13th Aug 2012 2:55am | By Alex Harmon
Tom Harding, AKA ‘Tom the Pom,’ is leading a samba revolution in Sydney and under his guidance you too can go from beginner to Rio Carnivale – or maybe even find a wife
Who are the Samba Ninjas?
We’re a community band based in Sydney but auditions are always open and anyone can try-out at any given point. In samba you can have as many players as you like, you can have people doubling up parts and you can take parts out, put them back in.
So how do you define samba?
The term samba is a little bit like the term rock and roll. If I was to say to you, “rock and roll,” you might be thinking Buddy Holly and I might be thinking Cradle of Filth. They’re both rock and roll bands. And to an extent you’ve got that in samba. There are a lot of different genres, you’ve got bossa nova and bascada and enredo, and so on. You get plenty of people saying that what I do isn’t samba, to which I reply, well it’s evolving, its changing. You wouldn’t tell Brazilians that they can’t play drum and bass. I am from where drum and bass comes from, but I wouldn’t say, “no – you’re not doing it right.”
You also run the Samba Experience...
They’re both my babies. I am the band-leader of the ninjas and also the boss. Actually the other day I was called a “benevolent leader”. So I run workshops, we do beginner’s samba like samba 101. People have come to the workshops, loved it, progressed and ended up joining the band. Actually somebody came to the workshop, loved it, progressed, and married me.
I’m tone deaf, can I still join?
Well, it takes a certain amount of skill, you don’t need any knowledge but you need to come to practices and you need to be able to learn. You can’t show up saying, “I’m a great bongo player.” For starters, we don’t play bongos.
What instruments do you play?
In the band I play surdos, tamborim (not tambourine). And I also play the guitar and ukulele professionally. Back in the UK I was a professional didgeridoo player. I used to do workshops and corporate events when they needed someone to pretend to be Australian. Yep, I used to be that person.
Can you do an Aussie accent?
No, I kept my mouth shut.
So how did you end up in Sydney?
Boy meets girl, boy gets visa. Tom wins. Genius. I met someone in a workshop and it turned out we had friends in common, so I got myself a wife and a visa. Tom one – England nil.
How did a Pom get into Brazilian music?
Well, I love all music, but how I got into samba was through a community workshop in Cambridge. I was walking past it, heard it and I thought, I have gotta find out what this is. I went in and within the hour I pretty much planned out my career for the rest of my days. The teacher was really good but she didn’t explain things in a way that I could get my head around. A lot of people were baffled by what she was saying. So, she would give instructions and I ended up explaining it to other people who were baffled. Before you know it, I call myself a teacher.
Is it a full time job?
I do a number of things, I do the samba experience, I’m involved in highschools and I do music with little ones. The preschool music show is great fun. I teach tiny little kids and we do things like “Old MacDonald had a Farm” in sign language. I also do a drum circle workshop where I take out the African drums. And I teach a workshop which is held on the last Saturday of every month in Camperdown.
You sound incredibly busy
I am, but it’s really good. There are a couple of different ways you can look at music – you can find out exactly what you want to do and focus on that, or you can keep busy and say yes to everything. “Yes I want to do preschool music,” and so on. There’s plenty of work if you’ve got a broad skill base. And there’s plenty of work if you choose to teach effectively. If you want to be a rock star, then no, there’s not enough work.
The ultimate samba ninja gig would be?
Well it would have to be in Rio Carnivale, wouldn’t it?
That would be pretty awesome
Yes, but then again, it would also be terrible because we’d be shown up and you’d see how bad we really are.
To learn more about the Samba Experience including how to join the movement, head to: thesambaexperience.com.au