Island carpenter hears a global beatBruce Decker has another identity as WRIU world music DJ
There was something in the beat of those early Rolling Stones and Jethro Tull tunes, something not quite traditional, a little out of the ordinary.
Bruce Decker, DJ for WRIU’s world music show, World Wide Waves, attributes the “subliminal beat” of a few iconic British rockers to his lifetime fascination and passion for music from the far corners of the earth, particularly Africa. That fascination began in high school in 1970.
“World Music is any music, not just ethnic.” Decker comments and wonders why so many stations give global music such a “Smithsonian approach.” By that he means a bookish, scholarly presentation for something lively, interesting, and diverse, especially African pop music, his favorite genre.
“I like it when cross-cultural happens in music,” he says, adding you never know what might materialize when a Celtic band starts jamming with an African pop group (think the Afro Celt Sound System.).
In his present day life, Decker is a model for cross-cultural, be it on his world music show on WRIU or through his artistry and fine carpentry work. Both show his love for learning, creating and building a life that brings different cultures and styles together. In the summer of 1981, when he began the WRIU World Music program (one of the longest running music show of its kind in New England) there were some clues that his life would be eclectic, perhaps a little different.
In earlier days for instance, the 1970s, he studied guitar at the Guitar Study Center in New York City, run by Paul Simon’s brother Eddie. While in New York he got to hear Fela Kuti, the famous Afro pop musician play. He visited the Sounds of Brazil Club, which is still open in Manhattan, at a time when there were few white faces in the audience. He remembers when Peter Gabriel inaugurated the annual World of Music, Art and Dance (WOMAD) festival in England in 1986 (still happening).
Decker, in those days, played guitar himself, in coffeehouses around New Jersey with a no name folk and blues band, volunteering at WOMAD where he met Peter Gabriel and other world musicians. He learned how to build guitars and mandolins besides play them well. Then an accident to his left hand led him out of the music making business and down another path.
The times they are a-changing
The ‘70s and ‘80s were a period of time when artists and musicians, poets and writers, liked to mix it up, Decker remembers. When his life changed, so that musicianship could no longer be his central focus, there was still his love for architectural craftsmanship and woodworking. He studied as an apprentice in Providence under Taige Frid, a renowned furniture maker. He built picture frames and studio installations for the famous glassmaker Dale Chihuly.
But it was Halsey Herreshoff and the boat building business that got him up to Rhode Island. Herreshoff designed for a company called Squadron Yachts and Decker often did sub work for him. He attributes his early work with these world-renowned yachts to the sense of artistry and finesse he brings to his current fine carpentry.
“Woodworking for boats gets you in a sculptural frame of mind,” he says. Indeed. What Decker brings to an architectural project is always artistic and often one of a kind. There are Japanese inspired houses and gates, mantelpieces and stairways with banisters made from driftwood, crosses of styles between Arts and Crafts, Asian and Adirondack. He first came to Block Island to build stairs. And indeed at the current building project where he subs, he is overseeing the building of a circular stair.
His fascination for architecture led him in the 1990s to embark on a two-year study in England that culminated with a Masters Degree from the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies in York. His thesis focused on the conservation of thatched buildings. Want a thatched roof? Decker learned from the best, thatchers from Scotland and Ireland, and he says, the roofs are amazingly sound and need less maintenance than one might think. He also worked on a 12th century abbey and a 14th century banqueting house during his study abroad.
So inspired was one of his American clients that he asked Decker to give his custom built Japanese teahouse in southern Rhode island a thatched roof. Like most of this craftsman’s work, the finished building has many Asian features, but the thatched roof brings together east and west.
These days, Decker spends a lot of time on Block Island. He is part of a team completing a construction project for a compound of homes on the southeast side of the island. No doubt that simple structure, with its spiral staircase will hold some visual signs of Decker’s imaginative touch when it is finished. Perhaps one of his whimsical gates in the yard or an inspirational touch to a staircase.
Home is Narragansett, where the architecture of the famous firm of McKim, Mead and White, and their famous shingle style flourished in the late 1880’s. Perhaps those looking back in the year 2112 will see touches of Decker in southern Rhode Island, be it a Japanese inspired house, an artistic portal to a garden, or a whimsical staircase, all born out of one man’s imagination. Then, there is the music that underlies it all. Listen in if you want to be touched by a little of the magic that is Decker’s muse. Tune in Sundays from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., WRIU 90.3 fm.