By Dennis J. Freeman
WATTS — The 37th annual Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival at the Watts Towers Arts Center brought out the spirit of the drum Sept. 29.
The day, which paid homage to world-renowned drummer Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, featured groups such as Kinnara Taiko, a Japanese-American drumming ensemble; the percussion sounds of Magatte Fall & Generation Percu, and Rayford Griffin & Friends.
It was a great daylong tribute to Chancler, the drum giant, known for his work on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and “Bad.” Chancler died earlier this year, but this was not a day of sadness.
Instead it was one of joyous energy performed with versatility and astute craftsmanship. One of the highlights of the afternoon was the performance by current and former Locke High School band members dedicating a couple of tunes to Chancler. Chancler attended Locke as a teenager before his career took off.
The festival didn’t just feature drum-performing artists. Also on display were vendors selling off artwork and clothing.
But the music is what the people came for and they were not disappointed. Magatte Fall & Generation Percu received a raucous welcome when they took the stage.
By the end of their performance they had the whole audience giving them a standing ovation as their West African percussion sounds rocked the place. Before Rayford Griffin & Friends took the stage, the festival, sponsored by the city of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and Friends of Watts Towers Arts Center, gave special recognition to Chancler’s son, Rashon, and his longtime partner, Brenda Curry.
Among the other activities during the festival were the Universal Drum Circle led by Matt Gibson III, a general walk-through tour of the Noah Purifoy & Charles Mingus Galleries as well as things to do for children at the Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center. The galleries also featured a video tribute to Ndugu.
Ray Griffin & Friends closed out the show with “One for the Chancler: A Tribute to Ndugu” with their tempered homage.
The Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival was just day one of a two-day tribute to Ndugu. On Sept. 30, Karen Briggs, Maiya Sykes, and the JMP All Stars, featuring Patrice Rushen, Nedra Wheeler and Reggie Hamilton performed during the 42nd annual Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival.