I herd some Drummin

The World Drumming Group presentation was fun. The class looked like an eclectic group of part time drummers, but sounded very good. The traditional African beats didn’t hang on the bass as a backbone, the way modern western drums do. It reminded me of Caribbean religious drumming (similar origins). In these African derived drumming traditions, a small, high-pitched noise leads the drums like a conductor. It’s a good idea, since higher frequencies carry across large groups with less time lag and loss off definition. The Agogo bells that the drum leader used here probably have stories and symbolisms attached to them, just like the Asson does in Hoodoo drums. The Asson is used in similar ways, but also symbolises the Houdan who weilds it. Such a person stands somewhat apart from society, but his will to serve and protect is vital to the functioning of that society. For this reason, “to seize the Asson” is an expression in Haiti that means “learning sorcery”, “taking responsibility for people around you”, and “leading the drums”.

The West African beats also made me think of the sad but beautiful histories around the slave trade. It seems geographically odd that so much West African culture would come to us from places like Honduras and Brazil. Garifuna people actually come from a time when Carib Indians where incorporating unfortunate Africans into their societies. These natives from somewhere around present day Brazil had colonized the entire carribean, and conquered every group that resisted them. I can hardly imagine the West African who had survived a slaver ship, now on the run in an unknown foreign jungle, looking at these formidable warriors, and deciding that they were less likely to kill them than the slave traders. These unintentional African immigrants must have been brave and tough beyond measure. Another odd manifestation of the slave trade, and resulting cultural crossings, exists in Rastafarianism. This large group of people from the Caribbean islands (Caribbeans often refer to themselves as “Indian”, which is confusing) holds that the last royal family of Ethiopia produced the Messiah. This Rastafarian Messiah, Haile Selassi, traces his lineage back to King Solomon and Queen Saba of Ethiopia. I know these may seem like unrelated side tangents, but I can’t help but think of these incredible histories whenever I hear African traditional drumming, especially when there are Caribbean and South American influences apparent.

The Asian inspired improvisation was less impressive, because I couldn’t make out a repetition or tempo. I thought I heard elements of Japanese Taiko drumming though, in one of the other selections, which I love.

The leader of the drum group was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about world drumming traditions. I wanted to hear more drumming and less talking, but his presentation was still interesting and informative. He looked like he was really enjoying himself, and I started thinking about how I could get my hands on some dumbeks and djembes. The presentation made me miss hand drumming, which I haven’t done in about a year. A group of spectators under seven years old showed up, and he changed his presentation in order to keep their attention. I found the result comical.

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