespeare, now that Pastorius is gone, towers above the ranks of electric-bass players. I don’t know anyone else who’s close. His rhythms gather and fade and are punctuated by silence, shifting like the stormclouds in front of our Vancouver mountains.

Anyhow, at a Sly & Robbie show, everything starts ’round midnight, the basic six-piece (S&R + sax + trombone/singer + guitar + keyboards) never stops, various dreadlocked boy-candy singers take turns up front; in between the pretty singers it’s all about being at the heart of the rhythm.

Last night, with the beat down into slow-dub territory, a slinky young woman climbed the stage and did a dreamy/sexy dance, her head bowed so her grey fedora’s brim hid her face. The band dug it and let her go a while before she got gently hauled off.

In my secret dreams, I’d give up software and become Robbie Shakespeare, but it ain’t gonna happen. Sly & Robbie started late, we ran out of steam (married, children, babysitting in effect) sometime too far into the wee hours the next day while they were still hard at work. Go see them if they come to your town.

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