The West

Music draws drummer into love affair
Abbey Foster Susnjar. Picture: Supplied

Daniel Susnjar was not too sure what to expect when he went to a New York jazz club to hear Afro-Peruvian music. As an accomplished drummer already studying in the US, Susnjar knew the rhythms and sounds of the drumming would be different but he was unprepared for how appealing the sounds would be.

"I was immediately inspired by the rhythms and the music, and wanted to play with the band," Susnjar says.

At the end of the evening he made friends with the band's leader Gabriel Allegria and his fellow Peruvian musicians.

And he got his wish to play with the band some months later when he returned to New York.

"I rang up Gabriel to tell him I was coming to the jazz club that night, and he replied 'That's good, because our drummer is sick. Would you like to play in his place?'"

The unexpected gig was the start of what has become a musical love affair with Afro-Peruvian drumming for the Perth-based Susnjar, who was studying for his doctorate in music at the time at the Frost School of Music in the University of Miami.

Susnjar was so taken with the Afro-Peruvian musical traditions that he switched his doctoral field of study to concentrate on its traditions and place in Peruvian culture.

"The music and the drumming style draws on the influences of the African slaves, Spanish flamenco and Andean music," he explains.

"The main instrument is the guitar, with the rhythms created by the cajon, or rhythm box known from flamenco music.

"Then there are rhythms from the quijada, or donkey's jawbone, and the cajita, which is like a church offering box worn around the neck with its lid beating out a rhythm."

Susnjar immersed himself in Afro-Peruvian drumming to complete his doctorate and determined to release his first CD by writing and recording in this style, using the musicians he had first heard in New York.

The original tracks, plus two traditional Peruvian tunes, were laid down in a recording studio in New Jersey, with the post-production work completed in Perth with the help of his father, also Daniel Susnjar, who is a professional guitarist.

Also on the album are colleagues from Perth, Troy Roberts and Sam Anning, who are now based in New York.

The artwork for the album was designed by his sister.

"So it's a real family affair," he says.

The album Su Su Nje, a rhythmic play on his Croatian name, was launched at Melbourne's Bennet's Lane jazz club recently, and the Perth launch was at Ellington's a week later.

Although the New York-based Peruvian musicians were not able to come to Australia to recreate the original sounds, Susnjar has put together a band of fellow Perth musicians who have learnt how to play like their Peruvian counterparts.

The same band will again feature at the Perth International Jazz Festival. It features Tom O'Halloran on piano, with Ricki Malet, Carl Mackey, Blake Philips, Harry Winton, Pete Jeavons and Iain Robbie.

He also is part of a trio with bassist Nick Abbey and pianist Chris Foster, left.

They will perform tracks from the album Brotherhood, which was launched at the inaugural jazz festival last year.

Susnjar spent five years in the US - first completing his masters degree and then his doctorate in Miami, after graduating from the WA Academy of Performing Arts.

Studying and teaching at the University of Miami gave him the opportunity to play with some of the biggest names in jazz - luminaries such as Chick Corea, Terence Blanchard, Steve Miller, Bobby McFerrin, Gloria Gaynor, Chris Potter and Arturo Sandoval.

"The artists would either visit Miami to perform, and staff and students would provide the backing band, or I would pick up jobs when I went to New York," Susnjar says.

Now settled back in Perth, he is looking forward to introducing local audiences to the complexities and richness of Afro-Peruvian drumming, and furthering his composing career.

He recently landed a commission to create an Afro-Peruvian suite for the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra, which he hopes to perform and record next year.

The West Australian

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