Spoken Hand Percussion Orchestra: The Musical Embodiment of Cultural Fusion

Tyler Sprague, for GPA -- Philadelphia’s own Spoken Hand Percussion Orchestra was back for their 2015 round of performances at the Painted Bride Art Center. This Old City Venue brings together artists, audiences and communities to push the boundaries of how art is created and experienced.1

Spoken Hand began fortuitously in 1996, when local drumming leader Daryl Kwasi Burgee invited tabla player Lenny Seidman to join in the final ceremony of the 1996 AfricAmericas Festival at Philadelphia’s African American Museum.

Seidman brought with him a percussion quartet, and the concept of Spoken Hand was born. The synergy of the ensemble, whose forty drummers concentrated the richness and variety of the city's traditional drumming community on a single stage, resulted in a powerful, joyous ceremony, celebrated by artists and audiences alike. Burgee and Seidman set out to
explore the potential of this phenomenon, fueled by a desire to see this collaboration extend past this one-time engagement.

They immediately found a willing collaborator in the form of the Painted Bride Art Center, who commissioned them to create new work and develop educational programs. Spoken Hand was birthed, with the mission of combining world percussion traditions, celebrating difference while creating a new living whole. 

Spoken Hand’s performances feature high-energy celebrations of polyphonic rhythms, and unifiy four percussion batteries into one distinct voice: North Indian tabla, Afro Cuban bata, Brazilian samba and West African djembe. They link the past and the present, the sacred and the secular with a symphonically textured fusion of traditional and contemporary drumming and choral compositions.2

During their most recent performance, the unique combination of instruments paired with the exceptional talents of the 14-member orchestra, filled the Painted Bride’s theater with a euphony of energy. Audience members rose to their feet and empathically matched their kinesthetic movements to the rhythms produced by Spoken Hand. During the finale, the rhythm and energy of the music was steadily increasing. The show culminated in several audience members taking to the stage and one-by-one, these entranced individuals euphorically expressed themselves, and the energy of the audience, in dance.

Information Courtesy of:
1 spokenhand.org
2 paintedbride.org/about-us/