Australia’s favourite little kids’ show is returning to Byron Bay! Congo and Bongo have been wowing audiences around Australia and overseas for the past 14 years.
One of the men behind the monkeys is Xavier Beaubois. He spoke with The Echo about his monkey business.
Xavier, what is your musical background?
I started playing a bit of guitar and bass in high school. I started drumming in my mid-twenties while traveling though east Africa and it quickly became all I wanted to do. Throughout the next few years I travelled around different countries with a drum, and had many wonderful experiences with it. Eventually I learned to carve and skin African drums and began making and selling them while I traveled through Central America. I was taught to make African drums by a Guatemalan shaman man, who was taught by a German.
Eventually I found my way back to Australia and tried to make drums as a job for a few years. I took some formal lessons and began performing in a local West African Ensemble led by a Senegalese teacher. I began busking and performing more and more until that became my main source of income. Then the Monkeys happened and that has now been a very fun 14-year journey.
What inspired you to create a show for kids?
We were struggling musicians, trying to make a living out of playing and making African drums. One day we (Troy Moore and I) were busking in the Adelaide Mall and we weren’t making as much money as usual that particular day. We wondered why, as the quality of the drumming was good… and then we found our answer. A very cute 8-year-old girl was 200 metres up the mall, playing her little drum. She played quite well for an 8-year-old, had a crowd five deep, and more money than her mum could carry.
That evening I was playing with my then-2-year-old daughter Kira, when I picked up her little monkey, and played a drum with its hands. She laughed so hard, and I think she even said ‘Djummin Monkey’. That was a lightbulb moment, and the concept was born.
What are the challenges of creating a show for a young audience?
Creating something that you as a parent would like to watch as well, without compromising the children’s experience. For me, it also had some sort of point. It’s very tempting to delivery silly songs that mean nothing but get the little ones wiggling and giggling – but I reckon that when you have a captive audience of little sponges in front of you, you may as well give them something positive in the content.
How do you evolve and grow the show each year?
Very slowly. It’s a busy modern world, and with kids to grow and rent to pay the reality is that there are only so many hours in the week to be creative. Every year at the Adelaide Fringe Festival we try to develop a new theme, or a variation on an old theme. The structure of the show has stayed very similar, but we are consistently adding new elements.
Why do you think the Drumming Monkeys worked?
The show has something for everyone and stays lively, varied and interactive. Parents and kids laughing, dancing and drumming together with heartwarming messages running in the background – it’s a well-rounded experience.
How do the kids relate to the monkeys?
Kids seem to be drawn to slightly older kids as their main inspiration (their immediate future). The size of the monkeys makes them seem like they are about eight years old, and most of our crowd are 3–5, so I think they see them as slightly older. I think this is one of the reasons that the monkeys have such an amazing effect on little kids.
How do you differentiate the monkeys’ personalities? Tell me a little about the two of them?
Bongo and Congo are quite different. Bongo is the older, wiser monkey who delivers a lot of the messages, and kind of hosts the show. He speaks to the adults as much as the kids. Congo is the younger, more enthusiastic monkey who provides a lot of the comedic and cute factor, and is especially popular with the little ones.
What should we expect for your Byron shows in January?
Expect to have a lot of fun and see kids and parents laughing, dancing drumming together.
The amazing Drumming Monkeys at the Byron Scout Hall on Thursday 4 January. 10.30am. Cost is $10 per person or $35 for a family of four.