Celebrating its 25th anniversary, Planet Drum has been remastered in a special edition with three previously unpublished tracks. In 1990, Mickey Hart assembled a cast of musicians from around the world to make a percussion album unlike anything ever produced. Hart was joined by Zakir Hussain and T.H. “Vikku” Vinayakram from India, Babatunde Olatunji and Sikiru Adepoju from Nigeria, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim from Brazil, and Giovanni Hidalgo from Puerto Rico. Planet Drum was released in 1991 and spent twenty-six weeks at the top of the Billboard charts, winning the first World Music Grammy in the process.
Instead of writing compositions in a particular style, Hart wanted the musicians to bring their traditions to the studio with the goal of creating new rhythms and ideas in an open-minded environment. The results speak for themselves. This recording features an impressive array of instruments that add a bounty of layers and sympathetic harmonies to an entirely original set of music. The production on the album allows for all of these textures and nuances to be heard and felt. A concentrated listening experience offers a level of depth not found on many recordings.
The opening track, “Udu Chant,” reveals a jungle of sound. The atmosphere resonates with life, adding intensity and scope to the percussive instruments, which includes Hart’s own “Beam,” a long metal I-beam strung with multiple piano strings and a special magnetic pickup. “Island Groove” is a 4/4 samba that draws influence from the sounds of the Yoruban consonants: go, pa, gun. Each musician adds some flair, adding to the collective sound instead of taking solos.
“Light Over Shadow” is a slow, contemplative groove with Purim and Moreira harmonizing vocals over a set of percussion that includes a yearning cuíca. “Dance of the Hunter’s Fire” offers an enticing meeting of African and South Indian traditions. The African polyrhythm of four beats against six beats is set by Olatunji’s djembe as Vinayakram improvises on the ghatam.
Body percussion and vocals are the only instruments on “Jewe ‘You Are the One.’” Jew’s harp and the dundun talking drum dominate the celestial composition, “The Hunt,” with strong accents from the drum kit. “Temple Caves” sounds like the title suggests; a percussive trance filled with a sense of urgency and celebration that resonates as if it was recorded in a cave.
“The Dancing Sorcerer” features Moreira on berimbau, one of the oldest instruments known to man, and Hussain on madal and tabla in a meeting of Brazilian and Indian percussion. Human bones are used by Hart to play the balafon on the ritualistic “Bones.” Voice and percussion swing together on “Lost River.” Olatunji adds a supportive vocal loop underneath Purim’s playful vocal melody as the ensemble lays down a strong rhythm.
“Evening Samba” is a silky groove that mixes Brazilian and Angolan rhythms, which serves as an outlet for some extended bell improvisations. “Iyanu ‘Surprises’” is an Olatunji composition which implements gourds grown in Hart’s garden, which are then arranged into a new gourdophon instrument. This leads into the sound of waves rolling in as “Mysterious Island” commences. Here water, rain, blowing wind and birds resemble the atmosphere of Kona, Hawaii where the waves were recorded late at night.
The three additional bonus tracks in this edition include “Sea of Showers,” “Throat Games,” and “The Spot.” “Sea of Showers” reveals a sense of urgency with conch, bullroarer and chimes joining tabla, surdo and congas for Purim and Olatunji’s vocals. “Throat Games” is entirely centered around the voice with four vocals providing all of rhythm and melody. “The Spot” is a fascinating study of water, implementing water drops along with madals, kanjira, kalimba, bells, and the innovative cheek-o-phon and waterphon to create the sound of water flowing and dancing.
What Mickey Hart and his ensemble have accomplished here is something entirely unique. By writing new music inspired by the traditions of these master musicians, they’ve created something completely authentic that still sounds fresh today. This special edition includes a forward in the liner notes written by Dennis McNally, along with Mickey Hart’s notes on the project with information on each composition. Fans of this album should also check out Hart’s companion book, “Planet Drum: A Celebration of Percussion and Rhythm.”
Originally published in RootsWorld Magazine.