No one on the planet can rub hands together like Keith Terry can. No one else can maneuver their palms and produce a syncopated sound that resembles a jazz brush hitting a drum. You have to see it to believe it. And when you do, you'll be converted to Keith Terry's musical universe, where -- he insists -- virtually anyone can do what he does. It's simple, he says, and it's all free. No expensive instruments are required. Just an ability to get into "body music" -- the art form that uses hand-rubbing, hand-slapping, foot-tapping, voice-warbling and anything else that makes a sound from the body that people are born with.
Terry, who is based in Oakland, says body music predates every musical form there is, which is why people respond to it so quickly. "It's in our genetic memory," Terry says. "Body music is the first music, and I think people somehow tap into that."
Terry shows off his moves today at theInternational Body Music Festival "Mini-Fest" that also features the Mexican-American music and dance group Los Cenzontles (which is based in San Pablo); the San Diego-based group Cerro Negro, which does flamenco dance and music; Danny "Slapjazz" Barber, a San Diego artist who practices traditional Hambone or "patting Juba," which first developed among African slaves in the American south who had no access to instruments and relied on body percussion; Bay Area belly-dancer Elizabeth Strong, who has an international reputation for a repertoire that incorporates styles from Egypt, Turkey, Bulgaria and other countries she has studied in; and Khalid Freeman, a young Los Angeles dancer and body musician whose skills are as enthralling as Terry's.
Many body musicians come from dance or music backgrounds, and frequently alternate between their different loves. Terry, who mixes tap-dancing and other elements of dance with his background in drumming and music, says he sees body music "as a link between music and dance. I love that place -- that gray area."
Tonight's performances, which begin at 8pm at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, will be without instrumentation except for Strong's, when she'll be accompanied by accordionist Dan Cantrell and multi-instrumentalist Evan Fraser, who performs with the group Hamsa Lila. Terry says her performance is the event's "wild card. I'm not a (body-music) purest. We make it up as we go along."
Terry has been making it up since 1979, when he founded Crosspulse, a non-profit devoted to dance and music. In 2008, Terry created the International Body Music Festival after getting a prestigious Guggenheim grant. The full six-day festival runs every other year in the Bay Area; in alternate years, when it's held in a foreign country (this year in Brazil), a shortened "mini-fest" version happens in the Bay Area. It's all designed to engage audiences with the spirit of sounds that are inspiring, infectious and full of joie de vivre. In the last several years, Terry, 59, has expanded body music into schools -- not just as an arts program but part of math curricula, where students make different sounds to signify numbers, multiplication and other part of an equation.
"Your body becomes an abacus or calculator," says Terry.
In fact, Saturday's concert is preceded by workshops for teachers. Thirty years ago, Terry couldn't have imagined his interest in body music would expand into an international festival and other outlets like schools.
"This is no grand plan of mine," he says, laughing. "It's called the blunder system. And it keeps me engaged in that way. It seems that every year, some other aspect of (body music) reveals itself."
The International Body Music Festival "Mini-Fest" is TONIGHT, Saturday, December 4, 8pm at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage. For tickets and information visit thefreight.org.