A paint bucket and a metal tube strung together by twine and slung across his chest, and wooden and metal drumsticks in hand, João Pedro Henriques Rodrigues Soares sings a simple Kassa rhythm.
“Pang, pang, pang, pang, ting, ting, pang pang,” he calls, with a wide toothy grin, before hitting the beats.
“It is a rhythm from the west coast of Africa . . . when the people were digging the plantations, the people were playing the drums at the same time,” he said.
The 34-year-old Portuguese national has lived in Phnom Penh for just over two years, but he picked up Kassa over a decade ago from his brother.
“We had a group together – Bangbalan – he’s a really good drummer; he’s my master,” he said.
Teaching music at an international school is Henrique’s day job, but his passion for Kassa has led him to run a workshop in partnership with the Indochina Starfish Foundation for disadvantaged youths each Sunday morning, and starting next week, he will launch a course open to the public (for a modest price) at Showbox – the Cambodian Heart Beater’s African Drums Workshop.
Playing percussion gives a “boost” to the kids, he says, a feeling he says people of all ages can enjoy with such an easily accessible kit, even if they have no musical background.
“Some schools they want to follow the theory, theory, theory . . . I think if kids are following only the theory they lose interest. First, they need to have the contact with the instruments,” he says, adding, “It happened like this for me, too.”
For his course, which will see part of the fees support his work with the children, participants will also be invited to build a drum from re-purposed parts.
For Henrique, banging the drum also has a therapeutic element. “It helps with motor coordination, auditory memory,” he said. Besides, “It just makes you feel good!”
“If kids are following music, then maybe they’re avoiding drugs and other things, [like] going into the street and begging for money; maybe they can follow it as a dream and build their future,” he continued.
For one student, Henrique says, the rhythms of Kassa have worked wonders.
“I had a student, he had a mental disability . . . I saw the difference, I went to visit him the other day and now he’s playing piano, learning, but he said that he missed the drums.”
Cambodian Heart-Beater’s African Drums Workshop Launch Party takes place at Showbox, #11 Street 330 on August 2 from 7:30pm to 9pm. Course is open to all levels, and will run for eight sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays and costs $20. Reservations required at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.