Pheeroan akLaf, an American drummer and percussionist, visited Wellington recently to give five performances over three days: four sets in two days at the Pyramid Club and a Sunday gig at Meow.

Pheeroan worked with a large group of musicians who played a variety of instruments, which provided multiple unique experiences: vocals and guitar, vibes and viola, reeds and basses.

While the Meow gig was as loud as usual, apparently to kill germs, the Pyramid was the ideal place to experience a rhythm guru like Pheeroan. The Pyramid is a monster of a place: a creature with a life of its own and a belly full of music and good vibes.

I found Pheeroan in one of the deep hidden rooms, radiating rays of smiles and lavender oil. I asked him “Why? Why music? Why do you play?”

After a pause indicating that he was really thinking about it, he said, “In general when you play, you have to be aware of why, to have purpose and intention. But for me personally, it is also the healing quality of music that is important. When I play I get into the state of active meditation, where I focus on the intention of the day and internal movements of humanity and their upliftment towards evolution”.

His Healing song performed during Saturday’s opening set was a vivid illustration of that phenomenon. This solo piece uplifts, encourages, gives hope, and heals your soul. It was a “stand up and go; your faith has made you well” moment.

How is it possible to do that with nothing more than a drum kit and some rhythm patterns? “We are learning the degree of rhythm found in an elemental environment”, he says. Everything, down to the molecules, even to the electron level, vibrates, moves in rhythm. That makes rhythm a universal tool, before pitch and music in general. It is a universal language. As with math, music and especially rhythm are full of beauty and magic.

Pheeroan felt it early and was “drafted into the world of eternal rhythm” when drums “came to” him. He wanted to replicate all the rhythmic things around him in a way that would bring joy: to him as joy of expression, and to others as joy of healing.

When he sits behind his drum set – not a very unusual set, but extended with another bass drum on his left – he looks like your typical jazz drummer. But when the magic begins and you close your eyes, you envision an orchestra on the scale of Beethoven, with the all power of a huge philharmonic playing “Ode to Joy”. You envision hundreds of carnival drummers marching and drumming in hypnotizing unison. You envision the solar system spinning in a majestic planetary parade.

Big human, big power, big luck for Wellington and Pyramid club to be charged with all this energy. So don’t miss a chance to go to the club next time to absorb some of that healing power that vibrates in the air still.

By Charlie Queen