Han Bennink jazzes up Cairo

Farah Montasser, Sunday 18 Mar 2012

Nicknamed the multi-instrumentalist, the Dutch drummer, Han Bannink goes one-on-one with Ahram Online


On Saturday 17 March, as part of the fourth annual Cairo Jazz Festival 2012, Han Bennink played his final notes before taking his flight back to his homeland, Holland.

Born in Zaandam near Amsterdam in 1942, Bennink began tapping out rhythms on his kitchen chair. Shortly after, his father, an orchestra percussionist, supplied him with conventional outfits, yet Bennink "never lost his taste for coaxing sounds from unlikely objects he finds backstage at concerts" the versatile artist expresses in his biography.

This year, the Cairo Jazz Festival awarded the Dutch drummer for his 50 years worth of contributions to the modern jazz scene, awarding him a lifetime achievement trophy.

The River Hall, in the Cairo Jazz Festival’s venue at El Sawy Culturewheel, where Bennink's concert was held last night, was totally empty prior to his jazz concert, except for the musicians jamming before the night's big gig.

From among the upbeat melodies, Bennink emerges from the stairs up onto to a small terrace overlooking the Nile - with a big smile.

"I am more than pleased with the level of talented young Egyptians I have met on my short visit to Cairo," he expresses to Ahram Online. "And especially the children of Darb Al Ahmar music school who joined our workshop on yesterday," he says.

Children of Darb Al Ahmar have been an inspiration to the 69-year-old musician with their improvised Egyptian tunes. "It was as if the children of Darb and Bennink had this music session rehearsed ahead of the performance," says one of the participants in the workshop.

Four students of the Darb Al Ahmar music school joined him on stage with duff and riq (Middle Eastern drums) and after a few beats the Dutch drummer harmoniously joined the oriental tunes and beats of the Egyptian young talents in his drum circle.

Bennink believes that improvisation in music is essential. "Art, and especially music, does not have any boundaries or rules - improvisation is a gift," he says. "As a Dutch musician and artist I often resort to Germany, the US, among other cultures to create music compositions."

Renowned worldwide for being unfashionable and multi-faceted in the jazz scene, Bennink has been playing drums since the 1960s, backing great jazz musicians, including the American Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins and Eric Dolphy on their visits to Holland in 1962. Onwards, he started playing free jazz. Throughout his long jazz journey, Bennink always referred to Egyptian music giants like, Om Kalthoum, for his inspiration.

"I favour Om Kalthoum and to this day I listen to this great singer regularly," he says.

"Egypt is a diversified culture and the richest of all nations dating back to thousands of years before Christ, so improvisation to blend in all those cultures is a must; and music is what best expresses this culture," Bennink believes.

According to his biography, Bennink's recordings from the 1980s include sessions with Mengelberg's ICP Orchestra (where he currently works), South African bassist Harry Miller, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, trombonists Roswell Rudd and George Lewis and big-bandleaders Sean Bergin and Andy Sheppard.

In the1990s, Bennink recorded duos with among others pianists, such as Mengelberg, Irene Schweizer and Myra Melford. Guitarist Eugene Chadbourne, trumpeter Dave Douglas and tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin.

From 1988 to '98 Bennink's main vehicle was Clusone 3, with saxophonist and clarinetist Michael Moore and cellist Ernst Reijseger - a band noted for its freewheeling mix of swinging jazz standards, wide-open improvisation and tender ballads. Clusone played Europe and North America, West Africa, China, Vietnam and Australia, and recorded five CDs for Gramavision, Hat Art and Ramboy.

Bennink's artistic being branched out into visual arts as well as music since his teens. He attended art school in the 1960s. Today, he often makes sculptures from objects he finds, which may include broken drumheads and sticks.

Often, Bennink designs the LP and CD covers on which he collaborated on, musically. Bennink is represented by Amsterdam's Galerie Espace, and has been the subject of several one-man shows, including one at the Gemeente Museum in Hague in 1995.

Since 2008 Han Bennink has his own Han Bennink Trio consisting of Han Bennink, Joachim Badenhorst on clarinet and Simon Toldam on piano.

From kitchen chairs to outspoken canvases, today Bennink is one of the most versatile and diverse artists the world has seen.


For more on Cairo's artistic scene follow our page Ahram Online: Arts and Culture and @AhramOnlineArts


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