The joy is in the journey

Rick Bausman launches a new CD, and has a trip to Haiti in the works.

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With more than 200 drums and percussion instruments in his collection, Rick Bausman definitely marches to the beat of his own drummer. He is the guy you see in the summer on State Beach at the Camp Jabberwocky spot playing drums with a group of like-minded musicians while everyone dances barefoot in the sand. Through his organization, Rhythm of Life Inc., Rick brings his drums along and plays with school kids, students with autism he’s worked with for years, at Island senior centers, with those in recovery for substance abuse, and he even set up a drumming program for Parkinson’s disease patients in Springfield, Mo. Finally, though, after decades of songwriting, he’s put a recording together with his newest band, Tracing Infinity, with Rick’s son Hudson on drums, and Anthony Esposito, Brian Weiland, and himself playing every other kind of instrument.

“I’ve played with Hudson for 23 years, Anthony grew up drumming with me since he was 5, and Brian and I have played off and on for 30 years,” Rick tells me. “But as a configuration, the band is brand-new.”

They recorded the CD, “Shadows of My Innocence,” at Jimmy Parr’s studio in Oak Bluffs, and they’re launching the record with a big birthday party/sendoff on Saturday, June 22, at 8 pm at Union Chapel.

“I wanted to find a way to draw my community on the Island together right before I go to Haiti for a month,” Rick said. “It’s really ambitious, and I’m going to be there a long time. I wanted to just raise awareness about the trip, and say, ‘I’ll see you when I get back.’” Rick’s 56th birthday happens to be the same day as the performance. Oak Bluffs artist Washington Ledesma created the cover art for the CD, and his typical colorful, almost primitive, style suits the funky-but-calypso feel of the music.

The songs are originals, some written when Rick was a teenager, and others that came to him not long ago. “Each of the songs is a little story about how I went through life in my own little innocent way, trying to do the next right thing,” he said. “Some are funny — maybe I stumbled or fumbled — some of them are sort of realizations, part of the growing-up process. At the time I was living them, I didn’t realize what they were; now I’m reflecting on them and turning them into songs.”

His favorite song on the CD is “Run With the River,” and it’s the one I liked the most as well. It’s got a great chorus to sing along to, and the lyrics are relatable: “I’m gonna run with the river, let it carry me away …” The song evokes images of rain falling and floods, things you just can’t fight. “Then it winds up that the water recedes, and where the river floods, it leaves deposits of good soil with room for things to grow.”

He said this whole Haitian experience falls into line with the song, because he’s diving right into a “huge adventure,” and he doesn’t know exactly what’s going to happen. He said he thinks the experience will reach him on a deep spiritual level.

“It’s hard not to be disturbed by what’s going on there,” Rick said, “but there’s incredible spirit and rejuvenation, and I think it’s one of the things I love about it most.”

Rick’s drumming has taken him all over the world, but in January 2018, he fell in love with a little village in Haiti, Kay Kok on Ile-à-Vache. He first traveled to Haiti with Islanders Nat and Pam Benjamin, who do a lot of humanitarian work there. Rick created a drumming program for the children in Kay Kok, and then returned to the village in January 2019 and again in April.

Drumming in Haiti is steeped in tradition and culture, Rick explained when we spoke last week. While he was there, he played with Doudou Sonnelle, a master drummer and houngan, or priest, in the Vodou religion. Rick was invited to play for traditional Vodou ceremonies, reinforcing his love of Haitian ritual drumming.

“When I first arrived on Martha’s Vineyard in 1986 there was a group that had just started, Die Kunst Der Drum,” Rick says, “I joined that group, and they were learning West African stuff. After several years of drumming with them and many different kinds of teachers, I felt a need to explore something more deeply. I was most moved by the Haitian stuff I knew.”

Rick studied in New York City with John Amira, a master drummer specializing in Cuban and Haitian traditional and folkloric music. The drummer was a major force in his development, Rick said, and Amira had studied with Augustin Frizner, a well-known composer and performer of Haitian Vodou drumming. So through John, Rick learned very specific and complex styles of traditional drumming. He said what he didn’t realize was that the styles he was learning were those coming from Haiti in the 1930s, and kept alive by drummers like Frizner.

“Frizner was very careful to maintain the complexities of those styles, and so was John, and so was I,” Rick explained. “Fast-forward and I’ve been to Haiti about four times now, and I play with the kids and the ceremonial drummers. It turns out that some of those complexities have changed or have been lost, so what I’m interested to see on this trip is what’s going on in other places, and what things I know and where they belong.”

Doudou is the master drummer nearest Kay Kok, and he has asked Rick to “teach them the stuff I know that they don’t know.” It’s been unexpected, Rick said, to end up showing Haitian drummers how to play their own traditional music. He said the trip will be a sort of exploration to see where what he knows fits in, and to learn new aspects of the music.

Intrigued by the whole idea of Vodou, I asked Rick what playing for a ceremony was like.

“These rhythms are sacred,” he said. “A lot of it comes from spiritual traditions, and they use the music for ceremonies and to worship. It’s not for concerts.”

Haitian Vodou is likely misunderstood by many — I know I can count myself in that category. Rick said he first heard the ceremonial music in 1986 and was drawn to it more than other styles, and he still is.

“There’s a houngan [priest], or mambo [priestess] if female, and we’ll drum for a worship service, very much like church,” he said. “It’s spiritual music and folkloric.” Rick explained that there are Lwa, spirits or intermediaries, that are affiliated with everything from agriculture to love. He plans to perform in ceremonies in 24 different locations when he’s in Haiti. The ceremonies can be costly in the sense that the people have to provide food and other tangible items as part of worship, and this has led to performing fewer and fewer of these traditional ceremonies.

“I want to support Haitians in continuing to celebrate their own traditions during a time of great struggle,” Rick said. “They’re still suffering tremendously. I’m drawn to helping Haitians whatever way I can, and the best way I know how is drumming.”

CD release party for “Shadows of My Innocence,” Saturday, June 22, 8 pm at Union Chapel. Tickets $10, free for kids under 12. To learn more about Rick Bausman’s drumming, visit rhythmoflifeinc.org.