Paul Staal started out in the hospitality industry and then ended up in sound engineering for five years, but both took a toll on his world and well-being, so 15 years ago he decided to do what makes him happy, and that turned out to be making didgeridoos.
The world of sound is multi-layered, and the primal resonances that the Australian didgeridoo produces intrigue Paul: each one is unique, each has its own voice/tone/note/timbre – and he believes that each didgeridoo chooses its owner, not the other way around.
“There’s nothing like seeing someone hear a didge for the first time, especially one which resonates with them. I use the word primal because it elicits such a deep response; sometimes people don’t even know how to react at first, there’s just a recognition that this sound, this didge is for them,” says Paul.
He played the didgeridoo for years before his love of its uniqueness and his curiosity led him to learn the art of making the instrument, which he does now from his home in Kirstenhof.
Then, he experimented fearlessly with all kinds of materials, including plastic and fibreglass, before settling on the Agave plant as his chosen muse, for its beautiful resonance and warmth, as well as for its unique shape and natural features.
Paul chooses stalks that have individual character and very often an exaggerated bell-end. He is captivated by the wood, and has a long-standing arrangement with a family member whose land in the Eastern Cape is abundant with them. So the plant is natural, straight from the source, and his hands are guided into making each piece, an individual.
His hands are actually vital to all of his work – his exploration of what it means to be an awakened and conscious human being also led him to study Shiatsu massage (which is always received fully clothed, he stressed) and the energy work of Reiki.
He says each didge he makes is naturally infused with the gentle energy of Reiki. “Each didge and each drum I make is a meditation of being in the moment: so each has a character, and I usually name them from what I get, spiritually, while working on them,” he says.”
He also has a policy of not holding onto the creations, saying they are created for people to use for their own enjoyment and healing.
Paul’s immersion in sound has also led to him making adjustments to what is known as the cajó* drum, which originated from slave ships which travelled between Africa and South America – making a modern version of the Peruvian drum and creating an adjustable, portable instrument.
“I believe that by balancing our bodies physically and energetically we are able to operate optimally in day to day life, creating and maintaining joy in our lives continuously,” says Paul.
Sound has long been considered healing, anyone who has ever been moved by drum song, or relaxed by meditative music knows inherently the power that it has to transform mood.
When Paul refers to sound journeys with the didge, he is referring to its ability to lift the listener out of their immediate world, and go somewhere emotionally pleasing.
Paul says music, with the only possible exception of heavy metal, is central to his life, and he has regular gigs with his brother, David.
Over the past year, his yen for connection and exploration in sound has led him to the community centre hall in Kalk Bay, doing what he refers to as sound journeys.
These are collaborations, in a similar understanding to jazz, where he plays the didge, and the sound is accompanied by improvised dance. The two art forms, music and dance, feed off one another and inform one another in an unrehearsed perform- ance.
The didgeridoo has its own definitive signature, but its not all mystical, the USA National Institutes of Health (NIH) says regular playing of the didgeridoo reduces sleep apnea and snoring and also improves the sleep quality of their partners.
The Mayo Clinic also recommends it in a recent book, The Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies, and Rubin Naiman, PhD, an internationally recognised leader in integrative sleep and dream medicine and clinical assistant professor of medicine, at the Univer- sity of Arizona, says: “Learning to play the didgeridoo is emer- ging as a surprisingly effective and practical strategy for managing snoring and sleep apnea symptoms. I encourage all my patients with these concerns, to discuss this option with their doctors.”
To view clips of the didg- eridoos that Paul has made, you can visit: www.dragoncreations. co.za