Will Ridenour
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Will Ridenour

Carrboro, North Carolina, United States | SELF

Carrboro, North Carolina, United States | SELF
Band World New Age


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"Diverse Backgrounds Blend in Harmony"

Will Ridenour and Betsy Bevan couldn't be more different.

He is an essentially self-taught drummer and Kora player, and she is a classically trained pianist and painter. He has played in several bands, and she has never been in one. His music is in his head, and she writes out all of her compositions. But their shared love of African music harmoniously meshes their two very different styles.

"We're both so interested in culture and world music," Bevan said. "I think that's where we connect."

Bevan also plays African drums and met Ridenour through their mutual appreciation for African culture and music. Ridenour played the Kora, an African instrument with 21 strings, at one of Bevan's art openings and they started playing together in December. Bevan began playing the piano along with one of Ridenour's Kora CDs at home and thought the two instruments would create a nice sound.

When they first performed their composition, "Air of the Meadow," at a church service, Ridenour said he knew they were making something special.

"I was shaking so bad I almost fell out of my chair," Ridenour said. "Not out of nervousness but out of the power of what we were creating."

Now Ridenour and Bevan are channeling their different creative energies into a tribute album, "Wind and Stars," in honor of a good friend of theirs who died .

"I was able to be composing with Will and working on the album these last six months while my musician friend, Emily, was slowly succumbing to cancer," Bevan said. "It was very helpful for me to process her leaving this plain here on earth by writing music for my own healing of emotions of that and at the same time know I was lifting her up in honor with our music."

Ridenour and Bevan describe the music as "healing art," an easy listening sound that inspires listeners to heal through the power of music.

"This music was created with the intention of bringing forth music that was relaxing, beautiful and uplifting," Bevan said. "Many of the pieces have a slow tempo for a soothing sound when people are receiving holistic, alternative therapy healing sessions such as massage, Reiki, acupuncture, energy work or for people when doing yoga, Tai Chi or Qi gong."

"Wind and Stars" will be released in early September, and Ridenour and Bevan's different styles and backgrounds contribute to its original sound.

Ridenour, who has lived in Greensboro all his life, started playing drums in bands in high school but was never surrounded by music during his childhood. He later joined the punk band Zegota and toured across Europe with them.

He became interested in West African music through his drumming and was drawn to the Kora when he saw a friend play it seven years ago.

"It's just so beautiful," Ridenour said. "The simple sound that comes out of it is unbearably awesome."

Though Ridenour has always loved music, he said he didn't know he wanted to devote his life to it until about three years ago when he quit his job as a chef to pursue music full time.

"It wasn't a choice," Ridenour said. "It was a realization."

Bevan realized her passion for music earlier in life. When she was 10 years old, she attended a concert and saw a high school student playing an original composition on the piano. She thought she could do it, too.

"I grew up with music so I started writing early on," Bevan said.

She attended music schools, entered contests and festivals and performed in cathedrals across Europe with a concert choir.

Bevan moved from New York to Greensboro eight years ago and currently paints, composes and teaches music at a private studio and various schools.

Ridenour teaches drum lessons and is involved in activism with Cakalak Thunder , a radical drum corps in Greensboro.

But right now, Ridenour and Bevan are both focused on "Wind and Stars," which Bevan said may be the first in a series of healing arts CDs.

"Music empowers me to know myself better, to feel more alive than ever," Ridenour said. "We all get chills from certain music, and that's a great, indestructi ble feeling." - By Alexa Milan, Go Triad, Greensboro, NC, Aug 28 2008

"Out of Africa: GSO Musician Takes Up the Kora"

Most musicians can remember the first time they heard the tunes and melodies that would become their life's passion. For many it's the beginning of a journey that leads them to seek out the roots of the music that turned them on: attending jazz, blues or ethnic music festivals; searching out obscure recordings by unknown pioneers or tracking down the same model of instrument used by their heroes. For Greensboro resident Will Ridenour the moment that journey began remains crystal clear seven years later.

"I used to work at Talking Drums [on Spring Garden Street], owned by Sandy Blocker," says the 29-year-old Ridenour. "He had brought a kora back from West Africa. He played it for a while and then he put it down and it started collecting dust in his office. I was over there one day and started plucking around on it and I thought it was really beautiful. I remember everything about that moment. That was probably in 1999. It just struck me as the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard."

The kora is a 21-string, harp-like instrument from West Africa. It's constructed from a large gourd, or calabash, that's cut in half, hollowed out and left to harden. A wet cowhide is then stretched across it, held in place with upholstery tacks and allowed to dry. A limb serves as a neck with the strings held in place by leather bands. The musician plays it by plucking the strings with his fingers and thumbs.

"I've been playing a drum set for about thirteen years," says Ridenour, who plays drums with Greensboro indie rock band Dawn Chorus, as well as the samba-based percussion group Cakalak Thunder. "That's been my main thing. I've fiddled around with guitar a little bit, but I decided not to take it up. I felt like I had a melodic voice that needed to be expressed, and when I was introduced to the kora I knew that would be the voice."

After initially taking kora lessons from African immigrants in Greensboro, Ridenour went to where the instrument originated to learn more.

"I went to Africa for six weeks in January, February and March of 2003," says Ridenour. "The first three weeks I spent in Senegal, the second three weeks I spent in Mali, so I learned two different styles. When I was there I took private lessons from teachers I found or were found by a friend of mine for me. I learned more there than I learned in the previous four years before that."

In Africa the kora is more than just a musical instrument, says Ridenour.

"It's played by a caste of people called jelis, or jalis. The French had a term for it: griot. Those three terms mean the same thing, depending on where you're from. The people are born into it, and they take on the responsibility of passing knowledge from generation to generation, whether it be about your family's history, or your ancestors, or a great story about something somebody did somewhere.

"The people who play this instrument are like walking libraries," says Ridenour. "They're oral historians and musicians and storytellers. They have a very important role in society. They don't work for anybody; they don't have a paycheck coming in. They go to parties, play and sing for the people there, and get paid in cash.'

In Africa, most kora players sing, or accompany someone who does. Ridenour, however, performs as an instrumentalist.

"I don't really sing because I don't think of myself as a singer. I can sing the songs that I play [on the kora], but I don't really perform as a singer. I'd like to get better before I subject people to that," he says, chuckling.

Ridenour's experiences in Africa included more than just learning how to play the kora.

"I also studied the djembe, which is a specific drum from West Africa. I learned how to make food and tea. Just being there you learn a lot, even if you don't have a specific focus.

"In Senegal I lived with a family outside of the capital, Dakar. There are a lot of stereotypes that aren't true about West Africa. The people I met were amazingly nice, amazingly hospitable," says Ridenour. "They took care of themselves very well. Everybody I met had a lot more hardships than I do in life and it made me realize how privileged I am. It made me think about a lot of things that I take for granted about my life here in America. People there are just trying to eat and be happy, just like what people here are doing. They're doing the same thing over there, just trying to do it in a different way."

Ridenour recently recorded a CD of kora music at a friend's studio.

"I wanted something to give to places to help me get gigs. People have just been asking for recordings ever since I began playing out [on the kora]. I don't play out that much so I wanted to have something for them," he says.
- By Daniel Bayer, YES! Weekly, Greensboro, NC, 2006


-2008: "Wind and Stars" CD. Instrumental and original music for healing project collaboration with Betsy Bevan, piano. Co-released.

-2007: "Will Ridenour, 's/t'" CD. Self-released containing music from both previous CDs.

-2006: "Will and Jon Ridenour, 'Wedding'" CD. Self-released instrumental kora and guitar music.

-2005: "Will Ridenour, 'Kora 2005'" CD. Self-released instrumental solo kora music.



The Kora is a 21-stringed bridge-harp from West-Africa originating, according to oral traditions, centuries ago with the Senegambian Mandinka of the Kabu Empire, which encompassed parts of present-day Guinea-Bissau, southern Senegal, and the Gambia. The strings are made of fishing line and they resonate through a large, halved calabash gourd stretched with a cow hide. Traditionally, the Kora is played by Mandinka Jalis and Mande Jelis, members of a special caste of society that work as musicians and oral historians. They are walking libraries of information, artisans of speech and sound.

From Greensboro, NC, Will has played the Kora since 1999, first teaching himself and later traveling to study in Senegal and Mali. Today he plays traditional Kora music and composes original tunes with the blessings of his teachers, Djeli Madiya Diebate from Cassamance and Djeli Fily Sacko from Bamako (student of Toumani Diabate). Along with the Kora, he has studied West-African and Afro-Cuban percussion with accomplished teachers such as Madou Dembele, Michael Spiro, Thione Diop and Haruna Sidibe. On the drum set with the band Zegota, Will has performed in 40 US states and 25 countries worldwide.

Currently, he's writing music and performing on the Kora at all kinds of events from restaurants to schools to weddings to large festivals. He especially is intrigued with numerous collaborations, taking the kora to new places in the musical moment.