April Centrone is one of the leading classical Arabic percussionists in America, student of Michel Baklouk Merhej. She has performed with renowned Arab artists such as Marcel Khalife, Bassam Saba and Najib Shaheen. She has also shared the stage with a variety of rock, jazz and avant-garde artists including Les Claypool’s Primus, Mike Patton, Trey Spruance’s Secret Chiefs 3, Trevor Dunn, and Eyvind Kang, among others. We asked her 2 questions about her playing and covered her in the print edition of our magazine.
How do you listen when you play?
Intently and lovingly! Drumming is all about listening to everyone else and playing with each person’s melody and ornaments. I love Arabic music, so I listen as an audience member, experiencing the same ecstasy as they do.
I am originally a drumset player. The riqq, which came before the invention of the drumset, gives me all the same tools in my two hands and 10 fingers. It allows me to play upon the luscious and mysterious subtleties of Arabic music, while giving me the power to command an entire 40 piece orchestra, leading rhythm and tempo.
Which instruments lead you in the orchestra?
The plucking instruments are especially percussive, namely the ‘ud or oud (Arabic 11-stringed fretless lute), and the qanun (Arabic zither). I can play directly off of these instruments, joining and mimicking their ornaments. We push and play off of each other equally. Other instruments with more long notes, such as the nay (Arabic reed flute) and violin, give me more space, which I manipulate differently, using less ornaments but bigger gestures. I push these instruments, which trail slightly behind me but still hold on tight.
This is Tom Tom Magazine’s artist George Ferrandi’s portrait of April which appeared in print Issue 12.
Centrone was born in Harlem on March 31, 1984. She originally lived between Manhattan and Canarsie/Flatlands, Brooklyn before the whole family moved down to the Jersey Shore. She grew up with her grandmother, communist and civil rights/feminist playwright, and aunt and uncle, accomplished graphic artists, animators and muralists. April began illustrating at infancy with the aid of her uncle Tom, drawing on everything she could find and ‘selling’ her drawings by the age of 8. She began playing drumset and western percussion at the age of 9. Since then, she never stopped drumming, enjoying everything from the neighborhood classmate garage rock band, to the jazz band, pit band, classical orchestra and marching band in grammar and high school.
Today, Centrone is an accomplished and versatile performer of drumset in the hard rock, jazz, funk, world, progressive and avante-garde styles, known for her rare approach to world rhythms and sweetness, sensitivity, listening, and dynamic – even when playing hard rock! Centrone plays a variety of other percussion and string instruments, and incorporates rhythmic and melodic knowledge to her playing and creating music with others.
Centrone has performed in venues such as Carnegie Hall, NYC Opera House, Lincoln Center and Town Hall, and festivals such as the Beirut Jazz Festival in Lebanon, FMM Sines (world music) in Portugal and Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors in New York City. Centrone has toured throughout North America, Middle East, Europe, Taiwan, South America, and New Zealand. Centrone is the executive director and co-founder of the New York Arabic Orchestra, directed by Bassam Saba. In fall of 2009, Centrone participated as a guest teaching artist and consultant for
Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Connect (NYC), a year-round world-education initiative for public school 6th-graders. Centrone serves as Musicians For Harmony’s Lead Teaching Artist, where she directs M4H’s Music of the World, a 6-week program for inner-city youths of 12-18 years featuring guest artists from 5 different world traditions. Centrone, an acclaimed educator, continually holds workshops and classes for both adults and children of all ages. In theatre, Centrone was the music director and composer for “Arabian Nights” by Mary Zimmerman (Peter Jay Sharp Theatre 2006), and performs percussion, oud and violin for one-woman plays, “Head over Heels in Saudi Arabia” by Maisah Sobaihi, and“Everyone Has Tears” by Cynthia Sophiea.
Centrone’s current music projects on drumset include Bassam Saba- AL-MADAR (Arabic rock), featuring Gyan Riley (guitar), Timba Harris (trumpet, violin) and Brian Holtz (electric bass), BREAK THE STONE (Harris/Riley rock quartet), and Secret Chiefs 3 (Trey Spruance). Arabic percussion projects include the Bassam Saba Ensemble (classical Arabic takht) and the New York Arabic Orchestra. Other projects include Eyvind Kang, Christian Jarvi’s Absolute Ensemble, and Nolan Gasser’s World Concerto where she was a featured soloist with the East Oakland Bay Symphony.Centrone holds a MA in psychology from John Jay College and began the first music therapy program at a prominent NY children’s psychiatric center. Centrone has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in forensic psychology at Adelphi University in Garden City, NY.