Manu Katché should be a drumming legend. He has played in some worldwide acclaimed albums and has a unique, unmistakable style. Wether you know the music or not, it takes a few seconds for you to know it’s him. And if it’s him, you’ll hear toms, splashes and accents where you don’t expect them to be, and a familiar groovy swing that flows throughout the song.
Many years ago when dinosaurs still ruled the Earth, I was trying to learn how to play the drums for the first time. Since I was very young and had no money, I took some classes from another more advanced student. My “teacher” was a colombian young guy that had just arrived to Barcelona. Back then it was unusual to meet someone from South America, so soon we started to share our musical backgrounds. I will always be thankful to him for two discoveries: Rush (that is, Neil Peart) and Manu Katché.
In those days, it seemed that I could play that 90’s power-funk fairly well, and thanks to my new colombian friends I got to know the first records from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Infectious Grooves, Fishbone… And soon got interested in those great names that laid the foundations of that thing we call “groove”. I still remember those colombian friends repeating endlessly: “hit the groove, you’ve got to keep the groove!”. And of course, I had no idea of what they meant. As time went on, I ended up listening to Funkadelic, Tony Thompson, David Garibaldi and the astonishing Tower of Power… And suddlenly I realized that there was something missing in my “scheme of things”. It had to be something beyond keeping a good sense of rhythm. Where could I find some beauty throughout the beat? Those drummers that managed to “decorate” the groove and surprise everyone with just a couple of accents, a displacement, even an unexpected silence, who were they? How did they do that? Which were the records I had to listen to? Bear in mind that I am talking about the pre-Internet era. It was by no means easy to find out.
My new friend had a quick answer for that: “you must listen to Manu Katché, he is amazing!”. And he lend to me a VHS copy of a Zildjian video featuring that french guy. In that tape, Manu Katché plays one song three times in three different ways for three different purposes. The next day I could have sold my ass for a couple of splash cymbals.
Some years later, every time I find something about him on the Internet, I read the same words that my friend once told me to describe Manu Katché: for years, he’s been a first call session and touring drummer, having played in several famous albums with world-class artists. He is one of the few drummers that can be identified in the first seconds of any song. One of the most popular analogies is that he uses the drums and cymbals as if they were colors in a palette, since he “paints” the groove while ornamenting it with toms, splashes and other effects cymbals. Not many drummers can be described like that.
And surprisingly, he still is very unknown, even to many drummers. Despite his popularity in the French-speaking world thanks to his appearances on french TV, it seems strange that he isn’t widely known. We are talking about the drummer of some very famous albums by Sting and Peter Gabriel. Hello? Manu Katché has never been a flashy, ostentatious drummer, but he is indeed a sensation and has his own voice. There’s nobody like him. His curriculum beyond Sting and Peter Gabriel includes Dire Straits, Tracy Chapman, Joni Mitchell, Jeff Beck, Herbie Hancock, Joe Satriani…
Manu Katché is a master when it comes to stamp his mark in a song. I’ve always found he has a curious playing position, how he grabs the sticks in french grip, how he moves his arms, his gestures when he concentrates into playing. It seems to me that he always tries to keep the backbeat flowing, maybe a little delayed sometimes, so when he plays one of those tom or cymbal strokes that are his trademarks, it causes a bigger surprise effect. His patterns are always “floating” in a remarkable swing. Katché has also released a few albums with some very interesting ideas.
If we worship legendary session players such as Jeff Porcaro, Steve Gadd, Tony Thompson, David Garibaldi or Steve Ferrone for their astounding groove and innovative patterns, we should also praise Manu Katché for his ability of giving a particular feeling to any song on many styles and for having a very unique way of understanding the beauty of rhythm, something as difficult as to be instantly recognizable.
This post is also available in Versión en Español.