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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

Trance Dance

It began as a one-time event, intended to create "community ritual."

But we immediately scheduled another one three months later; and after that one, realized we really needed to do this every three months, at each midpoint between solstice and equinox.

There is a minimum of preparation and instruction beforehand: learning the steps, from a West African dance; and the rhythms, locally generated by drummers experienced with West African patterns. The key for both dancers and drummers is consistency: to go all night with the same steps, the same rhythms. In this repetition and commitment comes the opportunity for trance. Forgetting oneself in the power of the whole.

Even with solos, which are permitted a single dancer and drummer at a time when the dancer feels moved by a pitch of excitement to break free and go into the circle, the impulse and flight is guided not by ego but by sheer union with the high energy created: the gathering vortex released.

We go eight hours, breaking bread together at dawn, or sharing fruit. There has been an amazing display of endurance by all involved, with everyone going at it steadily, hardly any breaks, a little snack or drink of water, a brief loosening up and then back in. Afterwards there is sharing of how it was, what happened, how it might be better next time.

In February we had thirty-five dancers, eleven drummers, and three digeridoo players miked to match the volume of the drummers' sound--calling back and forth from opposite ends of the hall, with the dancers circling in between. The low frequencies and voiced tones of the diges gave us all an added dimension of transport to other realms.

But ultimately the experience is not one of escape or exotic adventure. There are no drugs involved. It's more a grounding, a bonding, a building of community energy. Personal transcendence comes in the form of union with group spirit and with the spirit of rhythm itself. Stretching personal boundaries to the limits of the sacred space. Leaving the banks to ride the river.

--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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