The Freedom Boot
Groanbox has a new Freedom Boot, made from beechwood cut by Cory at his folk’s place in Maryland, turned by Michael in Florida, with a wizard headstock carved by Axel Heim in Poole, UK, a boot donated to Paul by a classical guitarist in Halifax, Canada, featuring 420 custom made Groanbox bottle caps, sheeps wool wizard hair from Clifford’s Mesne, Gloucestershire, and burgeoning mojo from travels around the world.
Here is a video of the new Freedom Boot, filmed in Kent, featuring Paul Clifford, and produced by Tom Askew:
A World History of the Freedom Boot
What exactly is the Freedom Boot? We do not really know ourselves for sure, but we do know that it is entangled in discrete historical and folkloric traditions from around the world. Having found a comprehensive online resource on this type of percussion to be lacking, we have decided to synthesize what we have found along the way to provide a global perspective of what could otherwise be poorly interpreted as an instrument anchored in a particular folk tradition or musical style. To begin, the following is a list of countries/cultures known to have incorporated a Boot-like percussive stick in their musics, along with their moniker for it, and a link to more precise information:
-Central Asia, chaghana, châpeau chinois, Turkish crescent, pavillon chinois. An article on the pavillon chinois
-Germany, schellenbaum, Wiki article in German, Photo here.
-Great Britain, mendoza or mendozer, zob stick, monkey stick, Jingling Johnny Wikipedia article on the monkey stick and Wiki on Jingling Johnny
-New Foundland, CA, ugly stick. Wiki
article, and image of the ugly stick: second
-New Zealand, bushwhacker
-Turkey, the Turkish Crescent, the Turkish jingle. Wiki article. A great photo. An academic article.
David Bruce is a British-American composer, living and working in St. Albans, UK. We met David last year and struck up a friendship. He became so intrigued by our Freedom Boot that he built his own unique “lagerphone” and wrote a part for it in his piece Piosenki, which was premiered at Carnegie Hall on April 15, 2007. More information about his instrument and photos from the performance are here.
Do you know of any other names for percussion that resembles our Freedom Boot or countries/cultures that use it? We are positive that this type of instrument exists in west Africa and maybe elsewhere in Africa, but could not find information on it. Have any more info? We’d love to hear from you, so don’t hesitate to Email us!
The Boot as a Mystical/Spiritual Symbol
We have explored the deeper spiritual significance of the Boot and the way in which it frequently transcends a purely musical function in the different folk traditions. In many cases, it was and is not just a percussive device but also an ornament adorned with symbols and iconography of religious, spiritual,
or philosophical/metaphysical importance. The Shamans of north Asia used staffs or sceptres to represent the power of the universe. With such a staff, it was believed that a shaman had the power to pass on the universal knowledge to others. They were frequently adorned with various symbols that had percussive
qualities. Some were called “drumsticks”, made of either a stick that terminated in a horse’s head and ended in a hoof to symbolize a magical flying horse, or a thin rod covered with a snake’s skin with long ribbons hanging from the snake’s mouth – when the drum was beaten, the fluttering of the ribbons brought to mind the darting of a snake’s tongue..
In Japan, ornamented staves known as Haraibou were used by the miko (Japanese female exorcists) to fight demons in age old Japanese lore.
The descendant of these mystical sceptres was the Turkish Crescent (Turkey), aka the châpeau chinois (China), a “Chinese clip hat” used in ceremonial music and dance. Both the Crescent and the clip hat consisted of wooden poles topped by one or more metal crescents with horsetail plumes of different colors hanging from the sides. Tiers of bells and jingles were suspended from lavish ornaments so that when the pole was held vertically and shaken or twisted, a rich mixture of bright colors and metallic tones resulted. This was incorporated into military bands as a multi-functional device ranging from rhythm keeper to good luck charm to symbol of rank (based on the plumage affixed to the top of the staff).
How to make The Groanbox ‘Freedom Boot’
Our boot is a synthesis of the newer boot and bottle cap tradition with the older shamanistic motifs. Since each instrument is unique, we recommend that you decorate your boot in any way you see fit. Ours is made from a six foot long by 2″ in diameter pine dowel, coated in a protective varnish, with 420 golden bottle caps screwed on, a large black boot screwed in from the bottom, and decorated with mementos from our travels including: Indian ghungroo percussive bells or “shackles” as we refer to them, an African ebony-carved fist, sheep toe nails from Bolivia, a Guatemalan charm bag full of “worry people”, a Hindi peace sticker, rings from a coin-operated Carnie toy dispenser, and relics obtained or bestowed upon us by those whose spirits were drawn into the mystical pull of the Boot’s anomic force. Check out live clips of the boot in action (click right arrow to forward to next vid):