We made the decision to enter the 2012 PAS World Percussion Ensemble competition in late December, 2011. My graduate assistant, Sarah Hann, had been hosting other percussion students for “Mbira Monday” since she had arrived in the fall. Students would gather with food and play mbira together every week. The contest would give us an opportunity to develop a more formal mbira ensemble. We decided to perform traditional music for mbiras and to include some djembe drumming as well, so we brought in my teacher from Guinea, West Africa, Mohamed Da Costa. Mohamed came to Winthrop in February to work with the students on three traditional rhythms from Guinea: Yankadi-Makru, Sorsornet (with the song “Gombo”), and Djole. Mohamed taught dundun parts, djembe patterns, shakers and rattles, and movement.

006 005 Road to PASIC - Da Costa018

In the video below, Mohamed works with the dunduns on Sorsornet…

…and singing on Yankadi.

In early March, we brought in Michael Spiro to work on production issues. At that time, we had three mbira pieces (Nhemamusasa, Nyuchi, Shumba) to go with the three djembe rhythms we had worked on with Mohamed. I viewed the program as being structured in two halves: an opening mbira set followed by a closing djembe set. I should have known from experience that Mr. Spiro would have other ideas.



Michael Spiro is a master of production in the recording studio and on stage. Spiro worked with the students on seamlessly integrating the mbira music with the djembe pieces (through what he refers to as “connective tissue”) and infusing the mbira tunes with movement and clapping. In the video below, he develops clapping patterns for Nyuchi.

Here, he works on Shumba…

and cajoles the students in his inimitable way!

We presented our concert in early April, and had our entry mailed to PAS by the mid-month deadline. Here is our contest performance.

In June, I received a phone call from Kenyon Williams, chair of the PAS World Percussion committee, informing me that Winthrop University had won the PASIC contest! The ensemble would perform in Austin in November. We set to work refining the pieces we had performed that spring, and added two opening numbers: Butsu Mutandari on marimbas, and a lovely mbira duet with Sarah Hann and Allison Riffe playing Kariga Mombe. Here is the entire PASIC performance.

The group photo – thanks to the help of good friends!
Sally 1 013

7 Responses to “Road to PASIC”

  1. F. Michael Combs March 6, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    So interesting! I will remember PASIC #1 at Eastman School of Music and then my hosting #2 here at U of Tennessee. Keko Abe made her premier appearance that year and it was the first time that Nexus performance for PAS. PASIC 1983 was on the World’s Fair Sight in Knoxville. The 1982 World’s Fair, left lots of facilities we took advantage of and that year was the first time the conference was run by committees. I set up an ethnic committee, marching committee, etc. with PAS specialists heading each area. I served in various capacities during the following years and it has been amazing to watch PASIC grow into what it is today. Congratulations on your being selected to perform this year and best to you.
    Mike Combs (professor emeritus, U of Tennessee)

    • B. Michael Williams March 6, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

      Thanks so much, Mike. I remember the early days of my PAS membership (1970s) when you were editor of Percussive Notes. I thought you were just about the most famous percussionist on earth! I learned so much from those magazines and have kept every copy!

  2. Dror Sinai March 7, 2013 at 1:15 am #

    So wonderful,
    We’re all blessed and lucky. The students for having such amazing leaders, teachers and mentors like you- Michael W. Michael S and Mohamed.
    and we’re lucky to be able to enjoy such expressions.
    Beautiful, compositions, songs, movement, the variety of the music, the message to the world and all and the joy…

    Thank you Michael for your inspiration and leadership and all of you for sharing…

    • B. Michael Williams March 7, 2013 at 1:45 am #

      Thank you, Dror, for your kind words. I’ve missed seeing you at PASIC in recent years. We’ve had such good times there!

  3. Dave Gerhart March 7, 2013 at 8:26 am #

    Congrats Michael! I can’t wait to have some time to watch the entire video!

  4. bob gailer March 8, 2013 at 4:58 am #

    I got my first exposure to this music in Seattle in the late 1970s – Dumi and his ensemble performing for a Spring Equinox dance.

    It has been an amazing experience to see this music spread so far and wide. You are making a wonderful contribution to it.

    I’d love to know how you got involved.

    Bob Gailer – the Ubuntu Marimba Ensemble of Hillsborough NC.