Interview: Let Drum Beat – Beating the Equality Drum (January 2019)

We can’t celebrate and encourage a project like Let Drum Beat enough, not simply because they are a full-female band in a man’s world (the music one), but also because, with their Afro-Brazilian-inspired sound and rhythms and positive attitude, they release such warm and heartening vibes that will inevitably end up inspiring you.

A few months ago, after their performance at Ealing Jazz Festival, we met with Alba (Cabral), Béa (Shantifa), Lizzie (Ogle) and Tuca (Milan) for a chat about their album-in-progress (which we can’t wait to listen to), their life between London and Brazil, and the troubled relationship between women and an environment that should be all about openness and equality like the world music one.

It was inevitable that we would start from the most entangled issue. So, we set the interview in motion, talking about Let Drum Beat’s debut album, its journey and pending condition.

Alba: “Everything started last year when we decided to get the songs ready and arrange them. Then, we chose to record the album in Brazil, because me and Tuca are from Brazil. We thought it was going to be a great opportunity for the other girls to be there also and to get in touch with our technicians, engineers and friends too. So, we found the studio, called Navegas Cantareira, and we spent a week there, recording in the middle of nature. It was a stay-in-and-record, so we were recording all day long, and it was a really special experience.

 We eventually came back to London with the material, and we thought ‘let’s finish it here’, because in that way we could get both touches, the Brazilian and the UK ones, which is where we all live. We mixed and mastered the record and ran a crowdfunding campaign to raise more funds, because it’s tough to record and release an album.”

Béa: “I believe the campaign was also meant to call people who like our music and what we are doing to be part of the project; to help us to promote the music even more. We are self-producing it and it’s challenging.”

Let Drum Beat’s story goes back years before the album’s project started, and we tried to briefly retrace it through the words of the band’s founding members.

Alba: “Let Drum Beat project started six years ago, as a percussion band. Then we added vocals, then it was percussion and bass, and finally, three years ago, it came to the current format. When there is a bit of connection and friendship with the people collaborating with you, that makes things easier.”

Tuca: “We have been playing our repertoire for around three years now. So, we decided that it was time to record and get something out.”

Alba: “I think it’s also because it’s unusual. That’s something hard to see. That’s why the sound engineer also struggles with our sets. I think this format is really important. It’s like our identity, and it’s important for us that we are four women playing percussions, which is something that you don’t often see.”

Sadly, we couldn’t agree more. To attend a performance of a full-female band is quite rare, but it’s even more exceptional to enjoy a show of a full-female band formed by percussionists… That’s why we asked them for some spurs on how to challenge this music. 

Alba:By doing it! We also find ourselves in the condition to write our own music too. We are not just performers. So, we are four different heads collaborating with each other.”

Béa:I hope that this might be inspiring for the younger generations because they need examples and models. They need to see a drummer who’s a woman and can drum really well, and she can do and play what she loves. You can be a woman and sing, play guitar, bass, drum…whatever! You can see that in a lot of music schools they are starting to push girls to choose the drum, prompting something different.”

To ‘throw down the gauntlet’ to the music world and demonstrate that a female-driven percussion ensemble can also achieve its intents, Let Drum Beat chose London. Arguably, as they told us, one of the only few spots in the world where a unique project like theirs could come to life and grow.

Tuca: “I think it would be hard to create this band in another city. Maybe in Sao Paulo there are similar realities, but Let Drum Beat is really the result of London’s gathering potential. It brings together people exchanging ideas and being creative.”

Alba: “All of us came to London because of the music and to have more time to dedicate to the music, studying it and collaborating with other musicians, so this was my aim. Then, when you go out of London or you go abroad, you realise that you’re part of the London music scene. When you travel, for example, back to Brazil or Portugal, and people ask you where you live and what you do, when you answer, ‘I’m a musician’, they’re like, ‘oooh wooow, that’s great!’ You feel proud of yourself, because that’s actually quite a big challenge, being a musician in London. So, we feel grateful.”

Lizzie: “In some way, there’s also the flip side. Since in London there are so many ideas and so many things happening, sometimes you almost feel lost. While, when we went to Cornwall a few days ago, people were stopping us saying how amazing we were. So, at times, we need to be reassured about the fact that we are actually doing something unique. While, in London, it’s almost like everyone is doing something unique and interesting.”

Let Drum Beat’s home might be London, but their musical heart has quintessential Brazilian beats. For this reason, we tried to understand how it was to bring their music to where it originated and what the reaction of the people was who are used to listening to it on an everyday basis. 

Alba:When we went to Brazil, we played in front of some friends and presented them with the girls who are not from Brazil (they have only been there a couple of times) and it was amazing. It was really good! Also, even though we left Brazil years go, we are still Brazilian playing Brazilian rhythms. However, in our band, we have that mix that brings that different touch to the traditional music.”

Tuca: “It was really interesting playing in Brazil, because of the lyrics as well. People understand what you’re singing straight away and then they sing straight away too, because our songs have short verses, so they’re easy to repeat and do call and response. So, it was like, I don’t have to teach them what I’m singing or let them know how to interact, or I don’t even need to introduce the songs. It’s always nice to say a few words about what the song is about, but in Brazil you don’t need to do it.”

Every interview worthy of its name can’t do without the canonical ‘plan for the future’ question…

Béa:We just want to finish the album so we can finally start working on the other songs that we have. We have reached that point where we are like ‘we are playing this song again?’ So, we are keeping on playing the songs of the album, and we really want to move forward, giving us more time for arranging our new songs, because we have many more.”

Alba:So, we definitely need to release the album. As said, it’s really challenging for us to do that, because we are doing things independently, while we need a label first or someone supporting us, and we can’t wait to have the album out. All our playing and promoting is also because we want to engage with people who like, or might like, our music and would like to support the release of the album. Then, [laughing] I think, it’s a really good album too…

…and, as written, we simply can’t wait for it. That also means that we will keep our eyes and ears open for Let Drum Beat’s debut album and invite you to do the same through the band’s website and social profiles.