On most summer weekends, the sounds of drums, African drums float like a breeze through my window. In my neighborhood of brownstones, hipsters and big city sounds, it feels odd sometimes. But it shouldn’t be.
For more than 20 years now, drummers have been gathering in parks and other public spaces in informal drum circles to beat their drums, practice their craft and entertain people as they pass by. Sometimes they stop and watch, or just dance but the music never stops as there are always fresh drummers ready to replace those who had been playing for a while.
Synonymous with Africa, the drum was brought to the New World by African slaves. It is the heartbeat of African music at home and in the Diaspora.
Drums come in various shapes and fulfill many functions. The talking drum, for example, which originated with the Yoruba of Nigeria, is used as a musical instrument and to communicate or “talk.” Small and shaped like an hourglass, it is tucked under one arm and played with the hand and a curved stick or beater. The talking sound is created when the drummer alters the drum’s pitch and tone.
The goblet-shaped djembe is another popular drum. Originated in Mali, it can now be found throughout West Africa and in the West. Like the talking drum, the djembe is used during celebrations. It is also used by the griots as an accompaniment to their retelling of historical events.
Drumming turns on its own cells in my body and no matter where I am or what I’m doing, when I hear the sound, I feel compelled to move. When drummers accompany us at my African dance class, the place becomes alive with energy, smiles broaden sweaty faces.
I was delighted when I happened upon these drummers on London’s South Bank. I stopped for a moment and let their sound wash over me and, for a while, I was taken back to another place.