Jamaican Music Music Interviews

Interview with Junior "Gabu" Wedderburn

This month we interview Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn master drummer of Broadway’s ‘The Lion King’., His drumming styles and music draws upon the traditional Jamaican ritual styles of Kumina, Afro-Christian Pocomania, Tambu, Bruckins, and Nyabinghi. He fuses this with African tribal drumming to create a unique sound that is universal..



1.Where in Jamaica are you from?


I am from Port Antonio, Portland.

2.How did you start drumming?


In Portland, there were a lot of drumming and dance traditions.  I grew up with Kumina, Jonkunnu, Bruckins, Pocomania churches were many and also the Koromantee Maroons were in nearby Moore Town. I always gravitated towards the rhythms and so perhaps it was a natural progression for me when I began to drum as a child.


3. Who are your mentors?


I was about thirteen or fourteen when I was introduced to Noel Seal, a well known Jamaican drummer. It was he who made me understand that I was talented and that what I was doing had some value in the outside world.


4. I read that you have traveled to world with different drummers. Tell us about your best experience.


I always have a great time traveling throughout the African diaspora – Cuba, Brazil and New Orleans for instance – and when I find the musical similarities between Jamaica and these places, those experiences are deep.

5. Can you give us a brief history on how the Caribbean drumming has changed from that of Africa?


In Africa, all the traditions have been left intact for generations but this preservation creates some restrictions as there is not much room for change. The experience in the diaspora is different. We are still evolving and so we take the liberty to create something new and evidence of this is seen with the appearance of Punta out of Belize, Salsa out of Cuba and Samba from Brazil.  We do celebrate and respect the rhythms of Africa but we improvise and recreate different rhythms.

6. Tell us about your Disney show, the Lion King?


I joined the show very early in the creative process. I was able to work with director Julie Taymor, choreographer Garth Fagan as well as with the orchestrators all of who represented the best of the best.  To work with such a team in the initial weeks was a dream come true and to see it become what it is today  is a once in a lifetime experience.

7. You have worked with world renowned groups such as Third World and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. What was that process like?


It was a similar experience to the Lion King in that I was able to express myself and produce work that was informed by a variety of knowledge and awareness.

8. What is playing on your Ipod now?


Of course, there is always some retro reggae though I love the work of some of the contemporary artistes such as Tarrus Riley. I am also enjoying the work of Toumani Diadpi, a Kora player from Mali as well as the album Bata Ketu by Mark Lamson and Michael Spiro who are based in California.

9. Do you like the direction music is taking with electronic drum beat created by computers?


It’s all good and everything has its place, musicians can employ that tool in their work but I am a firm believer that nothing can replace skin on skin.  Several years ago on Broadway, they wanted to replace the live orchestra with a virtual orchestra which would have worked in theory but I think that the consensus at the end was that having live musicians added so much more to the experience.

10. If you were not a drummer what would you be?


I started drumming when I was very young and recognized from early on the effect that it had on people and I learned how well I was able to communicate with people through music so, it is difficult to think of doing anything else. But if not this, then it would have to be something that would involve the arts.

11. Are you currently working on any other projects outside of the Lion King?


I have a recording studio and I am currently doing a lot of work with some South African colleagues who have amazing voices and we are experimenting with Nyabingi and Koromantee and trying to fuse it all together into what we hope will be something very special.

12. You have worked with many great talents but is there anyone that you haven’t worked with yet but would like to perform with in the future?


This is an extremely difficult question as there are so many amazing talents to choose from. There is a saying that alleges that an avid listener often gets a more profound experience than the musician and there are so many who have touched me and I think in a funny way, to work with them would somehow spoil the experience. Strange I know but true.

13. Any final words?


For a long time I wondered whether art forms like Kumina would survive but it and others have stood the test of time due in large part to the great work of the festival commission and other such institutions.  Technology has allowed young musicians access to great material and this feeds the spirit and vibe of the wonderful music we hear today. When I was young I developed a passion for music and it has been my compass in life. I know the importance of the arts and I wish that every person would have an opportunity to experience it, in whatever form, on a very personal level.

About the author

Margaret J.Bailey