"World music is culture specific," says the former Grateful Dead drummer, ongoing ethnomusicologist and current leader of Bembe Orisha. "If you were in the Philippines and you heard music of Appalachia, you would consider that world music, or vice versa. So 'world music' really isn't a good term to describe anything. It's the world's music."
During his tenure with the Dead, Hart kept busy with solo projects and musical research. It was his interest in cross-cultural rhythm that gave the band its tribal beat elements, international guests and a live segment known as "The Rhythm Devils." With Bembe Orisha, Hart continues his pursuit of The One -- the beginning and the end of the rhythmic cycle.
"'Bembe Orisha' means party to the saints, the spirits of nature," he says. "It's a West African word. So that's what this is all about. It honors the roots of the music that we got -- rock 'n' roll, blues, big band, jazz. It all came to us from Africa. This is the roots of the roots."
Bembe Orisha features musicians from all over the world playing native instruments. It includes two Cubans, vocalist Bobi Cespedes and Nengue Hernandez on Latin percussion and vocals; Nigerian percussionist Sikiru Adepoju; Persian vocalist Azam Ali; and bassist/vocalist Rahsaan Fredericks, guitarist Barney Doyle and drummer Greg Ellis, all three from the U.S. Hart mans a drum set, a balaphon, a thumb piano called a kalimba, and his electronic master, RAMU (Random Access Musical Universe), which allows him to call up any of a zillion pre-programmed sounds. "It's a sound-droid," he says. "A robot that can change all my sounds."
The Dead's penchant for jamming resides at the core of all of Hart's projects -- and that includes Bembe Orisha. "It's the art of improvisation that has always been appealing to me," he says. "Not necessarily the recreation of something -- the creational moment is what's meaningful to me. There are some people who try to create the record and play the songs. It's not the kind of art that's the most important art to me. That's why the Dead appealed to me -- it had a certain amount of expectancy, wildness and uncharted territory."
Still, Hart cautions those who may want to hear Dead tunes at a Bembe Orisha show. "You can hear many bands cover Grateful Dead music. You won't hear any of that here; there's no need for that," he says. "When I go out, people come to hear me. I really appreciate that. I appreciate people who are adventurous and want to fill their hearts, souls and ears with new grooves, sounds, voices and songs, and to hear other cultures speaking through me."
Still, Hart appreciates the impact his earlier work has had on fans. "A lot of people come up and tell me, 'Thanks for all the years and the Grateful Dead.' There are an awful lot of people who come up to me and say, 'Planet Drum ... awesome.' Or, 'I use it in my dance class.' Or, 'I meditate to this.' I've made many records outside the Dead. Some people have no idea I was even in the Dead. Some people come to see me drum or hear the rhythm because they're Deadheads; just as many people come because they love my percussion work."
Sunday's show will be the next step in Hart's ongoing mission to achieve weightlessness via rhythm and emotion. "We're talking about altering your consciousness using inharmonic sound, rhythm and noise," he says. "Bembe Orisha is right in the heart of that. It doesn't matter what band you're playing in as long as there's a lot of rhythm and there's the groove."
Mickey Hart and Bembe Orisha play Sun., Nov. 4., at the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts, 80 Forsyth St. Show time is 7:30 p.m. $35-$45. 404-651-4727. www.rialto- center.org.
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