There are several different ways for serious students to learn and to study traditional and folkloric drumming from other countries. Today I am going to talk about two different approaches, completely different and both are valid in my book.
We can try to be universal, find commonality and study the underlying principles and basic structures of different types of hand drumming.This means studying different styles from different countries. Often there are different hand patterns, playing techniques, arrangements and language or what I like to call “languaging”.
The other style of learning is the one thing at a time approach. One style from one place.Each style or type of learning has it’s pluses and minuses and it really depends on you, who you are as a musician and drummer.
In the “simple style” one style approach, people will pick a type of drumming that resonates with them such as afro cuban, brazilian, haitian or west african to name a few. The concept in this way of learning is focusing in. You don’t get distracted and you learn by immersing yourself into the drumming and even the culture if that works for you.
And with in each of these styles there are city and country versions of the folkloric music we can get very specific about studying, learning and specializing in as well.
I find that it is great to specialize, to focus in on one thing, one style one genre for many of us. Especially in this day and age of choices where there are so many choices we sometimes don’t make any! Learning and perfecting or at least working towards perfecting one type or style from a specific culture is a great way to learn and excel.
It definitely helps most of us to commit to a certain stye. I have kung fu instructor from China. When he returned home he was sparring with his old friend who is a boxer.
My teacher is an excellent fighter but came home with a black eye. When I asked him what happened he told me that no matter what he did, his friend hit him with a left jab. When my instructor tried to kick the boxer, the boxer hit him with the left jab. When he tried to punch him, attack him in anyway he got hit with the left jab.
The point is that the boxer had perfected the left jab. For many of us this is a far off concept. But for many of us it can really work. At least to a degree. So its a great way to learn for some people.
The backside or danger in this style or way of learning when used in hand drumming and folkloric drumming is that people tend to get “culture bound” or “centric”. We can also get stuck in our one style and devalue other systems or other styles. Because drumming is music and when we look at the big or larger music, all drumming is part of the same family originated from the same place and comes from roots to the same tree. It is important for us to realize this, stay humble and remember and be ope to learning as well.
If we are able to see this, that it is all related then we can really expand our horizons as drummers. Many very interesting innovations that happen in drum min, in the drum world and even in the folkloric and traditional drumming styles are actually from out sources, people or influences that originate outside of the original culture.
I myself started studying in the 70’s and there were not a lot of resources then. There was no internet, CD’s or even much openness between drummers to share information like there is today. To saying traditional and folkloric drumming was secretive on the east coast of the USA would be putting it mildly.there were no drum circles although there was drumming in the park, but it was organized rumba style drumming with conga drums.
To learn and survive as a drummer back then, especially a hand drummer you needed to be fluent in any style of drumming you could learn or find. So older drummers from that era had to learn afro cuban, brazilian, haitian and west african. Any pecs of info that came through was gobbled up by us hungrily.
As i came up into the drum world I studied with whoever I could find where ever i was living or visiting. I have always been like that and I am still like that today. I lived and studied twice in Cuba, once in Brazil, twice in Africa, four times in India and on and on.
Each style, each culture has very specific differences, feels and ways that are completely different. Yet, there are similarities as well. When you study the fundamentals of drumming, the underlying principles and concepts, the basics such as the clave principle and the 6/8 bell (12/8), you start to see similarities, parts, rhythms that are brothers,sisters or cousins to each other in different countries.
The 6/8 (12/8) bell concept is the same for the most part in each country that african drumming came from. The rhythms relate to it or come from it,interact with it some how. It is the mother of all african derived drumming.
So in the big picture, all drumming from the african diaspora is indeed related. It is all music and it is important to remember that and not separate ourselves from styles that differ thinking “ours is the best”, or this is the only way. I understand and support focus and learning one thing at a time..or only one thing this lifetime as well. It is different strokes for different folks.
My goal is just letting people know that it is indeed all related and you don’t have to just be in one group, in one style or play one form. The “centric” thinking and acting is fine but it is also limiting as well. Sometimes the dog plays into this. People start to dress a certain way, act a certain way and sen speak a certain way which reflects there personal choice of groups to participate in.
This is human nature.But I do suggest openness and knowledge as a key and door opener.
Unfortunately with the djembe being so misrepresented as the focal point of the drum circle people have mis associated djembe and west african drumming with styleless, uneducated and formless music and drumming. And the truth of the matter like any other form of music from or originating from west africa it is exactly the opposite.
The djembe drum, dununs,tama (or talking drum) balaphone and other instruments from west africa have a long, proud, deep heritage. The music from Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Ganbia and the Ivory Coast is highly orchestrated, has meaning, depth, songs and related dances and dance steps. It is indeed very systematic in a positive way.
Because the djembe is light weight (in comparison to conga drums for example), is mobile, small and makes a loud sound people have taken to it. With the spread of drum circles and with out the spread of knowledge of the history, culture and playing styles and techniques involved in drumming from west africa, the drum is being misrepresented massively and globally.