Carl Spight's drum set is a far cry from the usual bass drum, snare and cymbal.
From West Africa there's a dun dun and a bougarabou, celebratory and religious drums with cow skin stretched on top (the dun dun also has skin on the bottom and can be played sideways). From the Middle East there's a darabuka, a silver drum with designs. He drapes rope bells from Pakistan over his knees and around his ankles and occasionally rattles his togo seed belt, which is made of large brown nut-like seeds.
For a few hours on Monday nights, Spight and Sy Bounds play world percussion to CD music outside The Pasta Shoppe and Cafe. And they aren't the only ones playing?#34;people off the street and in the restaurant join in, using a pile of macarenas, tambourines, cabasa shakers and cowrie shell shakers.
The drums accompany an eclectic collection of world music CDs, mostly Brazilian sambas but also jazz, bossa novas, tangos, mambos and music from Africa, the Middle East, Cuba and the Caribbean. At one point, Spight and Bounds even played along to classical cello strains?#34;"Yo Yo Ma in his Brazilian shoes," as Bounds put it.
"It's pretty laid back. It's pretty natural too," he says. "It's unique, what we do. It's not karaoke; it's performing art."
According to diner Debbie Kennedy, the music makes her think of lounging in the Bahamas or Mexico. "These guys are good," she observes.
Sharing the beat
Bounds and Spight share a passion for music and have been playing together for about five years. They're so used to playing with each other, in fact, that they don't really need to rehearse anymore. And the Pasta Shoppe isn't their only venue. The duo has also played at Borders, Buzz Café and for private parties.
"I've been loving jazz all my life," says Bounds, an ex-Oak Parker who now lives in Maywood. He used to do a jazz program on WRRG, the radio station for Triton College. The Pasta Shoppe gig allows him to immerse himself in the music even though he's now off the air.
Spight, also known as Dr. Carl, holds a doctorate in astrophysical sciences from Princeton University and has nursed an interest in world music since college. "As is true of all of us, we have multiple lives," says Spight, who lives in Oak Park.
The two met in their activist days. Spight is an educator and does statistics for the school district and Bounds teaches young black men carpentry and job skills.
"Everyone wants to march; they want to have meeting after meeting," Bounds notes. "All they have to do is focus on fixing up and repairing their homes and communities."
But for now, his purpose is a bit less lofty?#34;and more musical. "We're trying to infect others with the same passion we have," he says.
Bounds and Spight have been playing at the Pasta Shoppe since last summer, and according to owner Gabriele Romanucci, it helps business. He estimates the cafe gets 20 to 30 more customers on drumming nights.
The fact that people can play along with the music is key, Romanucci says. "Children love it. The adults, I see them tangoing."
Bounds and Romanucci are old friends. When Bounds suggested playing at the restaurant, Romanucci gave him a try and found that "people loved him." Since last summer, it's been a weekly paid gig for Bounds and Spight (who are occasionally joined by a singer as well). Romanucci is considering expanding the show to Wednesdays as well.
"They're great, very interactive," he says. "Sy knows everybody that walks by."
Rosalind Larson, an Oak Park resident, came on Bounds' invitation. "I know he's deep and bright and spiritual and I assume his music is the same way," Larson says. She found the atmosphere of the Pasta Shoppe a good match for her family, since she could feast on the artichoke Parmesan while her son, 11-year-old Neil Joseph, could stick with the Italian ice.
Between eating and drinking, Neil hung around Bounds and Spight and learned how to play the tambourine, cowrie shell shakers and cabasas. "A lot of my friends like this kind of smooth beat," Neil allowed, although he added that Britney Spears would probably be better.
Licking their Oberweis ice cream cones, Ben and Sara Schmitz also stopped by to let 1-year-old Mason toddle around with the various percussion instruments. "Oak Park should do more stuff like this," said Ben. "It's great to have live music, especially free live music."
Bounds and Spight encourage the participation and don't hesitate to teach people as they play along. "You've got to listen to the music and get in between the notes," Bounds says.
But he stresses the most important rule: "Don't worry. How are you going to have fun if you're worrying about the beat?"
Carl Spight and Sy Bounds play at the Pasta Shoppe and Cafe, 116 N. Oak Park Ave., on Mondays during the summer from 6 to 9 p.m. They'll be at it as long as the weather permits.