On the beat

2011-03-25 10:37

When at full steam on stage with her drums, if Cindy Blackman was a knuckle drunk at the local pub, she’d probably be everybody’s favourite street fighter.

There are very few drummers who attack their instruments with as much severity and drive.

A music fan recently called her the most ­explosive Afro-wearing woman on drums.

The amazingly beautiful Blackman ­drummer has been grooving up Lenny Kravitz’s band since 1993.

She’s also Carlos ­Santana’s new wife. But apart from her rock ’n roll credentials, Blackman also leads her own jazz quartet, which is on the bill at this year’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival.

Blackman says that all her bandmates are influenced by jazz and rock.

This blend is also central to her latest album. “It’s a tribute to Tony Williams, the innovator of jazz rock,” she claims.

Williams will be remembered by jazzheads as the immaculate drummer in Miles Davis’ ­second great quintet, which also included ­Herbie Hancock on piano, bassist Ron Carter and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, who is also on the festival’s bill this year.

Blackman was only 16 when Williams visited her local drum store for a drum clinic.

It was during this encounter that Blackman was convinced that “drummers should have a lot of impact and a great sound without being limited to a conventional role in the band”.

But that comes with years of practice, and as the 51-year-old drummer puts it, “spending time alone with your instrument”.

She says: “If you don’t, even if you are born with a ­tremendous amount of talent, you won’t push the limits of your talent or create a thinktank for yourself.”

But it must be hard for her to find solitary time for a ­creative experience with her ­instrument, ­especially with her huge ­global fan base and a gig schedule to match.

“You also need to spend a lot of time playing with other band members to get to where the band can breathe as one,” she says. She believes this to be true of all types of partnerships.

The obvious question then became irresistible: when does she and her superstar husband find time for the intimacies of married life, given their career demands “We find our domestic flow,” she says simply.

Here the tough band leader gives way to a lady in love, as her voice turns tender: “I understand that his choice is me and my choice is him. He was an incredible musician before I married him and he understands that about me too. He knows my soul needs to play music and he needs it too. So we have to support each other.”

In jazz, Blackman is ­unprecedented as a formidable female drummer, but she manages to be elegantly feminine.

But Blackman says she doesn’t care about the gender politics of her craft. She makes a simple declaration: “What I care about is the quality of what comes out.”

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