Written and Photographed By: Michael Raab
For Michael Hanson, one led him to the other.
For Michael Hanson, the music came first. “Music started at age nine,” Michael said, “and I went pro at age twelve.” This was in Brooklyn. “My first band in New York was called Amazing Grace. One singer, drums, keys, bass guitar, three horns and finally a new addition—congas and percussion. That would be me! This was back in the mid-70s. Almost all bands were large to cover all types of music. I played in a lot of Latin bands. It was not always about the money. Sometimes it was about the music.” Through a cosmic twist, Michael’s music wound up leading him to martial arts.
“During college I took up Judo and basic Karate, but really could not take hold of those styles,” Michael said. “My band manager was going to Long Island for Kung-Fu lessons and took me along. I was nineteen. The rest is history. Nine years later I was a Black Belt of Jeet Kune Do Kung-Fu.” Michael is now Master Sifu (Master Instructor 9th Degree Black Belt) of Wu-Su School of Jeet Kune Do Kung-Fu at Mike’s Music & Health Studios in Rocky Point. His place, of course.
What exactly is Jeet Kune Do Kung-Fu? Well, “It was invented by Bruce Lee,” Michael explained, “and it means ‘the way of intercepting fist.’ Learn and use everything that works for you and don’t waste time on the stuff that doesn’t. JKD (Jeet Kune Do) has American boxing, wrestling, Judo, Jujitsu, Karate, Muay Thai, Wing Chun, Shaolin arts, and many others with no end in sight. JKD covers a lot of styles. No need to study anything else.”
Then about five years ago, Michael came up with the concept of his ensemble Pamoja!, which means “togetherness” in Swahili. “The main theme was interracial, intercultural people who wanted to play more than just play for money,” Michael said. “The music is different like the band is different. Most of Pamoja!’s music is not played by other groups, so when we play the people will remember us because they will say ‘I never heard that song before.’ Pamoja! is funk with a jazz, Latin, reggae flavor.”
Pamoja! band members include: Tanarsha Hunter (vocals, percussion), Wendell Hansley (vocals, steel pan), Jeff Coble (bass), Dr. Dan Maggio (drums and percussion), Dayvon Walton (background vocals, trumpet, percussion), Keith DeLoatch (background vocals, trombone, percussion), Bennet Estephane-Bertie (congas, percussion), Martin Duncan (congas and percussion), Jonathan King (vocals, keys) and, of course, Michael Hanson, the band director who does it all.
Some of the familiar setlist titles include “Shining Star” by Earth, Wind and Fire, “Thank You” by Sly and the Family Stone, “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” by Gloria Estefan, and “Ain’t Nobody” by Chaka Khan. Pamoja! is also working on a CD of all original music. Titles include “Mels Funk” and “Drum Talk” by Michael Hanson, “Can’t Live Without You” and “Que Bonita” by Dale Flaverney, and an arrangement of “It’s About The Hat” by Michael Raab.
Mike’s Music & Health Studios in Rocky Point visually illustrates this music/martial arts dichotomy. As you enter the building, a display case of martial arts paraphernalia is to your immediate right. Beyond that is an isolated control room with a 32-track digital recorder. Then there are pieces of various exercise equipment around the room, and a set of drums in the left corner. “Ninety-five percent of musicians think my studio is a great idea, and some join the martial arts side while doing their project over time. They say it is a perfect combo. And my martial arts students believe music is the calm, relaxed state before a storm. Instead of using a deadly art like Kung-Fu, they try to defuse bad thoughts with music.”