SoFlo-based band Polyritmate traveling the world one rhythm at a time
From soul-saving spiritual revivals to club thumping EDM House music, it’s clear that percussion holds a certain alchemy over audiences, mesmerizing all listeners to a swaying beat regardless of genre or cultural origins. And perhaps no one embodies this more than South Florida’s own Polyritmate – a percussion-only band bringing a trifecta of traditions into one stellar jam fest.
The group combines the stylings of classical Indian tabla and doumbek drumming from Trinidadian-Canadian Jeff Deen, the Afro-Latino bongo and djembe rhythms of Venezuelan native Alan Reyna, and the Caribbean-flavored conga and bata percussions of Puerto Rican artist Jose Javier “J.J.” Freire.
“There is no singer, there is no guitarist and there is no dancer – only drums,” says Deen of the band’s performance. Instead of such additives, their concerts become a pure “musical journey into the primal power of rhythm.”
And, thanks to that the group’s diverse musical training, their rhythmic trip takes them around the world, exploring how both Old and New World traditions interact and align in surprising ways.
“We were all very curious to see how we could blend the sophistication of Indian tabla drumming with the power and excitement of Latin percussion,” noted Deen. “There are amazing synergies between the Indian repertoire and Latin rhythms.
Despite the group’s global influences, Polyritmate remains very much a home-grown South Floridian product, thanks to the region’s own cultural crossover, where residents may encounter bachata and folk drumming mingling on the same street.
“There are very few places where a Venezuelan, a Puerto Rican and a Trinidadian Indian can find each other and create something together,” says Deen. “It’s a musical melting pot here in South Florida. We are exposed to a lot of different rhythms.”
Polyritmate was able to strut their stuff for South Florida music fans last October, as one of the iconic acts selected to perform at the landmark Duende 2015 festival, celebrating Broward County’s centennial anniversary. “It was an honor to share the stage with so many multicultural and gifted artists,” recalls Deen. “On the big stage, the audience could really feel the heartbeat of the drums.”
The local crowd was thrilled by the band’s signature improvised syncopations, weaving effortlessly through different instruments and musical styles.
“All of our pieces are original, but they are usually very free form,” described Deen of the band’s process. “There is a basic theme and groove that we work with, but we leave a lot of room for spontaneity. Sometimes, we don’t plan the ending – we just try to read each other’s minds and feel when the ending is coming.”
On stage, this musical give-and-take takes on a spiritual resonance; by listening and responding to each other, Polyritmate generates an infectious and empowering energy for the audience.
“Drums have always been healing instruments,” says Deen, who also uses drumming as musical therapist through his company Drumming for Wellness. “Many cultures have used drums for healing purposes. [So] when we drum, it’s a sacred experience for us and the audience. It often puts us in a trance as well as the audience. In that altered state, ‘under the influence of drums,’ a lot of healing happens spontaneously.”
The group is doing their part bringing the drum’s meditative salve to local aficionados. Through Drumming for Wellness, Deen brings his percussive powers to drum circles in public schools, nursing homes, and corporate staff, all promoting “teambuilding, personal healing and growth.” And through his own company Ancestral Vibrations for Wellness, Reyna also brings empowerment drumming to schools and community events throughout South Florida.
As for the next project on the horizon, Deen says the band plans to spread the good word of drumming to the global reaches of the internet, with an upcoming video from their recent video shoot. The video’s goal is to educate audiences on the drum’s palliative – as well as dance-inducing – power.
“The ancient shamans always knew this,” says Deen. “Now, we are rediscovering that.”