Date: June 1, 2013
Location: Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.
A collection of seventeen exquisitely fit men, some of them bare-chested and most of them with a French accent, provides all the necessary ingredients for an alluring concept, no matter what these men end up doing. Les Tambours du Bronx is exactly that, and these men make music by banging wooden sticks onto all sides of metal oil barrels, creating pulsating percussive sounds onstage. Their rhythm is executed in rehearsed precision, but by allowing occasional spontaneity through solos and improvisations, their music has a raw but authentic texture. Their sticking is highly choreographed, like the corps de ballet turning and jete-ing in unison. When these beats mixed with exhilarating electro synthesized music, the entire Grand Theatre in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre became one gigantic party room. Soloists took turns to lead the group, and by the end of the evening nearly every one of the seventeen had a chance to lead. When they did, they would roll their barrel to take center stage, and would instruct the rest to follow like a conductor in front of an obliging orchestra. The leader would call, and the rest would respond in true mantra of African call-and-response. Call patterns ranged from simple triplets to raging passages. Most of the rhythms, at the individual level, were neither patently novel nor truly sophisticated, but in unison the rhythm became a sure-fire locomotion. When various small groups broke away into different rhythms, and individuals further broke away from these smaller groups, the entire fabric was like a train speeding through an industrial town buzzing with traffic, factory noises, and hissing sounds from steam engines. Each rhythmic element remained rudimentary and basic, but when these elements wove together, a sophisticated rhythmic fabric emerged. As barrels got deformed after repeated stick attacks, the deformity changed, if ever so slightly, the tonal characteristics of the barrels, which in turn embroidered the fabric even more. At the end, the group invited the audience to join them on stage, and the uncoordinated efforts of the amateurs brought about a wimpy cacophony, thereby proving the existence of a fine line between random noise and robust sound, no matter how rough the tonal textures came about.