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Styve Homnick  

musician, performance / film / theatre, U.S.A.

I started taking formal lessons on the drums when I was 11 and learnt the rudiments of reading and writing typical American orchestra drum music. Then the teacher brought me a book on syncopation and then I started learning some of the jazz styles. But I was really drawn towards rock and roll. This in about 1957, and I played the drums to records I'd bought and played in rock and roll bands at high school.

I played in various bands and then wound up playing the drums in the band with Sunny Terry and Brownie McGee. We performed and travelled around the world for 6 years straight, living out of suitcases. We performed in 45 countries around the world, and made recordings that are still available for sale. I made an album called Whopping on Alligator records, with Sunny Terry, Johnny Winter, and Willy Dickson, and it won a number of blue awards as a recording. I'm happy with this album because it summarized all the drum work I had done up to that point with Sunny Terry. After that I performed in my own band, Styve, for another 5 or 6 years, where I sang and played the harmonica. We performed very diverse music that was highly rthymic - a melting down of blues, folk and rock. The major themes we dealt with in our music were fear and innocence which were reflected in the lyrics. These issues came out naturally when I wrote.

Dizzy Gillespie gave the second Bahá´í fireside I attended, and his talk made a great impression on me. He said that all the Prophets play in the same band. He also said that God is one, humanity is one, all the religions are one and music is one, and it is a world language....
Can you imagine Jesus playing the trumpet, Buddha on the drums, Mohammed on the piano, and Moses playing the bass fiddle? Dizzy said they wouldn't be arguing. They would be making beautiful music together.

I got to know Dizzy fairly well because I travelled a lot on package tours performing at music festivals and often his band was also at these festivals. We used to play cards a lot in between sets. I only ever played once with him in a band and that was a special occasion, where I was on the harmonica and he on the trumpet. It was a fundraising concert for a Native American cause.
We didn't play together because our music is quite different.

I've found my niche in incorporating drama or performance art (gained through my years of experience in theatre) with a band, so that the performance is a theatrical event rather than just performing music. These performances are a combination of a planned form with improvisation. It might be a planned monologue or little theatrical pieces or a chosen poem. So perhaps a poem is read, then suddenly the lights come out as someone rushes out into the crowd and then someone dances and then the song begins, which also might stop suddenly because I might decide to say something.

Sometimes the performances are thematic and sometimes they are chaotic. The thread that holds a performance together is the selection of pre-written songs that we decide to perform.

I have performed with various people but for the last 2 years I have been working with Julian Levens who is a guitarist and we write the songs together. We do not have a name for ourselves but rather name our performances, with names such as performance number 2M or number 3L. So that the focus is more on the event rather than on the band - more like an art experience than a music experience. Such as the last performance where we got 2 people to buy eggs in the grocery store next door to the theatre, and then Julian pulled off his shirt and broke the egg on his chest. This act related to a song that was performed. Or such as inviting strangers off the street to come into the middle to join us. It's very fresh and a lot of fun.

I'm not focused on establishing a particular style or approach but rather I'm playing around with situations as they occur and expressing this as creatively as I can. A lot of my work is biographical, and I aim is to express myself while entertaining the audience by providing a means of contemplation. At the moment we regularly perform in the Nada theatre space on the lower East side of Manhattan, and a CD of about 10 songs of my music is coming out in the next 6 months, and will be available for sale.

As well as performing, playing and writing I am also am involved various Native American projects which are an important part of my life as well. For example I am in the middle of producing a film with the Mescalero Apache tribe, along with my son, Joshua. It's an educational film targeted at the Mescalero Apache youth and its aim is to familiarize the youth with their heritage, and to stimulate them to seek out their roots, and to strengthen their spirit. A lot of the film will consist of interviews with the youth who are working with us, as well infusing it with clips from archives of the tribe. We will take a survey and choose Mescalero Apache youth who are looked up to by their peers, as well as creating work booklets which will be used as an aid in the discussions and interview. The whole film will be edited in a youthful way. My son is a good editor, director and writer, and he wrote the proposal for this project, which is funded by the US federal government.

To finish, I think communicating the history of the Bahá´í Faith through the arts is extremely important, and we need to work together more and more creatively to achieve this.
I will be doing the technical side (the sound and the lighting) of Bill George's "Kingfisher's Wing", a solo theatre piece based around the life of Badi, which will travel throughout the U.K. during August 1995.

Excerpts from Arts Dialogue, September 1995, pages 7 - 8.

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