Get inspired by David, a versatile and creative percussion player who had the courage to craft his own style out of the many traditions he learned including Egypt, Europe, India, Turkey and Africa.
David is a grammy nominee and a world-renowned handpan player. He currently tours the world as freelancer, soloist and band-member of Dead Can Dance as well as teaching masterclasses for handpan players and percussionist.
„Groove is the space where it feels most restful , where you don’t feel rushed, where you don’t feel uncomfortable, where you just feel connected to everybody else“.
– David Kuckhermann
What has your engagement with percussion done for your personal life?
„It has enriched my life in so many countless ways, I don’t even know where to start. I look forward to work every day when I wake up. It’s such a wonderful thing for me, being able to make a living through this. Well you can call it work… It doesn’t even feel like work, it’s just what I love to do. So it’s just given me this life“.
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Transcript of this Episode
REINHARD: Today you will meet a very versatile and creative percussion player. One who had the courage to craft his own style out of the many traditions he learned including Egypt, Europe, India, Turkey and Africa. He’s a grammy nominee and a world-renowned hand pan player and he’s based in Berlin, Germany.
Welcome David Kuckhermann!
DAVID: Thank you Reinhard! Thanks for having me!
REINHARD: I have some questions for you. Did you grow up in Germany or in Europe?
DAVID: Yeah, I grew up in Germany, in the northwest.
REINHARD: So that’s a very similar story to me. I grew up here too. So how did you get interested in percussion? Because that’s not around everywhere… So what was your path?
DAVID: I started playing piano when I was a kid. The only musician in my family was my grandmother, she was an amazing pianist and church organ player and so it was kind of a family thing. She suggested that I start playing piano but I didn’t really get into it at the time and then later I stopped playing after like two years and then in my teenage years I started playing bass in gothic and death metal bands. That was my scene at the time. Then I decided I want to be a musician but I didn’t really know which instrument I should choose because on piano I wasn’t good enough and I liked the bass but not as much that I wanted to dedicate my life to it, to playing a death metal bass. So when I turned 18 my father as a birthday present he gave me a weekend in Paris and we went to the flea market there and we had some money left over and we bought two djembes. He was in a kind of weekly drum circle at the time and he showed me a rhythm and I really loved it. So I decided to look for a teacher when I come back to my hometown and that’s what I did and then I started playing conga drums and then I wanted to do that. But then I run into some issues. I get the white finger syndrome so my hands would get really cold while I play and I didn’t really know how to solve that. Then actually I saw a concert of your ensemble MegaDrums, that was I think in Stuttgart, must have been around 2000… Somewhere around that time… And I saw Zakir (Hussain) and Glen (Velez) on stage and it just blew me away. From then on I discovered the world of finger drumming and first studied North Indian tabla and then later switched my focus to frame drumming and Iranian percussion.
REINHARD: That was very curious because I was going through the list of your teachers and what stood out for me was Ustad Fiiyaz Khan, because there’s a Ustad Fayaz Khan who is a great vocalist but he died in 1950…. I said “how did you learn with him”. Then I found out it’s a tabla player.
So how did you meet those people…? Ok, about Glen you told us but Ramesh Shotham and Fayaz Khan and Samani… Where did you meet them? How did you come to them and learn with them?
DAVID: Well I went to the world music conservatory in Rotterdam and I started studying music and my main subject was North Indian tabla. So that’s where I met Ustad Fayaz Khan and all the others I simply contacted them. When I was interested in an instrument I just looked for teachers online. I really liked those early days I was very excited about the internet and all the new possibilities and when I found a teacher that I really liked I would simply write them an email and that’s how I got in touch with all of these guys basically.
REINHARD: So what I personally like a lot on your music, your approach, is that you had the courage to create your own style and not just playing patterns that you learn somewhere. And great music grew out of this. I want to just give our listeners a taste of your music, and the tune is called “The Beginning”. What beginning is that?
DAVID: Well, it’s the first track of my cd with Lisa Gerrard, so it’s the beginning of that album for one.
And then, you know, I like about music that it’s so abstract. For me it has a certain feeling… The piece it’s the beginning of something but I can’t even define it really concretely. So for everyone maybe it can be related to some different kind of beginning.
REINHARD: Certainly it’s the beginning of us listening to your music right now.
“The Beginning”, music from David Kuckhermann. And we can hear already the handpan sound in it and I would love to hear from you a little bit of the history. It all started I think with the hang from PanArt and then it’s the abundance of hand pans that arose. Maybe the instrument history and your history with the instrument.
DAVID: The hang was invented by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer in the year 2000 in Switzerland. Before that they built steel drums and from that came the hang. The hang for a few years it kind of flew under the radar. It was available in music stores but it wasn’t actually that popular. And it was really easy to find if you wanted to get one. And then with the rise of youtube and some people basking playing on the street at some point the popularity really took off very very quickly and it was not so easy to actually find an instrument, and then other people started making them.
The the first handpan maker I think was Kyle Cox in the States, who built the “Halo” and for a few years there were only a handful and at some point it just kind of really crossed a certain threshold and it took off and now there are like hundreds of handan makers all over the world, with wonderful instruments. I saw the hang first I think in Rotterdam during my study years, during a guest performance of a percussionist who played a solo concert. I didn’t really like the instrument at the point to be honest. It sounded kind of boring and like a little bit samey and I didn’t feel drawn to it. That happened many many years later when I was touring in Chile with an ensemble called Mishra and some of the other guys they had two hangs and they were part of the repertoire of instruments. I also played on them during the tour and that’s where I realized “wow this is actually like a serious musical instrument if you spend the time”. From there at some point, I think it was 2011, I really fell in love with it and I just didn’t want to stop practicing and playing anymore and also it opened the door for composing and that was something I was missing before in my musical life. Of course I was playing percussion solos and composing percussion solos which is a really wonderful thing in itself but it’s still something different. I was kind of missing these qualities of melody and harmony and the handpans are such a wonderful way to integrate these into your repertoire if you come from any kind of percussive background.
REINHARD: Yeah they’re actually two sitting right behind you. What type of handpans are you playing? Do you have a certain brand?
DAVID: I play a few different ones. I have one original hang and then I have a few instruments from a Russian maker that were built around 2012 like the one sitting there. I use that one when I record for my courses because it’s kind of a very very beautiful instrument but it has a basic layout. And nowadays when I compose, I like to play kind of instruments with extended range. I have some beautiful Yishama Pantams from Yonatan Bar. He’s an Israeli maker and those instruments are just fantastic and there are other wonderful makers as well who keep pushing the boundaries of how many notes you can put on the instrument and exploring different sounds. It’s a really wonderful time now for that.
REINHARD: Actually you composed a handpan piece called “Old Sea”. What’s the “Old Sea”?
DAVID: My then girlfriend now wife Milena spent half a year in South America and while she was there I organized two handpans for us from Yonatan they were like matching instruments with matching scales. And when I picked her up we took four weeks of traveling around in South America. That was I think three years ago… Three four years ago. And there was a hostel where we stayed and the hostel was called The Old Sea and the spanish equivalent… I don’t remember what the phrase was right now… But the translation was The Old Sea and we had such a wonderful time at this hostel, and worked on this composition there and we also recorded it on the beach right next to this hostel and we have a video of it and that’s where the name came from The Old Sea.
REINHARD: Beautiful! So let’s listen to “The Old Sea”.
Now we come to some hardcore questions. For example: if you meet someone who is not playing music, not actively playing music and you want to explain to him what is the feeling of being in the groove. What would you say?
DAVID: Wow, the feeling of being in the groove…
DAVID: I have to think about that for a second.
REINHARD: Yeah that’s cool, of course!
DAVID: I think it’s the place… Well this question can be interpreted in so many different ways. If I play music and I play with others then I would describe that feeling as the space where it feels most restful in relation to your surroundings, where you don’t feel rushed, where you don’t feel uncomfortable, where you just feel connected to everybody else.
REINHARD: That’s a very good one. You have another one too?
DAVID: Well I mean…
REINHARD: Because it’s really interesting, you’re just bringing it out now. This is wonderful!
DAVID: I mean you could also think about it as being in groove with life or with yourself, or being in the flow of creating or playing music. I guess for me it feels similar to being in the flow, like to be in a state of being content and maybe happy, and at peace with your surroundings and enjoying whatever you’re doing… Focusing on that.
REINHARD: So from what you say it’s a quite intense wonderful state.
What has percussion or your engagement with percussion done for your personal life?
DAVID: I mean I would not be who I am if not for percussion. I would probably not be a musician… Maybe I would be but, I would have a completely different life. I mean it has enriched my life in so many countless ways, I don’t even know where to start. Like I look forward to work every day when I wake up. It’s such a wonderful thing for me you know, like being able to make a living through this… Well you can call it work you can also… I don’t know it doesn’t even feel like work, it’s just what I love to do also. So it’s just given me this life I would say.
REINHARD: Actually very nice answers because they’re coming right out of the moment you didn’t know that I will ask you that.
Now another one. When I listened to what’s out of your music I came across one thing, that you are fluently playing a nine beat. Now you might have heard of TaKeTiNa that I have created, so for TaKeTiNa it’s very easy. When I heard this it’s “TaKi TaKi GaMaLa Taki”. But how did you learn to fluently play in odd rhythms like nine beat cycles, 11 beat cycles or whatever.
What was your way?
DAVID: That was a long process I’d say. I remember when I started studying as for most people it was a very strange and foreign world for me the world of odd meters. A little bit uncomfortable, I’d say. And then through studying Indian music and Middle Eastern Arabic music, Turkish music… I just started playing them and over the years you get more comfortable with them, I think. That is the kind of part that happens just through over time and through playing. Then well I took lessons with Glen, with Glen Velez and you probably know his hand dance method as well which I think has quite a lot of parallels to the TaKeTiNa work. So he taught me that method and I work a lot with that and I still work a lot with that with all of my students nowadays. I think it’s such an amazing tool to develop a sense of rhythm and comfort in unusual meters.
REINHARD: Now let’s listen to one of these things you put out there and it’s “TaKi TaKi GaMaLa TaKi”, it’s on the count and you’re playing two cajones, it’s really nice.
I really love it because when I started percussion anything beyond 6/8 or 4/4 was kind of non-existent unless it was in a traditional Indian system also. But more and more creative percussion players bring this abundance back you know that has gone away.
DAVID: Awesome I didn’t even remember that one. You must have found it on my older YouTube videos.
REINHARD: Yeah I was going through it studying a little bit and it hit me because it’s really fluent, it’s clearly not someone who’s counting in the background and that’s the beauty. So how are you living through the crazy times we are in right now?
DAVID: Well, all our lives changed. I mean I had like two long tours scheduled with Dead Can Dance and they were both cancelled and all other concerts and workshops as well. I’m very lucky that I have my online school and that’s been supporting us throughout these strange times. So on that front i’m just so grateful that i’m in a good spot and I don’t struggle like many other musicians just paying my rent or supporting my family. So i’d say it’s been relatively good for me and for us. We have a little daughter and of course taking care of her becomes a different challenge when the kita’s like open and close every week kind of you never know how it goes. So you have a little bit less time at hand and you spend more time with the family. But all together of course I miss some things but I don’t mind being by myself working in the studio. I kind of always enjoy that a lot and I try to focus on that in these times and to use them creatively. I’d say it doesn’t feel like suffering, it’s just a different kind of time.
REINHARD: If you had enough money to create whatever event you would like to, I mean musical event or something like with groups or with gatherings, what would it be?
DAVID: Interesting question. I think it wouldn’t be about a gathering or like a moment, it would be about creating a space for creating and learning music that’s kind of an open space for anybody who wants to join in like the spirit of dedicating a chapter of your life to music. And then teaching, learning, creating music, composing in this kind of environment and opening it up for students and fellow travelers, so to speak. I think that would be a nice thing to realize.
REINHARD: That’s great. David I thank you very much for your time. I thank you very much for your music that you allowed us to listen to. Now where can our listeners find you on the web?
DAVID: You can go to www.handpandojo.com or to www.worldpercussion.net or you can just put my name into YouTube or Google or whichever search engine of your choice and you will find all the things I do. Maybe my YouTube channel is a good place to start.
REINHARD: Thank you so much it was really nice meeting you finally and talking to you!
To our listeners please check David out, he has a lot to offer in various realms, hand drums, cajón and of course all the beautiful handpans. If you like our podcast you know go to www.powerrhythm.com/podcast leave a comment if you like and let me know whom you want to have on our show. For today I wish you a great time and don’t forget: keep on growing.