Michael J. Taylor, more commonly known as Taylor, will be performing his unique blend of storytelling and percussion at Feast for Peace this year. His toolkit consists of a background in theater, a natural talent for music, and a love of African culture. With these, he has built a harmonious presentation of all three.
Taylor performs his narratives while playing the djembe (or jembe). Originating from West Africa, the drum’s name is believed to come from the Bambara saying “everyone gather together in peace”. The djembe creates a unified rhythm from the deep tones at the heart of the instrument to the higher pitched pans near the edge. When a djembe player lays his hands on the instrument he is able to mix these tones into a harmonious beat that is used in storytelling, song, and dance.
One might say Taylor’s personal story is serendipitous. Like a djembe has different tones working together, Taylor’s enthusiasm for seizing opportunities led him to this instrument that many believe to be full of life itself. It begins in high school when he discovered theater in the all-too-relatable attempt to meet girls. “As it turned out, it was theater that I really fell in love with; it was my first love of art. I acted with a play running and the next script in my back pocket. In college I began with a Theater/Chemistry (pre-med) double-major.”
Here is where Taylor’s journey shifts in focus, but not off course. After one year he joined a band where he learned music theory in a fast-paced environment. He eventually graduated with a degree in Communications, and a minor in Philosophy. Little did he know his old Philosophy professor would one day be the key to bringing him where he belonged.
While working in the music department for a play, Taylor found himself on the search for a djembe. His old Philosophy professor had opened a cultural store that carried the very thing he had been looking for. “I remember going to his store like it was yesterday. I saw a djembe, a big, powerful-looking African drum. I sat down behind it and just started playing it. The first thing I said was ‘oh, I remember this!’ which stopped me in my tracks. How could I be saying this about something I hadn’t touched before?”
Whether it be fate or the spirit of the djembe, Taylor would find himself twelve years later graduating with the highest degree (Senior Certified Teacher) from the Tam Tam Mandingue, International School of Percussion, a school founded in 1992 by Grand Master Drummer Mamady Keita from Guinea, West Africa. When someone gifted him a book of African folktales, the wheels in his head started to turn. “I started thinking that with my experiences in Africa, my knowledge of oral histories, and my knowledge of the life of my teacher, Grand Master Mamady Keita, I could start creating stories myself.” And that is just what he did.
“Hand of the Master” was his first story and from there he has created more imaginative and thought provoking tales that captivate audiences young and old. Taylor is eager to share his stories and life with the the Play for Peace community this March.