Kai Tipping has lived all over, but the dream of living an off-grid country lifestyle drew him to move from the city to Bellingen. He has been a musician all his life, coordinating performances and parades at various festivals and events, and teaching drumming in community groups and in schools all around Australia.
He believes music is a way of bringing people together, often from all different walk of life, and spreading positive vibes throughout our community.
What brought you to the Coffs Coast?
I was living in Sydney with my partner and our two kids, before we moved here. We’d lived in Sydney, Melbourne, and Newcastle, but it was that off-the-grid lifestyle we wanted. We’d visited Bellingen before and we wanted to live in an alternative community, so we ended up doing five years just outside of Bello, off grid, growing our own food and totally living the hippie dream!
What got you into drumming? When did that all start?
Generations ago, really! I always had music in the house growing up; dad’s a poet, mum’s a painter. Going to Woodford Folk Festival, festivals in Byron Bay, definitely influenced me. I moved out of home quite early, and I saw a guy busking, and so I literally quit my job as a dishwasher, and became a street busker with a jembe, a didge and pan drum at 17 years old. I managed to support myself living in a big city doing that twice a week.
How would you describe your style of drumming?
Well, I always loved a drum kit, but I was particularly drawn to world music. I think of our record collection, as a kid we always had a lot of Lady Blacksmith Mambazo and Santana, just a lot of really interesting Trinidad Steelpan. I’ve always had a fascination with that (it’s an acoustic instrument invented last century), so when I studied music at MIT in Melbourne, the Trinidad Steelpan was my instrument; I majored in Tune Percussion.
You do a fair bit of teaching here on the Coffs Coast; who and what do you teach?
I have community classes most nights of the week, one at Nambucca at the Surf Club, one in Bellingen Memorial Hall on Thursday evenings, one at a warehouse in Raleigh in the industrial estate.
I’ve also done school tours, mostly throughout NSW, but also parts of regional Victoria, little bits of Queensland, and a tour to Adelaide too, when I was performing with Afro Moses.The school workshops were really fun, but when I first moved up here I was really lucky to become an arts program coordinator for an NGO, funded through Youth Opportunities. And that felt really good to be able to work with kids on a consistent basis, because with a lot of the touring I’d done, you only meet the kids once. That became creating performance groups for events; at the moment I’m working with Raleigh Primary School, because they’re going to perform at the Bellingen Show. I just went out to Chrysalis Steiner School and did a workshop with them, and I’ve also done lots of stuff in the high schools with anti-bullying or social skills programs.
What do you think people get out of the workshops that you do?
For the groups, just seeing each other on a week to week level, really connects people together. I guess it’s also learning a new skill, although that’s not even really the focus (the drumming); it’s actually more just about coming together and being part of the group, which often ends up as a performance. For instance, some locals might remember the Bellingen River Festival; where we all got dressed up and paraded across the bridge, or Falls Festival had us there parading and got us up on stage, even when Manu Chao finished playing at Sydney Festival and we had a little gang going and helped the crowd move out through the Domain, the student group participants got to perform in those events. And also on Saturday the 23rd March in Bellingen is Harmony Day; the Afro Beat Ensemble with Janelle Turner and her dancers will all be performing together at 11:15 – noon in the Bellingen Showground; and the student group will be performing as an outcome from their workshops.
Can you tell us about some of the parades and events you’ve run?
Petes Ridge Festival let me run their New Years Eve parades for the 10 or 15 years that the festival ran, and they’d give us about 100 tickets, so I’d get to bring all my buddies, the whole gang. We’d have dancers, stilt walkers, costumes, giant puppets, and the drummers; that has been phenomenal!
At the Great Escape Festival we got to play after Fishbone and walk the crowd to Ziggy Marley! Artlands bi-annual Regional Art Conference just got me in to work on community engagement, where I toured a bunch of schools and pulled together all these students into a parade performance group to perform at their opening event.
Coffs Harbour Harmony Day is letting me run the Drum and Dance space from 9:30am; that’ll be open at the Botanical Gardens, with workshops all day. So from 1 – 2pm, anyone from the community can come and grab a drum or a costume and actually perform with us from 2 – 2:30, as we do the parade through the Botanical Gardens down to the main stage, which will be led by the local Gumbaynggirr dance group. And then, we’ll be doing a little stage show.
Where can people learn more about what you do?
I have a new website – vibelife.com.au