Drums echoes tie family bonds

Drum Group

Na-Ma-Wo-Chi Drum Group

There’s an old saying that goes “You can choose your friends but not your family.” Apparently someone forgot to tell Harland Richardson.

As the head singer, songwriter, cook and founding member of the Na-Ma-Wo-Chi drummers and singers, Richardson has formed a tight-knit unit of diverse but like-minded individuals whose common goal is far removed from the more worldly concerns of many similar groups.

“The bond we have is something else,” said Richardson on Saturday, during a practice session at his home in Hollister. “We keep in touch with each other. It’s a family. We enjoy each other’s company. It’s a blessing just to play with these guys.”

Those sentiments were shared by the five musicians at Saturday’s practice. “He (Richardson) is the reason I’m here,” stated Lamont Hedgpeth, who took up drumming three years ago. “He chased me down and I thank God he did.”
Ed Branch, the group’s oldest member, nodded his head in agreement and added, “All of us thank Harland for letting us come here. It truly is a family. This group allows you to play a bigger role, you become a part of it and it becomes a part of you.”

That family spirit has paid dividends for the young group, who’ve been playing together since September. They recently became the first Native American drummers to perform at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, a distinction the members view as among the highest of honors. “It was emotional for all of us,” said Richardson, “We went there to drum not just for the Native American people who died, but also for all veterans that died for their country. It’s the most honorable thing we could do. We didn’t get paid to do it; we did it because it was the right thing to do. It was beyond any prize money or compensation. Everyone should go at least once in their lives. All those white tombstones will really do something to you”

The issue of money is one the group says sets it apart from some of the more fiscally minded performers. “Too many people these days only think of money and that’s not right,” emphasized Richardson, while Hedgpeth added, “It’s a blessing to sit in front of this drum. It’s worth paying for. A lot of time when money comes into play it overrides the spiritual. We’re trying to do it the right way — respect the drum, respect each other and respect the people that you drum for.”

Another unique aspect of the group’s performance is their reliance on Richardson’s self-penned compositions, at least five of which will be debuted during this Saturday’s performance at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham.

As Richardson noted, “These are songs the Creator blessed me to be able to write and give to the guys on the drums. I go over it with them and we discuss it and make sure they like it. We choose to focus on our own music rather than getting it off a CD that someone else made.”

While most of the group has outside musical experience, they each stressed that Na-Ma-Wo-Chi, which stands for Native-Man-Woman-Child, has provided a home for their talents that goes beyond the normal band oriented considerations. “I’m from a different tribe, the Nottoway of Va.,” offered Branch, “We believe in honoring our ancestors, that’s part of what drumming is about.”

Branch’s son, Quentin, the group’s junior member, echoed his father’s concern with Native American tradition. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of this,” he said shyly, starring at the long, brightly painted drumsticks in his hand, “just to know where I came from.”

Ed Drake, a veteran R&B performer, was also drawn in by the connections to his past. “It’s because of my ancestors,” he stated, when asked why he choose to become a member. “I just grew up with it. I love it to death.”

As the five members sat in a circle around the drum in Richardson’s living room Saturday, the camaraderie was palpable, as the booming echoes of their songs bounced off the walls and among the wives and grandchildren scattered about the small kitchen, where the smells of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and potato salad lingered throughout the day.

After opening the drum —a ceremony that involves sprinkling tobacco on the drumhead as a way of honoring their ancestors— the members tore into their repertoire with an intensity that filled the home.

“That was smoking,” shouted Richardson after a particularly intense performance of the song “Run Fast,” one of his more melodic compositions.

“All these guys have their own style,” he said, wiping sweat from his forehead. “That’s a blessing for us. That helped us create a different style of music. It’s just like if you had a jazz band and a country band and you took guys from both and put them together. You get a combination.”

As they prepared to break for lunch, Hedgpeth, the group’s spiritual leader, summed up the groups’ unique power. “At age 50 there’s not too many things I could do for the first time. This was something I just had to try. It gets inside you. I got this blessing put inside me and now I get to put it inside somebody else.”

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One Response to “Drums echoes tie family bonds”

  1. SARAH URENA Says:

    THANK YOU..SINGER FROM NA MA WO CHI

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