Drum Drum, a contemporary music group based in Darwin, Australia, gave new meaning to the expression "rhythm nation" when it performed music and dances from Papua New Guinea Friday at the Lied Center. Papua New Guinea, a country north of Australia, has some 800 languages and 3,000 dialects, and Drum Drum performed an equally diverse repertoire of explosive percussion, with beats representative of the Melanesian and Polynesian cultures throughout the South Pacific region.
The concert began subtly, with each performer entering the stage one by one singing and dancing in a line, but gradually increased in intensity as various band members found their instruments and pounded out complex, building rhythms in perfect synchronicity. A changing wardrobe of traditional clothing, such as colorful grass skirts and hip and leg adornments, and whirling, shuffling dances enhanced the experience of listening to the endless variety of beats.
The youngest dancer -- a tiny girl who looked like she was maybe 6 years old, possibly the daughter of one of the performers -- kept the audience amused with her precise, little shimmies and hip thrusts, and unwavering confidence on stage. Her presence also added to the deeply instilled sense of community inherent in the drumming, dancing and singing of Papua New Guinea.
The idea of telling stories through drumming was another important part of Drum Drum's performance. Markham Galut's rendition of a kangaroo and a hunter at odds with one another in a rain forest was delightful; he switched back and forth between the two characters with funny facial expressions, jumps and quick hand movements, and was a favorite among the children in the audience.
The group also got laughs when it showed how, in Papua New Guinea, percussion was capable of expressing just about anything, from teapots to language barriers between native New Guineans and the Japanese who came into the area during World War II.
"A long time ago, somebody had a really nice cup of tea and was inspired to write this piece," one of the performers said before pounding out a playful patter of beats.
Although the spirit of the concert was undeniably collective, it was hard not to wish Drum Drum would stop at some point and introduce all the members of the group, as each person was so talented. Problems with the microphones also sometimes made it difficult to hear what performers were saying when they did provide context.
Nonetheless, it was an amazing show that brought the vibrance and warmth of Papua New Guinea's numerous cultures out in full force, and really conveyed how physical the joy of sound can be, whether it's blowing through a conch shell, leaping and dancing to thundering percussion, or telling stories with log drums.
After hearing Drum Drum, it's no surprise that many villages in Papua New Guinea have drumming parties that last several days and nights. Rhythms really bring people together, yet help them tell their own unique stories, and as Drum Drum made it clear on Friday night, those stories are endless.