Fresh take: Kofi and Derek Simmons of Gumbase. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead
Fresh take: Kofi and Derek Simmons of Gumbase. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead

In Massachusetts, a large bald man named Black Francis writes songs for an alternative rock band called The Pixies.  

The abstruse lyrics and eerie stylings he penned for Pixies classic Where is my Mind are unlikely allies for our native gombey beat. Yet if you listened to any local radio station between Wednesday Aug 14 and August 20, you might have stumbled on a home-grown innovation: electronica melded with gombey drum rhythms. An ad by local tourism campaign #morepinkBermuda featured Gumbase, the innovative genre by producers Derek Simmons and DJ Jussa Jus (aka Kofi/Justin Whitter). Through Gumbase, our celebrated drum rhythms cross-over from being an occasional street-based sonic treat to a year round, indoor, multi mood, multi purpose genre, making Gumbase a musical/cultural project worth listening to.

The project consists of six tracks (23 minutes 29 seconds worth of music) with titles like The Call Pt. 1, I hear ‘em! Potato Skin dRums and Skank Dank. Anyone can download or listen to all six tracks free of charge on Soundcloud, an online audio distribution platform which allows musicians to promote and distribute their music.

One night at Destination Dockyard, Simmons was inspired to record the Warwick Gombey Troupe’s performance. All he had was his Macbook, so he recorded the live audio using just his laptop’s mic.  It wasn’t until a year later that he shared them with his collaborator, producer/guitarist/gombey DJ Jussa Jus. It was Kofi who suggested that they should fuse the drum beats with electronica. In Simmons’ dim bedroom come studio, the musicians experimented with the samples. They agreed to do one track each, and went their separate ways. The first two tracks in the Gumbase project, Simmons’ Potato Skin dRums and Kofi’s  I hear ‘em were radically different in style, tempo, and key. Derek was immediately impressed with Kofi’s work, but wondered if his own enthusiasm had clouded his judgment. “I thought [Potato Skin dRums] was a bit weird,” he admits. “I thought I went over the top.”  

But the response they received from the first round was encouraging, and pushed them to produce better tracks. Simmons says: “It wasn’t about just doing one track each. It’s about creating a movement, so people can be inspired to embrace Bermudian culture with new age music. There are not many people embracing Bermudian culture in music. It’s people embracing other cultures, or what [they] see on TV.”

The Good, the Band, and the Gombey

Simmons acknowledges the work of his predecessors: he knows, for instance, that in 2010 Shine Hayward released Saxy Drummer Boy a Christmas single featuring saxophone atop Pickles Spence Gombey Troupe beats. But the tracks are as different as, say, Kenny G and Skrillex.  “The genre that we’re working on now, it needs to be something more than just the same old. It needs to be something unique in its own entirety, have its own growth to it, similar to house or garage.”

Gumbase has a sibling project, the The Gombey Beat Initiative. In Kofi’s words, the Facebook page aims to “celebrate, understand, learn and preserve the intricate and driving drum rhythms that give life to the Bermudian Gombey dance tradition.” So far, he’s posted pictures of his handmade gombey headdress in progress, links to folk-life literature and videos of Dominican Guloyas, Montserrat Masqueraders, and the Frevo of Brazil - global dance traditions that bear strong similarities to our gombey. 

Simmons is a prolific producer who, at age 25, has produced hundreds of tracks. He is also a bassist, live audio engineer, and band director for Devils Isles Audio (DIA). He most recently released the project De Stealth Ninja Chronicles Remix where five producers — including Jussa Jus and Simmons — remix tracks from record label DIE’s De Stealth Ninja Chronicles Vol 2. At the time of writing, that mixtape has attracted 3,321 views. “There comes a time when things evolve and change. Why not fuse things like everything is being fused right now?” Derek muses in closing. “To just be stuck in a mono-lane doing the same thing all the time is being stuck in a box. You don’t want to leave the box because everybody’s in it. Open the sides and it becomes a circle. You become open.”

Krystl Assan is co-founder of www.kulchathezine.com