The power and passion of their small hands, resonating on African drums, evokes an invigorating ancestral beat that cannot be denied.
The children’s talent and innate understanding of music and heritage, despite their young age, is evidence that there is a master mentor at work. His name is Herb “Pucci” Green.
For the 59-year-old Lafayette native, his troupe of boys and girls — Pucci Percussion — is the manifestation of a subconscious dream and a destiny he has come to embrace.
The popularity of his namesake troupe, which recently completed a master class at the Harlem School for the Arts, has required more than a commitment. He has accepted it as his calling in life.
While in New York in April, the group also performed, and is looking ahead to a tour toTrinidad in a year or so. In July, they will be in Dallas.
This Saturday, beginning at 1 p.m., it’s Pucci Percussion Cultural and Family Day at the McComb-Veazey Coterie, an opportunity to thank supporters who helped underwrite the trip to New York.
Through the years, Pucci Percussion has been Green’s personal validation for forsaking naysayers, and doing it his way. With a growing number of children and their parents following him, some might consider him a positive pied piper.
It would be more apt to simply say he is The Percussionist — their master mentor.
But his role entails more than teaching children how to play musical instruments. Green incorporates their history and heritage into his lessons, and provides tools for personal growth and professional success.
And that has made the difference and even helped to detour troubled children from a path of destruction.
The concept for Pucci Percussion began in 2011, two years before Green moved home from Atlanta.
“There were some kids in my neighborhood [in Atlanta] who knew I was a percussionist,” he says.
He enjoyed sharing his music with them.
But Green was surprised and somewhat dumbfounded when he visited his family in Lafayette and saw how children were consumed by gadgets and social media. Electronics had captured their attention, and they no longer enjoyed playing outside like he and his siblings had while growing up in the McComb neighborhood.
It was a friend, Annette Porter, seeing him performing with local jazz musician Jeremy Benoit, that sparked Green’s future career. Her daughter Leigha needed a live percussionist for her dance studio and he obliged. Not long afterward, she asked him: Why don’t you start teaching?
At the time, he had only one djembe drum. “I hadn’t planned on teaching a whole bunch of kids,” he says. But he decided, nonetheless: “Let me just go ahead and start.”
One day Denise Jolivette brought in one of her grandsons who was having problems in school with behavior.
Green taught him how to take out his grievances on his drum. She also brought her other two.
“And then word got out, and it expanded to 10 to 15 kids,” he says.
Before he knew it, things had started to mushroom. Whether they had problems or not, children wanted to become part of his group.
“I started buying drums for the kids out of my pockets,” he says. “As we grew, we added more instruments.”
By not being a nonprofit, he has had to struggle more to meet financial obligations. But he tries to keep his classes as affordable as possible. Besides a $125 registration fee, which covers a drum and uniform, costs are only $60 a month. He also allows for other musicians to teach seminars and workshops for his students.
Growth meant performances across the state — festivals, private functions, and lots of Juneteenth celebrations.
But Green’s focus has never waivered. Reaching children where they are and teaching them to excel has always been his goal.
“I’m training these kids to be professional and how to capitalize on the talents they have,” he says.
He is also teaching work ethic and how to approach life circumstances to his students.
The program has grown to 20 kids, ranging in age from three to 17 years old. “But if they want to continue beyond that,” he says, “I try to see them through high school.”
But even after they graduate, Green’s students remain forever a part of Pucci Percussion, and he keeps up with their endeavors, providing continuous guidance. “I care about them in whatever they choose to do,” he says. “I just try to provide that for them the best as I can.”
Green, who has a background in psychiatric care as a mental health technician, worries about today’s youth.
“Lots of kids are suffering from depression, anxiety,” he says. Praise is important, he says.
“Our kids crave acknowledgment. I’d like to see them acknowledged for the good things they do,” he says. “Music — it gives them an opportunity to talk to people around the world, that in some cases, are in dire situations. And our kids can realize the blessings they have.”
While working in the medical field, Green noticed just how much one’s childhood greatly impacted one’s life. He witnessed grown men having “juvenile tantrums.” And that is why he says: “A lot of men today — they’re dealing with what they didn’t deal with when they were kids.”
Through Pucci Percussion, Green wants to make sure his students follow the right path. “My motivating factors are to help these young kids do the things that are necessary so they can avoid the difficulties in life we face everyday,” he says.
When Green first decided to move to Atlanta years ago, he was facing his own challenges. There were few job opportunities in Lafayette other than in the oil and food service industries. Not working was depressing, and that struggle was compounded by relationship problems and the loss of a child.
Atlanta offered brighter skies. “It allowed me to see me from a different perspective as far as opportunities, adventures, and to be able to work on something I was passionate about,” he says.
But returning home led to a career he never anticipated.
“Here it is 10 years, and I can proudly say in those 10 years, I’ve reached at least 60 kids who turned around, come back, and say thank you,” he says.
What pleases him even more is that his students are aspiring to do great things with integrity, purpose and determination.
Having a role model makes all the difference. It did for Green who credits his late father, Herb Green, Sr., for his success. “He was really a big reason I went toward music because he introduced me to jazz,” he says.
Moreover, he notes that his father set the example as a provider, one who protects his family.
“He allowed me to be who I am,” he says. “When I was hurting I could go to my dad and cry. When I was in the military, my dad wrote me letters.”
What he holds close to heart are the words of his father: “Son, if you don’t apply yourself to do something, then your life will amount to nothing.”
He heeded his father’s advice. His mother, Renolia Green, taught him empathy, and how to relate to individuals at where they are in life.
Green not only teaches music, but he is passing on cultural awareness to his students.
“You come from a heritage whereby people are inventive,” he says he tells them. “The talking drum was the first form of a telephone. Villages would communicate with each other through the talking drum because they couldn’t travel over the forests.”
Green wants his students to understand that they come from a powerful and proud African background.
“Once you can identify yourself and become comfortable with yourself, you can do great things,” he says.