Owner and head facilitator of Harmonics, Paul Boyter, doesn’t have a music degree and can’t read music. What he can do is read drum notation and he has a genius knack for finding new instruments to master. As part of our “Live life inspired” series theSQUAD spoke to Paul (who helps us with employee engagement events) about how he went from “traveling hippy” to drummer, sound therapist and a yogic gardener.
How did you get to be a drumming facilitator - activating and guiding audiences?
I fell into this work by complete accident. When I was in high school, I started playing a hollow wooden pipe called a didgeridoo, which was brought to South Africa by a friend of mine whose family visited Australia over the school holidays. I figured out how to play it relatively quickly.
So you taught yourself?
Back in 1995 there was no Google; no one knew what a didgeridoo even was! In 1996 I left school and travelled around the country - busking at markets, selling hand made didgeridoos. In 1997 I came across a new shop that had opened up in Greenside called the Drum Café. I walked into the shop to try and sell some of the didgeridoos I had made. The manager of the shop asked me to play them, so he could see how they sounded.
As I was playing, the owner of the shop walked in and stopped to listen to me playing away with my eyes closed. When I finished and opened my eyes, he excitedly asked if I would like to be on one of his drumming interactive functions. I agreed, not knowing what I was heading into!
That’s the universe telling you something!
Yes, on my first gig I watched Warren Lieberman lead a crowed of people through an interactive drumming session, while I was patiently waiting for my cue. He finally gestured at me towards the end of the drumming and I played for five minutes to a crowd of people who had never heard such warm sounds exiting out of a hollowed out tree trunk before. It was here that everything changed for me and I found my new path away from being a traveling hippy.
What did you learn next?
During my time at Drum Café I learned to play the African drum (djembe) as well as other African percussive instruments. I did a long trip into West Africa where I learned more drumming techniques from the Ghanaian towns and villages I stayed in.
In 2006 while working for Drum Café, I met a crazy boy band called 1st Project – a bunch of misfits who played topless. This was a joke at first but then it became the band’s iconic image - 4 topless dudes beating the living crap out of their drums.
We had gotten to know one another on a three month road show for Standard Bank, which was the best fun we had all had, flying around South Africa and other African countries on our own private chartered flight. We had a crew of 15 musicians and I was the lead facilitator - leading massive shows - the biggest of which was held at the Standard Bank arena for 6000 staff members.
The guys and I had loads of fun and they soon asked me to join the band as a facilitator and a performer with both my didgeridoo and my newly prized instrument the ‘Hang’ (Handpan), which once again not many people had ever heard of.
The hang has such a great sound…
Yes and I began to realize that I had a knack for picking rare instruments, which has not changed. I love collecting world instruments or any instrument that fascinates me. I generally will not know how to play it, though the longer Iplay around with it; the more I am guided towards something pleasant to listen to.
From 2006 till 2008 I played a few gigs with 1st Project which then lead me to being in their SAMA nominated DVD “Play it to break it” which was shot at Sandton Theater on the Square. I was doing so many gigs at this point between Drum Café and 1st Project - about 30 functions a month!
What things were really life changing for you?
From 2008 till 2010 I was practicing yoga almost twice a day; I became very fit and life was super - laced with fun gigs around the world and throughout Africa.
In 2010 I left Drum Café while remaining a performance drummer in 1st Project. During this time I also decided to take my yoga more seriously, becoming a part time instructor at first. At first, this newfound Zen didn’t sit well with the band but they soon learned to accept it. During this time I also decided to learn reflexology while performing gigs at night. I studied, practiced and soon completed my diploma in reflexology and meridian therapy in 2011.
Yoga and topless drumming – an interesting combination?
Yes, during the day I was a yogi/healer of the foot. By night I was a topless, crazed drummer. In 2015 the rock star life style had become boring for me, my relationship with the band had become strained and life was beginning to take on a whole new meaning. I left the band remaining a dep drummer for gigs here and there but it was mostly over for me.
And then you started Harmonics?
In 2015 I opened my company “Harmonics”, having absolutely no business skills what so ever. I decided to figure it all out, just like every thing else I have ever done. I started with doing yoga and reflexology only, no music at all, except for the occasional sound journey, which isa meditative sound experience.
At first all seemed well but after a year I felt very unhappy with this new direction. Working on people’s feet will do that to you. What I had realized was that most people prefer being told what to do rather then owning the changes they needed for real healing to take hold. People are inherently doubtful and negative towards themselves, which formed many of the unhealthy habits and neurosis they suffered from.
It was becoming too much for me to listen to each of my clients needs and wants in their lives, especially if those wants lead to more stress. I realized that I am no hands on healer; I did not really want to be one any more.
Hence the shift in focus to music and audiences?
Yes, I have a vast amount of interests - most of them revolving around harmonious living. Being a student of life, I have realized that I like to play music, sing, dance, garden, build and ponder all of it with other individuals who also love sharing their experiences of life.
Can you pin point any life changing moments?
One of the biggest shifts in my life came when my mother passed away in 2008, a day after my birthday. I had left South Africa for a short tour of the USA Drum Cafes, to share and learn as well as to touch base with the San Francisco Drum Café.
The day I got the message of my mother’s heart attack I jumped on the first flight home. I made it in time to be at her side and to lead her through the death process. She held on for two days and passed the day after my birthday on the 8 of March.
It is life changing when you watch a loved one crossing over; it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. My mother was the last family member in South Africa, my father had died when I was 14 and my brother left SA in 1999. He lives in New Zealand now.
It took me five years to realize that I was actually in a cloud of depression and the only thing that helped me out, was doing all the yoga and reflexology. Here I was thinking it was to help others, when in actual fact it was about getting in touch with myself.
All the mindfulness courses, 20 years of meditation and loads of philosophy books gently guided me out of my cloud, as well as some very important mentors -Dr David Wepener and Angelic Pieplenbosch.
What started your change in smoking, eating and drinking?
It’s the yoga! In 2005, I started Kundalini yoga with my girlfriend at the time, did loads of breathing exercises during the class, only to come out to the car to roll a smoke (yes I rolled my own).
We laughed at how un-yogic our behavior was. I smoked from 1996 to 2010 - the year I started teaching as a yoga instructor. I had quit like nine times in my smoking years but always started again.
Starting a new life as a yogi meant I had to be the part, so I quit again and I have never looked back. During my yoga training we had to adopt a Sattvic diet. It is an Ayurvedic practice (Indian medicinal practice) where you stop all stimulants for four months - no coffee, sugar, salt, artificial anything and no meat.
Basically only pure vegetables and some fruit. Not a lot of fruit. After a month on this diet I felt truly amazing, coupled with my daily practice of an hour physical practice 30 minutes of breathing and 30 minutes of mediation.
I was already a vegetarian from the age of 17/18 but I was the worst kind, a “lacto veggie” meaning I ate mostly dairy and pasta, chips and of course coke. Veggies were a part of my diet but not as much as they should have been.
On gigs all the meat eaters used to tease me, “Go get more salad and bread Paul, you’re so thin.” Back then the term “vegetarian” was a rarity for most restaurants and takeaways, I mostly ordered toasted cheese and tomatoes with chips - I was so sick of salads as an option, as most spots did not know how to make a salad, well a salad worth eating - that is.
There were hardly any options for me most of the time. I tried being a vegan back in 2002. It lasted six months before I got really tired of always making meals for myself. It is a lot easier today with so many vegetarian and vegan options opening up in all take away spots and restaurants… But now I don’t eat take-out at all any more any way. I mostly eat at home.
What have you replaced them with?
Today the focus is very different as I am learning to grow most of my own food. Living on a farm offered me that opportunity. I have been growing food as a hobby for about six years now and I have really gotten to the point where I want to grow all our food through out the year. At the moment I am still setting up the infrastructure to do this kind of growing and I am hoping that one day it will become a new source of income.
What have been the physical / mental changes from changing what you consume?
The biggest changes came when I was experimenting with fasting and detoxing in various ways. These changes have affected the level of awareness I have around my relationships to people, things and food. I recognized very clearly how addicted I was to these various relationships because of what I was getting out of it.
This obviously leads down a deeper rabbit hole of discovery but in essence I have spent the last nine years unraveling how I would like to interact with the world. I don’t drink coffee any more but if it’s the only thing to drink I’ll drink it. I have drastically reduced my refined sugar consumption though I will eat a slice of cake at a party.
Remaining open and present with each situation is my biggest challenge, trying my best not to be biased or judgmental over how others choose to live nor to how the world operates. All I can do is be present with what I want for my own conscious development.
What inspires you daily?
Some days suck and others are awesome! Living a day with purpose inspires me. When I get a day that takes me away from that goal, I am thrown into either blind intolerant behavior or a more cultivated mental state of observation, one of patience and tolerance – firstly towards my self and for those situations that call for my attention even if I don’t want to do them. If I get it right on a day then I’m inspired.
What is your long term plan for life?
To live life in harmony with the environment and my self. Then I would like to share that with others. People have always asked me what I do for a living and I’ve always paused when they’ve asked me. I don’t think I can do one thing. I can do any thing but for now I’m a drummer, sound therapist and a yogic gardener. My website is www.harmonics.co.za.