by Sevan Melikyan

They say necessity is the mother of invention.

For years I have looked everywhere for a DVD that would teach me how to play reggae on the drums. I had so many questions left unanswered, especially with regard to tuning the drums, the setup, the various rolls and fills that I heard in the songs of Bob Marley, Black Uhuru, and Toots and the Maytals among many others.

One can find plenty of DVD's on the market that teach how to play the drums, giving ample examples of various rhythms. But reggae is rarely covered among those. And even when it is, it never feels right. It never sounds like it's the real thing or it's played by the people who invented this rhythm: Jamaicans.

Well the ideal instructional DVD would be the one with Carlton Barrett (Bob Marley's late drummer) or Sly Dunbar (who played with many reggae greats, including Black Uhuru). If such DVD's exist then I have failed to put my hands on them to this day.

I met Jamaican drummer Dyrol Randall in March 2007 on a short cruise between the US and Mexico. He was on the upper deck performing with his band Vibes 4 (formerly called Island Sensations). Not being a big fan of cruises (this was a gift of my parents) my best times were spent listening to Vibes 4, with a special focus on their awesome drummer, Dyrol. I took some short video clips of their performances with my little digital camera with a promise that I'd set up MySpace and YouTube accounts for them -- respectively myspace.com/vibes4 and youtube.com/islandsensations -- upon my return home in Texas.

Then an amazing story started to unfold. The view count for one of the YouTube clips, Gregory Isaacs's Night Nurse, started to climb impressively, accompanied by rave comments on the band's awesome rendition of this classic reggae song and on Dyrol's work at the drums. When the counter hit 28,000 around November, I emailed Dyrol with a simple one-line question: "Can you teach reggae drumming?" When I fired that email, I knew it could lead to some unforeseen turn of events, but what ensued was beyond my imagination. Of course, his answer was "yes!" and here I was planning a trip for him to come to Fort Worth, Texas from Jamaica to shoot a video on the art of reggae drumming. I knew a few people here who are in the video/audio business and could help me. As I secured a performance space in lieu of a studio, the idea of doing a drum clinic came up. Sure, he could do that. And why not a concert with local reggae musicians? All these would take place back to back on the same day…

That day was Sunday, February 24, 2008. From 9am till 3pm, Dyrol taped the instruction video. It was followed by a drumming workshop at 4pm where local enthusiasts gathered to learn how to play basic reggae beats such as one-drop, one-two, rockers, and dancehall. The day culminated in an outstanding concert in front of a sold-out crowd at 7pm. Area reggae musicians and Dyrol covered works by Bob Marley, Damian Jr. Gong Marley, UB40, Black Uhuru, etc. Highlights of the concert can be viewed at youtube.com/reggaedrumming.

Since his arrival for this project, Dyrol had opted to stay in the area at a lady friend's home rather than in a hotel. The day following the concert, I was expecting him to fly back to Jamaica. Instead he tells me he is extending his visit by a few days. Those few days became quickly weeks that led to the day when Dyrol and his girlfriend "D" came to my house for a visit. With a mischievous smile, they tended a paper to me. When I unfolded the document, I was dumbfounded to see a certificate of marriage.

Now, let's remember that this whole thing with Dyrol started with Gregory Isaacs' "Night Nurse". "D" and Dyrol had met on the same cruise a few weeks prior to my own encounter. And the most astonishing thing was that "D" worked in a Dallas hospital. She was a night nurse!

Back to the instructional video project: the footage collected from the February 24 session turned out to be disappointing and incomplete. We needed to re-shoot the main part where Dyrol introduces the various reggae beats on the drums. I couldn't afford to rent a space again and hire a video crew. So in July 2008, rather than cancel the whole project, we turned one of the rooms at my home into an improvised studio and used a few borrowed cameras to shoot the missing parts ourselves. It also happened that his bass player from Vibes 4, Kenneth Bartley, was in the area at that time, so we included him as well in the session. Now the recording featured not one but two exceptional Jamaican musicians showing the world how to play reggae. Whatever footage we salvaged from the February 24 session was added as extras to the DVD.

This DVD project is truly a labor of love and friendship. Love for reggae music and friendship among the people who put it together. The result reflects a sincere desire to show everyone -- without fuss, without bells-and-whistles and at an affordable price - how this groove ought to be played. And the fact that it was merely recorded in a home using a consumer grade drum set (a Yamaha Custom Advantage) should give its viewers the impression that Dyrol and Kenneth are in their living rooms, giving them nothing less than a private lesson.

Sevan Melikyan
The Art of Reggae Drumming DVD