My name is Swen Froemke, and I have the best job in the world- providing the global drumming community with high quality skins and drumheads! Not only am I able to bring my dog, Pepa, to work with me, but also get to work with my best friend and music collaborator Ryan. Ryan “Manito” Wendel and I met in college at the University of Georgia in 1997 at Hugh Hodgson School of Music. At the time I was studying business, but was more interested in music than anything. I played an assortment of instruments with various bands, and had a great deal of fun. Athens, Georgia has a reputation for being a sort of musical mecca in the southeast United States. Luckily, there were plenty of opportunities to get involved in music projects. At the School of Music, we studied with Dr. Arvin Scott, specifically a class entitled African American Percussive Music: From Africa to the Americas. This class basically traced the diaspora of African Folkloric music. The class brought to light just how Africans influenced music culture in the United States and tore down all walls of ethnocentricity. We also had the option of joining the UGA Hand Drumming Ensemble, which we took full advantage of. Among the venues in which we were able to perform, Hodgson Hall really impressed me in terms of the construction and acoustics. I mean you can literally hear every sonic nuance! While Ryan and other students including Eric Cosby, Kane Stanley and Luke Smith began studying Haitian Folklore, I built my first digital audio workstation, and began the process of learning how to make recordings. In 1998 Ryan and the guys invited me to join them in learning Haitian Folklore and play these songs for a dance troupe, Dans Danbala, led by an amazing dancer Ellen Blier. This was a great opportunity to play for extended periods of time, build strength and skill, understand how the drumming synced with the dances, and build close relationships within the drumming community. In addition, we took the time to understand drum construction in the past, present and what drums might look like in the future. We also became keenly aware of the language of tonality, and how it related to technique as well as skin type and thickness. Dans Danbala performed until 2007, but we continue to include these songs in our repertoire as Moyuba. Moyuba is a five-member Afro-Caribbean percussion ensemble that began performing in 2000, and still plays a few gigs a year. When we get together it’s like being back in school with constant ribbing, deep laughs, brotherhood and a great deal of love. None of this would have been possible without the dissemination of knowledge and information. I’m so thankful for all the time that our growing drumming community has taken to teach the next generation.
It took a while to save money to buy microphones, cables, preamps, compressors, limiters, effects, stands, acoustic treatment, monitors, headphones, instruments and a place to build a studio. In 2001 I recorded a band called Breakheartbeat and sent the digital files via Internet to Chicago to be mixed. Two weeks later I heard one of the songs on NPR in a segment Under the Radar. I was hooked on the art of recording. Until 2008, we recorded everything from Country to Pop to Hip Hop, including Moyuba, and had a great deal of fun. In the wake of the economic recession, I sold the studio and went back to school to study another passion- cooking.
I worked as a chef at restaurants in Athens, including Speakeasy, Farm255, Five&Ten, and Cinco y Diez. Later I got into general management, and was able to further utilize my business skills and hone excellent customer service. Then this past September, while celebrating Ryan’s birthday, he asked me if I would be interested in joining Manito Percussion to handle the skins and drumheads side of the business. I of course got very excited about the prospect of getting to transition back to the music industry.
When I was a kid there was Hammond solid state organ in the living room. It fascinated me in that it had a percussion section with buttons you depressed with labels like Rumba, Foxtrot, Samba, Bossa Nova and Rock. The really cool thing about the buttons was that you were able to depress any of them enabling polyrhythms that blew my mind. The black and white keys were also like a magnet for me. I began to understand harmony and tone. There was also an upright piano and accordion to compare and contrast. The accordion lived in the guest bedroom closet. I would go in there, close the door and sit on the floor with it, as I wasn’t big enough to hold in my lap. It had so many buttons for the left hand that were just amazing harmonically. On the face there were many buttons that allowed for changes in the timbre of the right hand as well as the left. I was enamored by the idea that wind directed through reeds was able to make such beautiful sounds. I began formal music training on piano at age nine with my aunt Marcy. She had a very shiny, black Steinway baby grand in her living room. I enjoyed learning music theory and composition, but after a few years I was compelled to try different instruments. There was a silver alto saxophone in the attic that belonged to our late uncle Ben in Chicago. With some refurbishing the sax worked well for a couple years, but I really didn’t care for the sound of the instrument in my hands. It was time for another switch, this time to snare drum. I played my sturdy Ludwig snare and other percussion instruments in middle school band for several years. This is where I learned how to use sticks, mallets and all sorts of beaters to mark time. The piano training really helped on xylophone, marimba and vibraphone. The vibraphone is still one of my favorite instruments to this day. Once I got to high school I bought an acoustic guitar, electric guitar and amplifier. Guitars were fun, portable and loved by the girls. I would spend countless hours in my bedroom with a dual cassette recorder and a tiny Panasonic microphone laying down ideas. I think this is when my love for recording probably developed. At age eighteen I bought my first drum set. It was a set of naturally finished maple 1969 Slingerlands. My poor parents put up with so much noise, but allowed creative freedom. I realized quickly that I had a strong affinity for drums, and bought a Meinl Marathon Quinto and Conga and began learning technique. This is right around the time I moved to Athens and enrolled at the University of Georgia. Now I’ve come full circle.
It is my goal to continue to learn about skins and drums in an effort to pass along this knowledge to my son and our community in a way that is transparent and easy to understand. I am grateful for the opportunity to positively and sustainably contribute to the music industry and specifically our community of drummers and percussionists. I pledge to source the highest quality skins for your drums, and commit to providing you with excellent, handmade, pre-mounted drumheads.