Ignorance is bliss
Many of my friends and students who used to love and were super rock stars at the drum circles got bored there and started to learn traditional drumming. They got involved and into the west african djembe rhythms but now are having a hard time returning to the drum circle. They are not having fun there like they used to and are dis enchanted. They have expressed to me that their friends at the drum circle these days sometimes see them as elitists or having become “un social” or what was described recently to me as “lacking motivation”. And I have seen my students that have been studying traditional drumming standing there un inspired.
So what happened? When they were in the drum circle originally, many were coming from a place of ego, it’s all about me. ” I am the man”, “I am the best”. It was all fun, it was all raw. when all you are thinking about is yourself as the main character in the play, you don’t notice anyone else! There was no search for musical connection as it was just energy, “drumming off of each other”. It was adrenaline. They could act with out rules, courtesy or humility and no one would mind or at least say anything.
Because they could not really play any rhythms or patterns, nor make the basic sounds of slap, tone and bass it was all about playing as many notes as they could in blasts. It was especially fun to do when someone else was doing it. You blast off together, or you could challenge the other person like 2 guys on jet skis. “Who can go faster”? There were even “drum offs”, competitions who could play louder and or faster and bets of cash were involved.
It was all about being the best, competing and ego. But eventually after so many battles, competitions and playing what few rhythms were actually played over and over, the same rhythm at every drum circle they went to regardless of location they all came to realize they could have more fun if they actually studied about the djembe, dunun and took some lessons. My report is that major transformations have happened. Positive growth and change that has not only helped them in their lives but also helped local drum circle communities as well.
Many have started their own groups or circles and now play organized rhythms and have continued and continue their studies. They see that there is an alchemic formula with the different parts the connect and interact. In the West African village based djembe music, once you have experienced the connection of the three dunun, the bells, the different djembe parts and hear it all together clearly (and played correctly), something clicks on.
A magic happens that is hard to describe, but I have experienced it over and over and more importantly seen it in almost everyone who has ever transitioned from drum circle to traditional drumming styles. One you have had the experience, it is like a key turning a lock in the door, something shifts. And it all makes sense.
The more I study, the more I see the brilliance in the traditional drumming arrangements. It never ceases to amaze me both how things fit together and how the pieces make me feel good. Makes us all feel good. The smiles on peoples faces. I call it drumming music because to me the way the dunun melodies move, the kinkini (smallest double sided drum hit with sticks and a bell on top) holding a basic part, the sang ban (middle drum) the melody and the dununba (lowest or mother drum in the dunun family) accenting the bass…it is like an orchestra or band.
The djembes come in secondly. Contrary to many peoples belief, the djembes are less important then the dunun. It is all about how the parts connect together. And the connection that this drum form makes between all the players. It is not about the soloist, it is now about the group, the group arrangement. The djembe players hold accompaniment parts that support the dunun and the lead soloist.
And the soloist or “lead” is the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. This is not heady music, it is groove music. It drops and seats you into your body. It intrigues me that people who say they study meditation and other spiritual systems sometimes have so much resistance to holding parts steady.To playing traditional drum parts. Drum parts in traditional drumming is the same as a mantra, it is exactly the same as meditation. People can argue the benefits of drum circles, self expression, creativity, doing your own thing, believe me.. I have heard it all. And I am not here to trash it (as i still go to every drum circle I can).
I am not here to argue one is better then the other. However, I am here to explain that once you have experienced the beauty and depth of the traditional west african drumming music it is hard to go back to the kaos and thrashing. Some of my friends in the drum circle world (yes i do have friends there) feel threatened by the new rhythms being integrated by dunun players coming into their drum scenes. There is change happening and it feels uncomfortable or unfamiliar. I say this, we must bend to be straight or we will break. Be flexible and go with it!
So what can you do to enjoy a drum circle once you have started studying or playing? I recommend people who know dunun parts to bring dununs to drum circles. The more traditional or ballet (popular /city style multiple drums) rhythms that are brought to drum circles the more integration that will happen between the two worlds.
I recommend people who know dunun parts to bring dununs to drum circles. The more traditional or ballet (popular /city style multiple drums) rhythms that are brought to drum circles the more integration that will happen between the two worlds.
The dunun as I mentioned represent rhythm structure, melody and bass. When I go to a drum circle now this is my focus.
Here is a key point. Bringing in west african rhythm to the drum circle increases unity, it brings people together. Competition and kaos does not. If drum circles are really about love, community, creativity then please look at the djembe drum (and dununs) as unity, not as ego. It is not for acting out on. It is for bringing the community together.
Students of the drum…continue your studies!
Some folks come for a few lessons and really think they know it all. They go back to playing the same thing they were doing before only slightly differently.
I am a student and will always be a student. I like studying!
Positive change, progression takes time. It happens slowly over time. Take your time. Don’t be in a rush.
We are all students and there is always something new and interesting to learn no matter who you are or where you are at. No one person has it all and we can all learn, and..learn something new from each other no matter who you are, where you are from!