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Rhythmic variations on the the Chaal

Paul Marshall (c) 2003

Based on a post to the Junkmusic Yahoo group

Thanks to Johnny Kalsi & The Dhol Foundation

The high pitched end of the dhol is on the right hand side and is struck with a 'thilli', a thin cane in the right hand. The thick bent cane is held in the left hand and strikes the bass end of the drum.

The base rhythm is known as the Chaal, most rhythms use this or variations thereof as the foundation. The underlying feel is like a light shuffle, if you play it like a dotted eighth you're close enough, it is bit square [?] when played straight.

You can hear it on Johnny Kalsi's New Year's day set for BBC Radio,

  • R= Right
  • B= both

    Dha Na..Na .Na .Na .Dha Dha.Na

    B ..R...R ..R.. R ..B ..B ..R
    1 ..2 ..3 ..4 ..5 ..6 ..7 ..8

It's also great for djun players to lock into, keep the shuffle with the right hand on the bell/kenkeni/cascara/whatever playing all 8 beats and then play the bass part with the left hand.

Here it is simply converted for djembe

  • O= open
  • B= bass

1 ..2 ..3 ..4 ..5 ..6 ..7 ..8

R ..L...R ..L.. R ..L ..R ..L

B ..o ..o.. o ..o.. B ..B ..o

A good grooving variation for djembe is to play with slaps or emphases in the '3, 4 and 5' play around with it among participants, it's fun.

There's a different versionwhich really rocks as a base rhythm, you will hear this in The Dhol Foundation set too. Note the treble strike in groups of 3 and beats 1 and 7 in each bar where both treble and bass ends are struck together (dha). On the dhol it is played

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
o...o o o.. o o o . o o o . o o (Right hand)
B ........B B ..B ........B B
.....(Left hand)

For djembe that would translate to


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
B ..o o o B B o B ..o o o B B o

The open stroke on beat 8 is a tricky one to get to sound clearly as it's sandwiched between the two bass tones but persevere. It's has become a different rhythm from the original because that trio of treble notes is broken half the time but it's great to play, even better on the dhol!. Exchange some of those open tones for slaps or other tones and enjoy the groove.

Anyway, hope this is useful. I'm playing it on my knees now darnit...

If you play kit drums, listen long enough to the set (prolly 8-9 mins) to hear his Johnny's kick drum when he goes too the Kalsi kit, it's on his left hand naturally for him, but the sound is incredible, almost like a 'jungle' 'subsonic' sweep, beaut! Read here to find out how Johnny, Pete Lockett and Trilok Gurtu get that phenomenal bass sound from a small shell-less drum

Paul Marshall




Paul & Johnny Workshopping, May 2002