Diga Rhythm Band: Diga (1976)

During the Dead’s second 70’s hiatus, Mickey Hart joined Zakir Hussain in a newly formed “percussion orchestra” (Hart’s words, not mine) dubbed Diga Rhythm Band. It may not have been the groundbreaking cultural crossover it should have been—the world still wasn’t ready for an entire album of panethnic percussion—but Diga certainly succeeded at stretching some skins and expanding a few minds. The album in its original form starts with a pair of short pieces augmented by Jerry Garcia’s guitar, the second of which (“Happiness Is Drumming”) went on to serve as the inspiration for Shakedown Street’s “Fire on The Mountain.” Both opening shorts introduce the idea of wisps of melody (via marimba, vibes and sparing guitar) enveloped in a thick swarm of eastern and western percussion (tabla, drumk kit, tympani, bongos and so on). The three longer pieces feature less melody and more percussion, shifting the sound in a rich kaleidoscope of trills, rolls, beats, bumps and assorted onomatopoeia. It’s an amazing album both in its revelation of the musical potentialities of percussion and its cross-cultural mission to blend east and west into something new and exciting. Of course, appreciating this album presumes that you’re open to forty-two minutes of sonic sensory exploration. If you found the drum solos during the Dead concerts a bore, you’re not going to dig Diga. But if you did enjoy them, Diga is in many ways their logical culmination: an entire album consisting of almost nothing but drums. I’d tell you this is one of the most fascinating side chambers in the catacombs of the Dead, but I’m an incurable navel-gazer at heart. Note that, for some reason, the subsequent CD reissues changed the track order and edited a few minutes from “Tal Mala.” I prefer the elpee version, since the shorter tracks with Garcia ease you into Diga’s unique soundscape.

Original LP Version
A1. Razooli (Ray Spiegel) (2:40)
A2. Happiness Is Drumming (3:17)
A3. Tal Mala (Ustad Alla Rahka/Diga Rhythm Band) (15:15)
B1. Sweet Sixteen (8:15)
B2. Magnificant Sevens (12:56)

Songs written by Diga Rhythm Band unless noted.

Compact Disc Version
1. Sweet Sixteen (8:03)
2. Magnificent Sevens (12:55)
3. Happiness Is Drumming (3:17)
4. Razooli (2:50)
5. Tal Mala (12:48)

The Players
Jordan Amarantha (congas & bongos), Peter Carmichael (tabla), Aushim Chaudhuri (tabla), Vince Delgado (dumbec, tabla & talking drum), Tor Dietrichson (tabla), Mickey Hart (traps, gongs, timbales & tympani), Zakir Hussain (table, folk drums & tar), Jim Loveless (marimbas), Joy Shulman (tabla), Ray Spiegel (vibes), Arshad Syed (duggi tarang & nal) with David Frieberg (vocals on A1), Jerry Garcia (guitar on A1/A2), Kathy McDonald (vocals on A1), Jim McPherson (vocals on A1). Produced by Mickey Hart; recorded & mixed by Billy Wolf assisted by Bret “Wires” Cohen except A1/A2 mixed by Mickey Hart and Dan Healy.

The Pictures
Cover art by Jordan Stenberg. Back cover photo by Oneheart.

The Plastic
Released on elpee in 1976 in the US (Round, RX-LA600-G/RX-110) and France (United Artists, 29 962). Re-released on elpee, cassette and compact disc in 1988 in the US and Canada (Rykodisc, RALP/RACS 0101, RCD 10101) with different track order. Re-released on compact disc in 2008 in the US (Shout Factory, 10839) with different track order.

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