Encountering the videos (mostly drum covers) from gregarious 10 year old Yoyoka Soma has definitely been one of the turn ups of lockdown for me, especially as it is often a treat to read comments from middle aged drummers agog at her displays. What they seem particularly struck by aside from her obvious technical prowess is the fact that Yoyoka has a deep ‘groove’ or ‘feel’ which is beyond her years, and according to one commenter something which sets her apart from the other child drummers on Youtube (I don’t know whether its justified to feel thankful that I haven’t seen any of the other child drummers on Youtube).
And this is probably why I have a sense of care in posting or forwarding videos involving children in music or art, because there is always that sneaking sense as to whether they are themselves the engine of their work and its promotion, or whether this is coming from someone else.
Sometimes, its plainly just an expression of an extraordinary joyful act and rarely has it also appeared so professionally focused and embodied as it is with Yoyoka and her family. One simply has to watch where she is talking about how they make her videos or where she receives her first signature range sponsored kit, explaining the process of choosing her drums, the different woods involved in each, the thickness of the laminate and the contrasting qualities of the sound which endeared her. It is at this point clear that her engagement is on the level of absolute craft, allied with all that goes with being able to play and improvise at an apex level of capability.
There is often with children a clear perspective on something mostly lacking in adults, the care-free, fluent contact with play and joy, but this can also occasionally be allied with something else, the outcome of joining with others in a consistency of play that engenders different dynamics of the possible. This is what I thought was so joyful about CMB (Children’s Medieval Band) the understanding of and commitment to the vitality of their individual contribution in its own intensity, regardless of scale or ‘power’ of individual sounds. Something which you can see they understand almost entirely within the moment of collectivity and its play.
Though I also credit Yoyoka with showing and teaching me more about drums from watching her play than anyone before (and I’ve been around drummers for years). More than anything this is the element of focus that’s invovled in simply watching a drummer and hearing their contribution foregrounded in the mix. However, simply making the capacity to elevate this as a subject of interest and focus is itself noteworthy. Notwithstanding that it is being undertaken to an extraordinary proficiency by a ten year old, who was playing Led Zeppelin covers at 7. In fact, there is footage that presages all of this from when Yoyoka was 4.
It’s interesting how much taking in these videos is an all round process that incarnates feedback. Comments to Yoyoka’s videos are full of wonder and exclamation, people regularly point out that watching has helped them with depression and ennui. Its also that her playing generally has the effect of re-energising the song as well as its impact, this in a way which almost as by-product emphasises the rhythmic, the engine and percussive power of the song. In this way, my interest and most recent return to Rage Against the Machine through Yoyoka has been a thoroughly worthwhile endeavour. I was genuinely moved on a few occasions by the Bulls on Parade cover (top of page) – their absolute commitment to the heavy rock refrain as a source of minimal and brutal sonic power is a thing of real beauty, absolutely lit up by Zack De La Rocha’s verses and delivery, a fire within a fire. That rarest of things, a protest group that enshrines a level of energetic momentum and artistic capability – that the music can still exist in its own authentic terms, but has a capacity to also energise against prevailing macro-emplaced systems of repressive power.
One of the things I specifically realised from Yoyoka’s cover of Bulls on Parade and re-uniting with this song was how much fused and laser-like energy comes into the end of the song the moment they re-incorporate the very first riff. An elementally simple refrain (although its clearly fair to point to Jimmy Page and Led zeppelin as key instigators of this form).
There’s also the realisation that the moment Yoyoka cuts loose, that cutting loose, is actually the process of taking the action, the moment, the skills involved – to the next level of fluency and possibility. as one comment puts it in relation to a cover of Jamiroquai by Yoyoka (just below) :
Those 8 seconds starting 3:12… dude. You don’t ‘learn’ how to do that. That’s something that’s just there on the table and is so heavy and out of reach most of us can’t pick it up or even stretch enough to touch it…
Quite understandably Yoyoka has become something of an internet sensation, seemingly as committed to a joyful approach as possible in action and undertaking. She has guest drummed at live events with Cyndi Lauper and Fall Out Boy and has been releasing music alongside the videos which stretch back a number of years. To this end, what I am most taken with in the song ‘Happy’ by Yoroka (from when she was 8) is its brilliant mutant rise of the very final ‘Happy’ in the chorus invocations. It feels like there is something going on which says something deeper than the normal meaning of the word itself. On the second of these particular ‘Happy!’s during the video below I think Yoyoka is momentarily caught expressing it, before she returns. What a presence.
While just around the corner….