Review: LEARN CAIXIXI by Robert Wallace

Psst, want to shake your seeds? No, wait, don't walk away! I'll bet you've tried a shaker once or twice, but never thought yourself capable of making complex music with such a simple instrument. A new DVD has caused me to rethink this silly assumption.

The caxixi is a type of shaker in the form of a small basket. Containing seeds, rice, or synthetic beads, it's origins are African. The instructor's approach seems targeted to world music fans, but most of the rhythms taught on this English-language DVD are specifically Brazilian: samba, baião, afoxé.

Thrown like a dart, a caxixi produces a sharp *chick*; turned on its side and played like any old shaker, in produces a contrasting shk-a-shk-a-shk. Once the basic moves are strung together, the playing seems magical. And no wonder, since caxixi are often played in both hands and so you make music like Leopold Stokowski or a wizard: arms and hands in constant motion. As your "magic spells" gain coherence and your individual motions become a confident blur, something amazing is conjured up. And kudos to Robert Wallace for all the encouragement he peppers into his explanations to keep you going until you get there.

Production quality on offer is closer to YouTube than MTV, and some technical limitations do inhibit the experience. For example, many guitar instructional videos feature two cameras to capture right and left hand playing. Here, we're asked to step in time as we play, but the single camera here mostly stays on the teacher's head and face. It would be great to see the steps we're to follow.

And following the hand motions might be much easier for the left-handed: he's right-handed, but faces the viewer. For a righty myself, this means I can't mirror the screen. My right hand has to imitate the left side of the screen, and vice-versa. I would have had an easier time if the video had been flipped. In future editions, perhaps right- and left-handed versions of the video could be available on one DVD.

Enough rhythms are offered to keep even veteran musicians busy for a session, and neophytes will probably need hours to master the patterns on offer. As a visual person, some notation of the patterns would have been appreciated.

A note about instruments: your intrepid reviewer owns a large caxixi that proved useless for the technique taught on this DVD. I bought a smaller caxixi and matched that with Remo fruit shakers. These funny little instruments in the shapes of apples, plums, and pears proved just as effective as a "real" caxixi and I suspect most small shakers would, too. (Perhaps Remo can sponsor the next installment with a farmer's market worth of their offerings?)

I imagine a great many novices will end up putting more music in their life after a few hours with Robert Wallace and their caxixi. Intermediate and advanced percussionists might pick up a trick or two, as well. This DVD, available from totalrhythm.com for US$24.95, won't turn novices into Airto Moreira, but exceeding your expectations is a safe bet.