Peggy Nykamp: A world of drumming

Peggy Nykamp

By Lynda Ferris for Tom Tom Magazine 

Photos by Jim Cox

Nestled at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, lies the small town of Taos, New Mexico where Peggy is making her mark as a drummer. Her experience in the percussion world, on congas, and bata make for her unique style. With influences from the Haitian and Cuban worlds of music, Peggy evokes the Vodou and Santaria spirits from beyond to join in and add a flavor to the energetics of her playing.

Where did it all begin for you?

POCIT was a Brazilian Samba group, formed in Taos, that consisted of 12 players. In that band I got my start playing bell and shaker. Here is where I learned polyrhythms, 6/8, and was exposed to conga, clave, and the importance of my parts. We performed locally for a year.

What can you tell us about Brazil Camp?

When I went to Brazil Camp, I wasn’t playing congas yet. Brazil Camp, which is held in the redwoods of northern California, was an amazing experience.  All the orishas seemed to be there. Every corner of Camp had the finest teachers. I got a taste of congas from Carlinhos Pandeiro de Ouro who’s in the film Black Orpheus. I sat down with him for a ½ hour class on the last day. Annette Aguilar (of String Beans) started me out on technique. This is where I found my desire for traditional learning instead of just making up grooves and lyrics, like we did in POCIT.

What is your drum history, how did you come on the scene?

When POCIT ended in 2005, I wanted to keep playing. I went to an orisha dance class that was being taught by Pilar Leto in Taos. There I met Peter & Janet Merscher who were hosting the class and also studying Bata. Through them I met Woodson “Woody” Hand and others who were also learning the Bata parts. I started on the Okónkolo and from there I moved to the Itótele. Peter, Woody and I practiced for 3 years before I went to Cuba in 2008 to study. I went again in 2010 while I was pregnant.

Who were your teachers?

I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some amazing musicians. I first worked with Frank Leto in Albuquerque where I learned more about Bata. Woody’s the one who introduced me to Haitian drumming. He had amazing timing, and was a good teacher in that he was able to slow it down and explain the parts clearly. He had an eccentric and eclectic way with words. One summer, he put together ‘Rumba in the Park’, aka “drums on grass”. This is where I met my next teacher Brent Berry. Brent has a style/flavor that is of Puerto Rican and Cuban influence. Through him I learned how to master my technique. Now I study with master drummer John Scovel in Santa Fe where we focus on grooves from Haiti and Cuba.

Where does the Brent Berry Band come in?

After my second lesson with Brent, he asked me to join his band. I’ve been playing with them for the atleast 7 years now. I started out playing mambo or the ‘money maker’ as we know it, then ‘Hotel Bomba’ a Puerto Rican groove that’s like the mambo, it goes with everything. It gave me a chance to work with rhythms. Hours of rehearsals and going on tour really helped me develop my technique.

Who is MUZA?

This was a brief Taos band that was put together by Sol Aravena, who is from Santiago, Chile. Her style is a Chilean electronica bolero. The group consisted of 4 people. The down tempo electronica was really easy to play with. I played the Taos Solar Fest pregnant with MUZA in 2010. This was my first band away from the BBB. It was pretty fun to experiment with a different style of band.

Tell us about the new band that you’re in?

The new band consists of most of the members from BBB. In this group, Brent gets to set down his guitar and now plays congas and stick riffs, something that’s different than before. I play pandero, congas, clave and some sticks. The music is now more driving with a bass and trumpet player. For me, I just play and fulfill the needs of the band by working harder, playing faster, and using all the things in my toolbox. It gives me the opportunity to showcase my skills. I’ve added the quinto to create more melodies that takes the music to new level. I can accents beats and do all kinds of crazy stuff cause the songs call for more dimension.

What else musically do you have going on?    

Since 2009, I’ve been the entertainment director at the Taos Inn. I book music for every night of the week there. Also, I have one student right now. We work mostly on the basics, but now she’s able to hold down a pattern so that I can play another. I have other women who want to be my students but it’s about timing to take on more.

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