Alternative Culture MagazineCougar WebWorks Celebrating Nature, Culture, and Spirit
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 Books

"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

Starting a Drum Group

A bunch of us where I live have been playing African drums now for six years. This is nothing by African standards; but you do what you can. The first workshop happened here, sparking our engagement ever since, and a number of excellent teachers have passed through the area boosting our skills periodically: notably Fatala and Alpha Yaya Diallo. Three of us have taken Olatunji's week-long workshop at Hollyhock: for me providing the biggest jump in skill and understanding.

Gradually we've learned to work with multi-part rhythms. Each part by itself is easy to learn, in these traditional African and Latin pieces. But the timing between the parts creates the dynamic tension which drives them, and the difficulty in mastering as a group. Still, four or five of us through regular weekly practices brought a half-dozen selections up to performance level over the course of three or four years. After a public performance at the local fall faire in September 1994, and a studio taping session soon after, we finally lost steam and fell apart, and have met only sporadically since, with turnover of half the core group. Why?

Part of it has to do with individual energies and priorities, but part of it has to do with the nature of what we were attempting. A month of intensive twice-a-week practices before that fall faire, and the attendant pressure to perform well at the time, caused some of us enormous anxiety that carried over afterward. I flubbed a couple of notes in my own part once or twice, and felt terrible about it--even though people in the crowd (you could hardly even call them an audience, wandering around the fair grounds doing their own thing) never noticed. Our subsequent studio session came off perfectly. A local guitarist, probably the best musician around, had the best advice to offer: mere proficiency at the rhythms is not enough to engage an audience. We played, at best, like machines. That kind of music would work okay for trance or ritual but for a contemporary crowd, whether listening or dancing, you need the added dynamism of a soloist, which we lacked with our inexperience.

--Nowick Gray, 1996

2007 update: Grow your own drum and dance group

Starting a Drum Group 24-Hour Drumming
Friday Night Jam Trance Dance
HeartBeat: The Healing Power of Rhythm
Roots Jam: Hand Drum Rhythms and Lesson Book

About the Editor | Site Map | Homepage | Email | ©2006 Cougar WebWorks