Volunteer hosts introduce our performers and write stories describing the effect of Bread & Roses programs on our institutional audiences. We bring hope and healing through live music and other performance art to isolated people throughout the San Francisco Bay Area in over 600 concerts every year. We are always recruiting more volunteers — and especially need more performers for diverse youth audiences. We appreciate your support and referrals. Click here for online volunteer application or to donate.
What: Bread & Roses Program - January 29, 2010
Who: Derique at Transition Learning Center, San Pablo
Where: Volunteer Host & Story by Henry Kaiser
Derique performed at an outreach event for Bread & Roses at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. A volunteer performer for almost ten years, Derique has done over 15 programs for youth who are isolated in Bay Area institutions.
At first it was just a cold gym with a grey tile floor and a harsh winter light shining in from high side windows. Derique, the performer, explained, “I’ll be presenting happy and thought provoking material, all related to the irresistible movement of the Hambone rhythm.” Then the sound system was powered up and the Hambone music started, filling the large space with warmth and energy. The mostly high school age students started to file in. Feet started tapping and bodies rocked softly back and forth as the growing audience waited for the show to begin.
We are in San Pablo, a tough neighborhood, at a school especially staffed to serve students from disadvantaged backgrounds and with a wide variety of learning disabilities, speech pathology, and other challenges. The audience is calm, neatly dressed, but eagerly attentive. A small candle burns on the table next to the sound system: a member of the school was murdered a week ago, and the funeral is today. Otherwise the audience would be twice as large.
The show starts when Derique does some fancy dance moves involving a fast rhythm of foot taps, claps, hand slaps, as he explains “Every culture has its unique way of celebrating its joy and expressing its cultural heritage and affinity. This is what I bring forward in my art. It’s about creativity in body drumming and percussion, but it’s also about cultural history and hope. It comes from slavery, and the heritage of making something out of nothing”. More taps, shuffles, claps, pops and slaps in an ever-widening variety of rhythms. “When we create,” Derique continues, “we draw from our ancestors.” He is one minute into the show, and already the audience is totally engaged in the art and history of Hambone.
“Hambone is about faith and beautiful spirit,” says Derique. He describes slave owners who prohibited the practice of drumming which had been brought from Africa. The slaves reacted by inventing the Hambone art form as a replacement way to capture the rhythm. “Hambone is about leadership, perseverance, resilience, wisdom, faith and oneness.” He explains a dance step called ‘Patenjuba’ which is based on ancient African drumbeats and relates this to present day rap, breakdance and other popular modern day forms that come from Hambone. All are asked to stand, and he quickly teaches a variety of stomps, claps, slaps and movements in counter point rhythms to various parts of the audience. Everyone is grinning and laughing. As variations are added, the rhythms become infectious and irresistible. Then he encourages eight volunteers to come into the center of the circle of chairs and they are taught to do a complicated dance while their friends cheer them on. Derique turns on a video of a professional Hambone dance group from South Africa doing Gumboot Dance. The dance has roots with slave workers a mile underground in the noisy and wet gold and diamond mines, working the rock face with the water cannon. All they had were visual cues for communication, and out of this an art form was born – beauty springing from misery and oppression, as people found a way to tap into the irrepressible happiness inside them that could not be stifled. Derique concludes: “Tap into your own happiness. It’s inside you. You feel it, it makes you move and dance. It’s there! Bring it Out! Live it!”
Where did 60 minutes go? Wow! I have never seen a more compelling and effective integration of art and message. This is an audience that seemed to hunger for this message. After the show, one staff member said, “See that boy over there? He’s seven, and he’s already seen three murders in 2010. Every morning when these kids come to class I say ‘thank goodness, they’ve survived another night’. They need this so much. Thank you, Bread & Roses.”
*Photos by Peter Merts.