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Alternative Culture Magazine

Of Drum Groups and All-Night Jams

...tracing the beginnings of my personal journey (1991-96) with...

African Drumming, Drum Rhythm Groups, Jamming and Trance Dancing

Starting a Drum Group 24-Hour Drumming
Friday Night Jam Trance Dance
Roots Jam: Hand Drum Rhythms and Lesson Book

"The Creator wants us to drum. He wants us to corrupt the world with drum, dance and chants. Afterall, we have already corrupted the world with power and greed....which hasn't gotten us anywhere - now's the time to corrupt the world with drum, dance and chants."

--Babatunde Olatunji

All-Night Drumming and Trance Dancing

We had our fifth annual All-Night Drum this year [1996]. Different every year: and always a special event, a highlight. February: when everyone needs a boost of some kind, a rift in the cold gray routine, and this does it like nothing else. Here the drums have reign for a full 24 hours. One rule: keep the beat going. Whoever shows up, by word of mouth or friendly notice, shows up. It's a jam all the way....

Notes from the first annual 24-hour drum:

We arrived at the hall, called in the four directions, chanted, beat the steady 210 of the shaman's drum, Michael and Walkin and Jane and Rowena and I, and a guy from New Denver: gettin in the mood. Then began a good rolling rock in the forming circle, with a jazz beat offset by Ken. Julie, Lars, Doug all showed up and joined.

From there, a pastiche, a roller-coaster, a trading of percussion toys, a sharing of drums, ongoing beat. Peter, Michael M. show up, go like crazy. Later, Julie and Jane with Peter, Doug and New Denver, cohesive and driving.

Sometimes it didn't always "work." During the most high-energy jamming, as between Michael and me, or me on the good djembe and Nigel on the yew, I'd be self-centered, loud and improvisational. Julie and Nigel later would say they'd look for the quietest drum, to play to that; or that the loud "stuff" was overbearing, impenetrable, lost on a jag. Lars remarked that traditionally African drummers didn't play free of the forms until age 30, after fifteen years of practice. "Yeah," I replied, "but we've been listening to jazz for twenty years."

Miles Davis said, "There are no mistakes."

Walkin said, "It's all good."

Into the night, the evening and night.

Michael lays down, Julie and I take it up. Me on the big bass, her on the djembe, steady, slow, and powerful. Michael says, "that was the best music I've heard in Argenta." I say, "that's what I thought hearing you guys play when I lay down to sleep."

Of course I didn't sleep.

When we lay out in the circle on the mats and benches, we took rattles and shakers in our hands, to keep the beat. At one point only I was up, with the sticks. Then New Denver relieved me, and he took up the slow bass djembe.

Toward morning we made strong black coffee and got into some grooved jamming. Alternating with slow breathers. At one sparse point Doug said "It feels like some Buddhist colony."

Okay, I thought, and set up a sustained 210 on the yew drum, chanting Om with New Denver beside me, Doug cross-legged on the mat opposite. Jane nearby; Julie wandering, Lars and Michael gone, Ken asleep or out. It took off--the rolling drumstick beats, the billowing group voice.

Nigel walked in, dumbstruck. Later he said, "It felt like a church, a sacred space. You guys were egoless, totally spaced out. You'd gotten rid of everything, burned it all away." He took over the driving force on the yew drum, eyes closed and grooving from then on, the last four hours. "I figured you'd need the energy boost by then."

When it's over, we drift outside in the sun on bright morning snow. And the ravens pick it up and carry it on: quork, a quork-quork...qu-qu-qu-qu-quork... --Nowick Gray, 1996

Starting a Drum Group 24-Hour Drumming
Friday Night Jam Trance Dance
Roots Jam: Hand Drum Rhythms and Lesson Book
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