What is drumming really about?
Of course our beloved traditional hand drumming is about musicality, technique, history, culture, education, spirituality, devotion,self expression, creativity, love and I am sure I missed a few things.
“Anke Dje Anke Be” means come to gather in peace in the Melinke language of the Mali Empire (the Bambara say anka gnogogne). It also means unity and the djembe drum symbolizes unity.
According to my Mali Drum friend Djembe Fola Djembe Thunder, “Now djembe is from djama be. Which turned out to become djembe or djinbe or jenbe. Djembe means people have gathered djama is crowd be is are there the crowd is there drama be”.
Bata, the sacred drum originating from the Yoruba people of West Africa and then in Cuba and now in the USA means to “play together as one”. The goal is that all three drums sound like one drum.
According to master drummer Abdoulye Diakite, the word Djembe comes from Djembe Bara which means, “unity of the drum”.
To me one of the most important things in drumming be it Afro Cuban, West African, Haitian, Brazilian or whatever, is unity. Community. Positivity. Support. We are one big family that shares a common love, the drum. It goes beyond music and its about brotherhood/sisterhood. We are one big family of drummers. Drummers and drumming should be about our mutual love and admiration for the drum.
It is about inclusion and not exclusion.
If a drummer and therefore a drum brother or sister comes to my class, gig, or session and I don’t know them, they are always welcome to participate on some level based on their skill set. Much of my life is spent meeting new people and friends from around the globe and sharing with them as they share with me.
This is the beauty of our art and passion, We can make friends simply by being who we are and sharing a common passion. You are welcomed where I am. When I travel I am constantly amazed at the great connections, the instant friends I have when i meet others with the same passion.
If you can play up to caliber or better then I will invite you to sit in at my gig. I am not threatened, I enjoy it. It adds, it does not subtract. Drop the territory boundaries. Drop the ego. Drop the fear of someone new coming into your circle, your sphere or your drum life. Drumming is about unity and coming together.
I dont care how good you play, if you do not understand that drumming is about love and positivity, about sharing and inviting in others, about unification.. then you are missing the real meaning of drumming. It is not about showing off, who has the most chops and who is the big boss. That is ego.
And mis identifying ego and drumming is a big mistake. Because if you are not drumming from the heart, if you are worried about being the best, if you are worried about someone else taking your spot then you are missing it.
Too many of us are caught up in what is ours, who is in or who is out and we forget that drumming is about sharing and “unity of the drum”. If there is a good drummer invite them in, don’t be scared! If it is a beginner teach them or show them the way. it’s O.K. to be kind! Drumming comes from an oral tradition. Unless you speak up people won’t know. it is up to us to educate each other, otherwise things can get out of hand.
Too much time is wasted criticizing each other, each others playing style, each others instruments. Cutting others heads to make ours look better. I see it all the time on the internet and I say to myself, “the time these people are spending complaining and criticizing could be much better used practicing their drums or giving positive energy to these same people they are cutting down and therefore help them”. Instead of complaining come up with a way to help resolve situations and be constructive.
I am here saying support each other. Encourage each other. Jealousy is a jail sentence of misery. Not only for others but for yourself. Get over it and appreciate others playing styles even if it is different then yours. There is beauty in diversity.
We westerners get caught in “there is only one right way to do things” mentality. When I have lived in different countries where this drum music originates from I have seen first hand that there are many different ways to play the same rhythm and there are many different ways to hit the drum. There are many different drums. It is all similar from the same family, its all related, But there is no one way/only way!
Sometimes in my travels I meet very beginning drummers that think they are very advanced. This happens almost all the time. I am not sure what it is about the drum that makes us think we have it all, we do not need to learn or study and we are “the man”. It is a false notion.
Their teachers have allowed them to play in performances, or in classes and they can not even play the most basic accompaniment parts correctly. But they are paying the bills so they are allowed to play. These people may have also been told how great they play by friends or family or people that really have no clue. And when someone who knows how to play, or plays better comes through they feel very threatened and insecure and they get territorial.
Teachers need to teach beyond rhythm patterns and techniques, they also need to teach the students humility and humbleness. To respect others with more experience or less. To be accepting of others and also that drumming represents unity and therefore love. Just showing students patterns and soloing endlessly is not a great example of how to drum or what drumming is about.
Indeed the drum speaks to all of us and we feel an immediate connection to it the first time we hit it. I know I did and I often see the light turn on in peoples eyes the first time they hit a drum. But this is the call to the drum, that is all. Don’t mistake the call to the drum for knowledge of the drum. it is the connection but we still need a large body of knowledge to play it and to understand it.
If this is not your culture please remember you and I will always be a student. Don’t push your western value system on to it and demand it fit your needs. Please be respectful of the culture it comes from and the drum itself. The drum is not a toy, it is an instrument with a history, a meaning and a culture with it and behind it as well.
I am not here to cut down “play shops” or the percussion = toys in a sandbox philosophy that often gets promoted by drum circle facilitators. I just want to make sure that in this fun interpretation the fact the drum is an actual instrument does not get lost. It is something that needs to be studied and learned just like any other instrument.
No matter how good you play, if you do not have love in your heart for other people and for the other drummers and if you are coming from a place of fear, anger or jealousy, that is all you will be expressing when you play. I dont care how much you smile or how many techniques you know. If there is not love in your heart, if you are not sharing the spirit of love, it is not going to come out right.
We all have egos, some big, some small. And thats fine, but I want to remind everyone that despite the Youtube video they might have seen, a ballet style performance, a dance class they have experienced or even the drum circle…. that it is not about “being the man”, playing the fastest or the loudest. It is about coming together. Drop the ego and you will really receive an incredible gift.
You have to leave your ego at the door. Before you take a class, play for a class or drum with others. I am always humbled by the greatness of my teachers. Ego death is a constant for me. Because I know I am a student, I try to keep a beginners mind. I know my teachers are great. I have lived and studied multiple times in West Africa, Cuba, Brazil and India to name a few. And the little kids can drum circle around me in all of these places.
Its easy to feel not good enough, yet knowing deeply that it is all about love, our passion, creativity and about the unity of the drum allows me to enjoy my own as well as others playing no matter what their playing level is. Everyone has something to offer! Know who you are and where you are at!
There is no place for territoriality in drumming. Open up! Being closed and closed minded stunts the growth and we all need to keep learning. If you think you do not need to learn more, you have learned it all..well, there is always something else to learn.
Please click on the link below, (master drummer speaks highlighted in brown) to hear a true drum master speak on the subject and philosophy of Djembe bara, “unity of the drum”!