“Follow me; your broken mind is hungry for asylum.” Freetown Collective, Normal (2017)
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Rhys Thompson playing to his riddim
Rhys Thompson had a knack for getting in trouble in school. It wasn’t because he was mischievous, but he was always drumming on his desk. It couldn’t be helped. His father played with Andre Tanker and at home there was always music, particularly Hugh Masekela and Earth Wind and Fire around the time he was born in 1986.
“I would be watching Sesame Street and playing drums with two pencils,” Thompson laughed.
In Form 2, he got a drum set and the music bug kept on driving him—although, by then, his father had moved away from the music circuit and turned to Christ. All Thompson wanted to do was play, even as the spirit and the world collided. He appreciated that his father was adamant about music education.
Now, as a co-founder of the rock bank 5 Miles to Midnight with fellow St Anthony’s College alum Alex Burt Ou Young, Thompson is enjoying his musical path. Since the band performed at SXSW (South by South West) last year, the group—which also includes Liam King (lead vocals), Mark Wallace (bass), Shallun Sammy (lead guitar) and Dale E P Dolly (keyboard)—is in the process of recording a new album.
“The SXSW gave us momentum,” Thompson said.
Reflecting on the experience in Texas, Thompson said there was good coming out of a situation that had its sticky moments. Before leaving Trinidad, there was a problem with accessing funding for all the T&T performers to travel. But the band received major sponsorship from FLOW. Their performance was well received in Austin.
In April, they will be in New York to do a music showcase. The band is also in the process of signing a US manager. They already have a producer, Justin Zoltech of Toronto, whom they met at SXSW and who is working on their upcoming album. “We are bringing him to New York. We have to have a solid body of work,” Thompson said.
The musical path also included the band’s remake of the Christmas classic, Little Drummer Boy. With the help of strings and choir produced by Andrew McIntosh and mastering by Martin “Mice” Raymond, the song was well received by radio stations. Another is planned for this Christmas.
On his own, Thompson is receiving attention for his percussion skills with his drumming partner Modupe Onilu of Dayo Bejide Organic Music Movement. Thompson and Onilu’s fathers (Madupe’s was the late master drummer Ja Jah Oga Onilu) both played with Tanker, so the connection between the young men existed long before they decided to play under the name BoomboomRoom.
Their percussion union was initiated by DJ and entrepreneur Kwesi “Hoppy” Hopkinson and they were excited about the idea. Their first stint was on a boat ride in Barbados and then on the road with Xhousa for Crop Over. In a short space of time they were hired for other gigs. Among them was The Lost Tribe for Carnival 2016. Valmiki Maharaj, creative director of The Lost Tribe, approached them to play for the band on the road.
“The Tribe experience was phenomenal. That was the first time I played mas in Trinidad,” Thompson said. “Usually, I ran the catering service with my parents with Tribe. I would see a friend who played mas, but I would chill out.”
This year, the duo will return for Lost Tribe’s presentation Riddim, providing percussive sound. They also look forward to another round of performances in North America.
With these musical adventures under his belt, Thompson said he looks forward to more journeys. One of them may be a return to music education, a field of study which he began at SAM’s School of Accounting and Management soon after leaving St Anthony’s College. Learning to read music to drums carries value, he said.
But all he really wants to do is play until his arms drop off.