Hand began fortuitously in 1996, when local drumming leader Daryl
Kwasi Burgee invited tabla player Lenny Seidman to join in the
final ceremony of the 1996 AfricAmericas Festival at Philadelphia’s
African American Museum. Seidman brought with him a percussion quartet, and the concept of Spoken Hand was born. The synergy
of the ensemble, whose forty drummers concentrated the richness
and variety of the city's traditional drumming community on a
single stage, resulted in a powerful, joyous ceremony, celebrated
by artists and audiences alike. Burgee and Seidman
set out to explore the potential of this phenomenon, fuelled by
a desire to see this collaboration extend past this one-time engagement.
They immediately found a willing collaborator in the form of the
Painted Bride Art Center,
who commissioned them to create new work and develop educational
programs. Spoken Hand was birthed, with the mission of combining
world percussion traditions, celebrating difference while creating
a new living whole.
The ensemble made their national debut in 1998, playing to a sold-out
house at the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta. Since then,
Spoken Hand has established itself as one of the most unique and
vibrant groups performing in the genre of world music, showing a
willingness to extend themselves creatively in ventures like 2002's
"Flammable Contents: SH/RH/ZH," a collaboration with tabla
legend Zakir Hussain and Rennie Harris' hip-hop dance troupe, as
well as the recent collaboration with Malian kora master, Yacouba
In 2012, Spoken Hand collaborated with the eight singers of Philip Hamilton's Voices ensemble to create "Skins and Songs," an evening length performance merging both ensembles to create new and dynamic compositions, expanding the reach of each group into new territory.
Two time winners of Philadelphia City Paper's award for "Best World/Roots Music," Spoken Hand has appeared at nearly every Philadelphia area venue of note, including the Painted Bride Art Center, World Cafe Live, Mann Center for the Arts, Welcome America Festival, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Barnes Foundation, Haverford College, Bryn Mawr College, International House at University Pennsylvania, and Swarthmore College, and has earned its national reputation through concerts and residencies at festivals, theaters, art centers, and universities around the country: Caramoor Jazz Festival, Katonah, NY, The Greene Space at WNYC, New York City, Bang On A Can Marathon as part of the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, Ohio Arts Presenters Network '06 IMPACT tour, Western Alliance Conference, San Jose, CA, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, Lynchburg Community Concert Association, Lynchburg, VA, Alvernia University, Reading, PA, Amerimasala Festival, Erie, PA, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY, Montgomery County Community College, Blue Bell, PA, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, Rose Lehrman Theater @ Harrisburg Area Community College, Harrisburg, PA, and Hoyt Institute of Fine Arts, New Castle, PA.
The work of Spoken Hand has been continually supported by the generosity
of funders. Spoken Hand is a two time Rockefeller Foundation MAP
Fund grant recipient and has been funded by the NEA, Meet the Composer
Commissioning Music USA and Creative Connections, American Composers Forum (Philadelphia Chapter), Pennsylvania
Council on the Arts, Philadelphia Cultural Alliance 5-County
Arts Fund, Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour, Ohio Arts Council, Philadelphia
Cultural Fund, Samuel S. Fels Fund, William J. Cooper
Foundation, and The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Philadelphia Music Project. Spoken Hand are selected PennPAT roster artists, chosen
for their demonstrated artistic excellence and professionalism.
Significant subsidies are available to presenters in the Mid-Atlantic
For more information, please see booking
information, or contact Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour.
Photo Credits, Top to Bottom:
Cynthia van Elk (Portrait at Caramoor Jazz Festival, 2010),
Claudinho Santana (Full ensemble at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2010),
Unknown (Tabla Hands, 1999).