Keith Terry's Musical Gray Areas

On a recent Saturday, Keith Terry would rather talk about the state of the world than Friday's upcoming farewell concert for Crosspulse, the world-beat troupe he brought together. Sitting at his kitchen table in El Cerrito, Terry flips through a stack of CDs, choosing samples for his students and colleagues in UCLA's Department of World Arts and Cultures: a Smithsonian compilation of WWII songs, collections of music from the Islamic world, a CD of street musicians from Saigon.

"When I first listened to it, I thought, well, this is kind of interesting. And then I read that most of the street musicians are blind and crippled as a result of Agent Orange, used by the United States in Vietnam," Terry explains. "It just pulled all [this music] together for me, thinking twenty years from now, what's going to be going on in Afghanistan?"

The world is neither a shopping list nor an infinite source of spice for Terry; it's a place for transforming the intimate orders that structure our lives. Arriving in Berkeley in 1974 as a jazz drummer, Terry sought out the Center for World Music, where the sounds of Javanese gamelan permanently shifted his musical sensibility. "It was really about feeling it in your chest and belly instead of registering it in your eardrums," Terry says of the gong ensemble. "You just can't capture in recordings the volume of air that is moved with those low gongs."

That experience fed Terry's interest in "the gray areas" between music and movement, and movement and dance, an interest he pursued in venues as disparate (and essential to the gigging musician) as Gamelan Sekar Jaya, "percussing the acts" of various circus bands, and finally, drumming for the Jazz Tap Ensemble. Working with African-American grandmasters of tap encouraged Terry to step out from behind the trapset and develop his own "body music" in solo concerts, using the body as a sounding board for musical and physical expression.

"I had been so involved in world music, I got to a point where I was saying, 'But who am I?'" Terry explains. "'What is my music, and where do I fit into all this? I'm never gonna play like a Balinese musician.' [Body music] forced me to confront what was inside me, what was me, and what I could create."

The fruit of those labors was Crosspulse, a globe-shrinking band of Bay Area-based percussionists who thrilled audiences with unique fusions of movements, beats, and songs, until its members' recent decision to suspend the group as a touring ensemble to concentrate on other projects.

For Terry, this means time to pull together the final installment of his Body Tjak project, a trilogy of collaborations between US- and Indonesian-based musicians, planned for Los Angeles in 2002. It also means more time for his work at UCLA, a move into academia that Terry makes with some ambivalence. "With Crosspulse, the emphasis remained on the music and the dance. It's not just some vehicle for talking about intercultural communication," Terry laughs. "I don't want to talk about it; I want to see it happening."

With founding members Edgardo Cambón of Candela and Jackeline Rago, more recent additions Tacuma King and Kelly Takunda Orphan, and former member Susu Pampanin returning to the Crosspulse fold one last time Friday night, that much is hardly in doubt.


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