The Future is Fusion

(Photo credit Brendan Mariani Photography)

Toronto-based drummer Sarah Thawer is taking center stage, with her own sound.

Sarah Thawer is a pro on the drums and her range shows that. Last week alone she played Gospel, R&B/Soul, jazz, Afro/Rock fusion, Latin/jazz and Arabic/Jazz. This is fairly common for the experienced drummer.

Thawer applies these experiences to her creative process.

“I feel like weekly I am absorbing all of these languages from different styles of music, and when I get home from my gigs, there are melodies and rhythms that stick with me,” says Thawer, a Toronto- based drummer. “I turn on my voice note recorder and start humming or beatboxing these melodies.. Using different parts from all of these styles, I then put my own spin to it and start composing.”

Taking from her own cultural background, Thawer incorporates grooves that come from traditional Indian percussion into her own sound. “I feel like in today's society, Indian music is known as complicated, mathematical, and traditional, whereas there’s this whole factor of it having groove. Like a James Brown groove or Bassa Nova, or a Samba,” says Thawer. “I’ve been trying to take this whole new perspective on having Indian grooves and making them really modern and playing them to hip-hop or jazz or whatever I do.”  

Looking back on where her passion for performing began, Thawer credits her father's band rehearsals as a starting point. From the beginning, her father worked to prevent his daughter from becoming a drummer, going so far as to forbid her.

(Photo credit Brendan Mariani Photography)

(Photo credit Brendan Mariani Photography)

“He never wanted me to play the drums,” says Thawer. “He’s like ‘You’re a girl and you have to carry all this gear. Drummers have the most gear to carry, they arrive first and leave last. What are you doing with your life? I don’t want you to play the drums.’”

Despite his efforts, Thawer found ways to learn on her own. She began practicing with percussion instruments she found around their home. It wasn’t until she enrolled in classes at York University that she had her first official drum lessons. Thawer went on to earn the prestigious Oscar Peterson Scholarship and graduating Summa Cum Laude. (Not bad for a girl, eh?).

“He’s extremely supportive but he’s not 100 per cent happy with it. He sees the drummers always at the back of the stage and that singers get paid the most,” says Thawer. “He’s supportive but would still prefer I be a singer or a pianist.”

Throughout her career, Thawer has been addressed with similar sentiments from strangers. “I’ve just gotten used to where when I arrive at a gig, being asked ‘Oh are you the singer or are you the pianist?’ and when I say I’m the drummer, they say ‘Cool’ and for a second they don’t believe me.” She takes these remarks in stride and rather than fight with words, she lets her talent speak for itself. “As soon as I go on stage, it’s a complete shocker that I sound good.”

Thawer doesn’t waste much effort thinking of herself as a female drummer. “When I go to jam sessions or play gigs, I don’t think of myself as female, I just think of myself as human. If I think of myself as female, I single myself out and feel like people are looking at me differently,” she says. “When I think we are all human, we all love music, we are all the same then I feel like I can fit in a little more.”

I think of drums as an extension of me and as a vessel through which I can express myself
— Sarah Thawer

This positive mentality has taken her around the globe, sharing the stage with some popular artists, such as; AR Rahman, Charlotte Day Wilson, Del Hartley, D’bi and the 333 and many more.

Drummers have to exert a lot of energy when they play. Thawer has a very creative way to keep the energy up during live performances. “I think of my beautiful 91-year-old grandmother sitting in the audience. She doesn't understand a paradiddle or any technical stuff, so how can I connect with her through my drumming? The answer is through my energy, my passion and having fun.”

She encourages any aspiring drummers to embrace their imperfections and get out of their own heads.

“Sometimes we think that our audience is only drummers, but it's not. Our audience consists of all kinds of people, probably the majority not being musically inclined.” Thawer explains that the audience probably won’t know if you made a mistake. “They will connect with you by the energy you radiate and display.”

You can catch Sarah Thawer and Friends in Toronto Thursday, September 27th at Lula Lounge. To hear more about the latest events and keep up with her work, follow Sarah on Twitter and Instagram @sarahtdrumguru