Muhtadi and How to Tune Drums in the Oven
The oven in my apartment was only every used for tightening drums. At 1:30pm, I’d set it to 450 degrees. At 2:00pm, Joseph Ashong, Michael Vertolli and Jesse Cook would arrive. Then they would pull up chairs, open the oven door and lean their goat skin covered djembes into the heat.
This probably violated some sort of safety code, but we didn’t have an open fire. And who wants to play on untuned drums?
While the guys played djembe, I played djun djun on a two headed metal surdo with fibreglass heads. I’d turned it on its side and screwed a silver cowbell on to one end. No heating required, as it was tightened with a metal key. Under Joseph’s patient and sometimes not so patient tutelage, we developed a small repertoire of Ghanaian rhythms.
The old four storey Victorian house at the corner of Sherbourne and Bloor shook as we rehearsed. We called ourselves 'Enijé Ensemble' and had our band name printed across the back of bright yellow t-shirts. We did a grand total of maybe ten gigs. Then like so many pop-up drumming groups of that time, energy flagged and we disbanded.
One person whose commitment to the drumming scene in Toronto has never swayed is Muhtadi. Hailing originally from Trinidad, he has been organizing events and performing in the city for years. And while so many of us got distracted, moved on to other things, Muhtadi instead created a drumming festival.
Toronto, the meeting place of so many cultures, is now home to drum traditions and ensembles from all over the planet.
The annual Muhtadi International Drumming Festival features some of Toronto’s best.
© Gloria Blizzard is a Toronto-based writer
Photo: Muhtadi and the world drummers