Body Rhythm festival unbelievable experience

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Four days in Hamburg: Body Rhythm Hamburg festival

Its is a story about the life changing experience of Body Rhythm festival in Hamburg. We are coming back to it every year!

On Friday at 9 am, slightly exhausted after traveling by bus for 20 hours, we arrive in a gray Hamburg morning at ZOB – the main bus station. Located on the boulevard, overlooking the park, made of glass and metal. We see all profiles of passengers and hosts. Surprised by the temperature, which is 15 degrees lower, we open the suitcases at the station. Walking towards the center, passing by the main train station along the way, we notice the public toilet, like a pit stop, in front of it.

In the center we buy an all-day group ticket at the vending machine, which we pay a real small fortune for, looking forward to seeing the city today. And from tomorrow, the festival! It takes place in Altona, a part of Hamburg that was once an independent town, also part of Denmark before that. Once a place where there was a large Jewish community, the A7 motorway, the longest national highway in Europe, now passes through it. I immediately think of Kraftwerk. Everything is associated with music or art.

Along the way we admired the colorful rhododendrons that grow all over Hamburg. After wandering near the destination for a while we arrive at Tancstudio Billis. It is an industrial space turned into an art center. Mostly home to dance studios (and one circus school), this space will be our home for the next four days. Like twenty other colleagues who come from four continents and a dozen countries, we decided to sleep on yoga mats in one of the studios for Work. We immediately meet Petra from Austria and Hanu from the south of Germany. They seem friendly and equally displaced after their long travels. Since we have to choose now, we decide to go to the main Hamburg tourist destination: the port.

Hamburg seems powerful, a blend of old and new

After less than half an hour of driving in the bus, we exit not far from the port. At least that is what we think! We discover that the two stations in this city are not what we expect. Walking another 45 minutes we reach the destination. Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany. The Elbe is gray, the sky is gloomy, the harbor is, of course, full of tourists, as we are, after all. The bridge that leads across the boulevard next to the port is full of padlocks with love locks.

The practical and organized German spirit permeates everything: a tunnel was dug under the Elbe in 1911, so that workers could reach the shipyard across the road easier and faster, as well as the wounded injured at work to the opposite side. We descend into this kind of mine with the help of an elevator and discover that the traffic is happening under the river as well. One, narrow lane, allows vehicles to move in one direction, and the tunnel is lined with tiles with river motifs of majolica.

Walking at a brisk pace for about ten minutes, we are again in the light of a gray day, looking now at the river bank from which we came. Hamburg seems powerful, a combination of old and new world, with green cones protruding from magnificent buildings. On the concrete shore under the fence, a few meters below us, girls are sitting, dressed in blankets, drinking coffee.

We quickly conclude that we have done our tourist duty, and that we are interested in only one more point on the geographical map of Hamburg. We need to find the grocery store, since we took all the seeds and nuts, even unleavened bread, with us. Like real sailors we should also find some fresh fruits and vegetables with toast instead of sauerkraut, in the fight against the scurvy of the traveler’s stomach. The grocery store in the center of Altona is Turkish, the one next to it is Indian. In the shop, we discover Serbian coffee. In my innocence, I brought it as a gift, as a curiosity, to the organizers of the festival. So much for the global village.

Concert of Tupac Mantia

That evening in Hebebine, the club where the concert of Tupac Mantia is held, miracles of rhythm (Marko and I called him “Speedy Gonzales”, although he is from Colombia) for the first time we attend a live performance of a world-famous musician, drummer and educator – from the first row. A man who has played with musical legends such as Bobby McFarrin, Zakir Husain, John Patituchi, performed at Carnegie Hall, worked as a lecturer at Harvard and Stanford universities, was nominated for a Grammy Award, is the founder of the Colombian body percussion group Tekeye.

The curiosity is that the performance is the premiere performance of a new solo project, Body songs in which, in addition to the technique of body percussion, uses a loop machine and vocal effects, building the construction of each song element by element. It is very interesting and as an educational form, because the audience very quickly remembers the simplest elements, the melodic line of the vocals, and readily engages as soon as the Mantle addresses it.

The performance is excellently directed, superbly produced, the sound is perfect, but, above all, Mantia’s fantastic skill and speed is – almost terrifying! It is extremely interesting how much this cruel rhythm machine that manages the audience at a solo performance in collaboration with other musicians is transformed into a refined, sensitive, musician who has ears, it seems, on his elbows!

First day of the body music festival: singing and clapping and stomping

Workshops begin with the first day of the festival: two sessions of 90 minutes before and after lunch. For diligent body percussionists and musicians, heaven on earth! And it’s a pain, because there are four workshops at the same time and it’s hard to decide which one to dedicate to. These are my choices.

Merel Mertens, a vocal pedagogue and singer, associated with several award-winning singing groups from the Netherlands, highly educated (at the Dutch Royal Academy of Music in Amsterdam), but a complete novice in the world of body percussionists, demonstrates interesting voice games on one and voice painting technique (Vocal painting or VOPA) at another workshop. VOPA is a sign language that enables non-verbal communication between conductor and choir singers, which can be used to compose and arrange vocal music on the spot through improvisation. Magic!

The technique was designed by the Dutchman Jim Daus, inspired by the technique of sound painting of the American Walter Thompson. Simple signs for chromatic scale, for expression, volume, etc enable a skilled conductor to become a composer on the spot. They fit fantastically into one of the basic postulates of contemporary art workshops, and also body percussion workshops. Participants are in a circle, with a conductor in the middle. It is easy to divide them into several groups, give each a different melody or rhythm, or invite them through representatives to improvise and then fix one motif, and then create during performance.

Of course, the beauty of the composition depends on the skills of the participants and the conductor, but also on the willingness to give, to be part of the group, to listen to others, to accept responsibility. A way to learn the basic principles of community behavior through art. Immediately applicable in work with children. Merel Mertens School website is

The workshop with the extremely interesting name Inbodiment of Rhythm attracts me, as well as the energetic dancer from Barcelona, ​​Ana Llombart, who leads it. One of the founders of the group that deals with tap, Tapeplas, she is a dancer, choreographer and dance pedagogue. She moved from Barcelona to London, and currently lives in Catalonia. Apart from combining rhythm and movement in space, it offers us several demanding choreographies with music. It has elements of body percussion and dance is characterized by rhythm, which we only emphasize by tapping. Exercises like a washing machine are so funny! The cyclic movement of the hands is followed by strokes that begin and end on the chest, combine imitation of machines, pantomime and dance.
Anna Lombart’s website is

Alex Ostapenko, a Ukrainian living in Moscow, brings the ancient Indian skill, konakol (konnakol), pronouncing rhythmic syllables and composing rhythm through speech. He is a percussionist who specialized in Asian rhythms. In a previous life, before the artistic, he was a programmer. He loves this technique, because it allows him to compose new rhythms anywhere and at any time. Percussionists and drummers always needs special working conditions. But with konakol you can work and not bother neighbors, even if you have sudden inspiration at 3 AM.

Ostapenko develops approaches to improvisation and various rhythmic and poly-rhythmic phrases, which he then translates into the language of percussion and body percussion. I was fascinated by the way in which he easily replaces phrases of the same length and different accents, as well as completely different phrases. This shows that rhythmic language does not have to be rigid and completely defined, but open to the artist’s inspiration.

In a sense, the konakol is already basically connected with body percussion, because the beat is counted by touching the fingers of one hand with the palm of the other hand.
Rhythm studio:
Haza Muna:

The first evening brings the challenge of Open Stage. We are eager to show what we know and can do. So many interesting performances! Most of them, like ours, combine body percussion, performance, dance and song, but in completely different ways. German duo of dancers and singers, which begin like two old men, with walking sticks, and end up as youngsters. Or two Scandinavian dancers, another extremely witty performance. German women who sing Bulgarian songs with minimal body percussion. Free session, complete improvisation, six performers from the Netherlands, Germany and Ukraine. Beautiful audience, festival participants, and wonderful support they provide to everyone who performed. The stage is a rectangular shape marked with a black ribbon in the floor of the largest studio.

Diving into the music – second day of the festival

Interested for African songs and rhythms, I go to Sarah Lazaki‘s workshop. Born in Hamburg, she is famous, the only German of African origin, who performed with the group STOMP from 2007 to 2014. Stomp is one of the most famous shows of body music. She was educated in Berlin, London, New York, Los Angeles and Nigeria.

I followed with curiosity the workshop of an extremely modest young woman, a great worker, who shares with us her desire to combine the rhythm and dances of Nigeria She teaches us the song she knew and sang as a child, a Nigerian rhythm she translated into body percussion and choreography. We sing in three voices and with different movements for different groups. The whole group is emotionally involved and carried away by her energy, the beauty of a simple song, which is something between a prayer and a lullaby, and the movement that comes from it. Very exciting and full of feelings!

Ben Schitz is the founder and, in addition to Detlef von Boeticher, the organizer of this festival, Body Rhythm Hamburg. A drummer by education, studio musician, performer in many different projects and ensembles. He researched the rhythms of Latin America and taught body percussion at universities in Brazil and Argentina.

The first edition of Body Rhythm festival was in 2015 and it is the only international body music festival in Germany. His workshop, which thematically combines with Charles Raszl’s workshop, Rhythmic and Melodic Mandalas, introduces participants to the Argentine chakarera rhythm. He is leading us skillfully through the game, occasionally connecting all participants in a circle, then dividing them into two or more groups, then into pairs. He brings us a complicated polyrhythm, where a two-part rhythmic division meets a three-part one, and spice it all up with dance related to body percussion.

The Body Rhythm Festival Show

The second evening brings the festival show, where all lecturers perform with guests, lecturers of previous editions of the festival, dancers from Hamburg and the fantastic Elbtonal percussion, the trio from Hamburg, virtuosos on percussion instruments such as marimba and timpani, who are endowed with wit and ironically, because they perform one percussionist “cooking” point with the help of plates, cutlery and a cooker – and three tables. Tupac Mantia shines with them, on a set that is a combination of a classic drum and different percussion.

Santiago Vasquez from Argentina, another music star, whose workshop Rhythm with signs continued after the festival, is a multi-instrumentalist. Alone, singing and accompanying himself on the kalimba, or with Tupac Mantia, he prepares a special musical enjoyment.

Federica Loredan, a dancer from Italy, performs part of her performance Mermaid. In a dress specially made to produce sound with subtle and sharp movements she creates music. Most of the lecturers have their solo, and then they perform together, in playful structured improvisation. The names I did not mention are Anita Grich, a percussionist and singer from Vienna, Jep Melendez, a percussionist from Spain, and Esther Dittem, a lecturer in the taketina technique.

The final day of the Body Rhythm festival

Charles Raszl, a member of the Brazilian group Barbatuques, leads several workshops. I participate in two: Body music: movement, rhythm, voice and the mentioned, Rhythmic and melodic mandalas. Full of knowledge of Brazilian culture and tradition, the lecturer constantly insists on connecting the mythology, religion, stories, history of indigenous cultures and slaves from Africa. This history is 400 years long, and the cultures are inextricably linked, creating a completely new one.

A double workshop of three or a single of an hour and a half is, however, too short for such a thing; but we get some hints. We learn the rhythms of capoeira, batuque, ijesha. A song about the goddess Oba, a strong warrior, who cut off her ear to make soup for her husband (and he didn’t like it). This goddess is from the Tambor de Mina religion.

Raszl achieves extremely subtle expression with different types of applause. With precise dynamics, his body percussion patterns are dance choreographies and song arrangements at the same time. The rhythm flows through his body and the performance acts only as a manifestation of inner music.

The workshop, led jointly by Raszl and Schitz is an upgrade. At the same time part of the group performs Argentine rhythms and the other two perform different Brazilian rhythms. The groups are organized in several concentric circles. Each moves in its own rhythm and direction. In some parts of the song groups meet.

Rhythmic flows correspond to each other and form a common rich poly-rhythm. Dancing, pulsating concert in which the performers enjoy as listeners, when they completely indulge in the body memory and energy of the group. Smiles, looks, awareness of belonging to the music that unites us, and which would not exist without us.

And the final improvisation: all participants of the festival, again in several concentric circles, with four “conductors” who bring themes that the group repeats. We use body percussion, dance, song, movement, everything is allowed and welcome, while contributing to creation with others, or against them. Then the group leaders change, and the previous leaders become performers.

Melodic and rhythmic lines change, the dynamics heat up and then flatten. We feel different moods of “conductors”: nervousness and insecurity or a desire to manage and set challenges, fatigue, happiness, as well as their different characters, which are illuminated even more clearly in uncertainty and the inventiveness that every improvisation necessarily carries.

We end up with the melody we learned first in the workshop of all participants: we completed this long journey of four days in the most beautiful and logical, musical way. About a hundred people from twenty countries play music together, laugh, dance and sing, learn and exchange knowledge. Such a precious experience that it is a pity that we have to wait another year for the next festival!

For this experience, I owe gratitude, first of all, to Clemens Kuneth, a body percussionist from Munich, when I was lucky enough to meet him at our concert at the Freies Music Zentrum, the last one on the February tour with German colleagues Esel: com and who has put to our attention the existence of the Body Rhythm festival.

Ana Vrbaski

Read about the Body Rhythm festival in 2019