May 24, 2007

I Just Live My Life: Muhtadi Thomas

Muhtadi ThomasThe multimedia artist Elspeth Duncan from Trinidad recently spent time here (lucky us!), and posted this about her experiences working with us on a documentary about Master drummer Muhtadi Thomas:

The name Muhtadi means ‘rightly guided’. As he says, if each one of us looks back on our lives, we will see that we have been rightly guided to be where we are now.

I came to Canada to do a course in reflexology. Two days after my arrival, when the course was unexpectedly canceled due to low enrollment, another door opened in the form of an opportunity to work with Leda Serene Films on a documentary about the drummer/musician, Muhtadi. This documentary is the fourth in Leda Serene’s documentary series on Canadian-Caribbean Musicians and Composers for Bravo!

It felt ironic to be working on a documentary about a drummer, since prior to coming to Toronto, I kept feeling that I wanted to experience drum circles while being here. Also, a friend of mine (who did not know I had been feeling this), told me before I left that she ‘saw me‘ carrying my drum on the plane. In fact she advised me to and I told her I didn’t feel like the extra luggage (although I have since bought a drum while being here), so my heart will have to be ‘my drum’. It may sound kind of soppy to say that, but looking back, it reflects what Muhtadi said later on: that once you are alive, you are a drummer, since we all have a heart, which is a drum, beating the rhythm of life and connecting us. “The drum is love. And everybody loves to love.”

I had never met Muhtadi before and, while I must have heard his name, I was not aware of him and his work. On my first day at Leda Serene, surrounded by a welcoming staff of people and cats, I sat and scrolled through 15 tapes of previously shot ‘Muhtadi doc’ footage. There, amidst the montage of images, sounds and interviews, I encountered Muhtadi as ‘the centre’. He is at the centre of himself, as much as he is at the centre of the world of souls around him. (I say ‘souls’ because his son, Talib, in his interview, casually spoke of his father attracting ‘souls’. I found it interesting that he did not use the word ‘people’). Souls of all ages, genders, nationalities, races, creeds and professions have gathered around the drum and Muhtadi. No doubt, in ways specific to each, they have been moved and inspired by him.

Before the shoot, I decided to meet Muhtadi by physically going to one of his Saturday drum classes. That day it was being held outdoors, on Hanlan’s Point (Toronto Islands). He brought a djembe for me and we rode across together on the ferry. He is not an overly talkative person, but whenever he speaks, what he says is interesting and meaningful. That day, by being a part of his class, I realised that he does not need to speak loudly, if at all, to command love, attention and respect from those around him.

On the day that Jeff (production co-ordinator), Powys (camera), Ayol (sound) and I went to Muhtadi’s home to interview him, I asked him if he would open our filming session in the same way that he opens his drumming sessions, with his hands playing a prayer (for centering) on the drum skin. As we watched him do this, I felt drawn in … and there came a point where he and the drum merged, becoming one. It struck me in that moment that I am yet to truly connect with and know my own 'drum' as deeply. That may be so for many of us. From meeting Muhtadi, I realize there is no big secret to be discovered or revelation to be had where this is concerned. The answer is in his simple statement: “I just live my life.”

Thanks to Frances Anne, everyone at Leda Serene Films, Sniper and crew (cats), Powys, Ayol, Jay (editor) and Muhtadi for this experience.

The Muhtadi International Drumming Festival, "celebrating the drum as an international instrument,... and that nurtures a lifelong appreciation of the drum as a unifying symbol" will bring together professional drummers from all over the world - free all weekend - at Queens Park, on June 2-3rd.

Via Newz From Leda Serene & CaribbeanTales:

Our work documenting artists here is wonderful for us. It is dynamic, uplifting, and empowering, not least because many of these talented creators have been working in the community and having an impact on life here for years with little or no recognition of the breadth and importance of their contribution. Muhtadi is one extraordinary example. He is from Trinidad.

Creation is generally a lonely unsung process, so it's wonderful when artists are able to come together to share and serve each others forms of expression.

I feel like in a simple synergistic way, this happened here. I would like all of us Elspeth, Muhtadi, me and my little company (and our office full of cats) to get the widest possible circulation.


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