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"Healing" power of drums... - Djembefola - Djembe Forum

For chatting and discussions.
By Garvin
Argh... Maybe I just got up on the wrong side of the bed today, but I've been getting a little sick of all of the "healing power of the drum" stuff that I see on these pseudo-djembe/hand drumming websites that pop up all the time.

I understand that this music is powerful. I understand that music has healing potential. But its almost like from the look of some of these sites, that everyone has such deeply affected or damaged psyche that they would be a drain on the energy, or no fun to play with.

I guess for me, there is a difference between what I get out of the energy of this music, and what someone with deep seeded emotional issues might get out of it. But I don't approach this as therapy at all. In fact, I get a little frustrated by people who are so selfish as to assume that the energy created is for them in particular. I've always found this a great way to get out of my "self". If anything we're sending something out, rather than taking something in... Am I being an ass?

I would never have continued to pursue this music if I were a puddle of emotions. My introduction, and initial exposure was pretty tough. I definitely would've run for the hills if what I had been searching for was "healing".

Again, I have respect all of these qualities, and understand that everyone is an individual, but I would never go so far as to advertise this type of music in as "healing". Particularly on the hands...
By bubudi
g, do you really think you need to be an emotional mess to be able to benefit from some sort of healing? traditional african approaches to healing are different to those in the west. it's not unusual for a whole village to be involved in the healing of someone who is sick. even just coming together with a community of people having lots of fun is a healing experience. it can remove obstacles between people that come in the way of progress. in africa where infant mortality and aids is through the roof, there is minimal medical or educational infrastructure and people do backbreaking work to survive, it's the unity of the community in celebration that has gotten people through. everyone tries to give to each other, even when they themselves have virtually nothing. nothing selfish about it at all.
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By Marc_M
Hey Garvin -

I tend to agree with Bubudi.

I see at least two approaches to the drumming - those looking for peace and those looking for energy - I would say both are trying to get in touch with a part of themselves in different ways but to the same end. When you say you want
Garvin wrote:to get out of my "self"
are you not indeed trying to get out of one self and into a different experience? I think it is probably the same for those you don't understand.

I have a theory that when the djembe drum came to North America, it blended together with North American shamanism which is very different from the West African shamanism and secret societies. Bubudi is right, the point of music, dancing and ceremonies in African culture is help keep the community together and bridge any rifts - its just that the energy seems to be more up beat than in North American shaman societies - from my understanding anyway.

A good book to read is "The Healing Drum: African Wisdom Teachings" by Yaya Diallo. It talks about the authors experiences as a musician as well as describing his childhood and village life in Mali. It describes the importance that music/dance have in keeping the village society together. I highly recommend it.

Available here.

I've gotten over my parents' foibles, so I don't hang with healing circles. I don't enjoy the free-for-all rhythms of most drum circles. However if these outlets help others, well, power them - as long as in turn, people respect why I want pursue the traditions of Africa. I've had good advice from drummers on this site when I was having difficulties with more traditional teachers. That's why I say "live and let live."

Perhaps in time, you can make peace with those you have difficulty understanding.
Last edited by Marc_M on Tue Dec 16, 2008 5:40 am, edited 1 time in total.
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By e2c
OK, just my .02-worth... not about "healing" per se.

Back when I 1st became interested in percussion (late 1980s), it was very hard to find a qualified African percussion teacher. And a lot of those circles were pretty closed. The only other people who seemed to be doing a lot with some kinds of African percussion (and other percussion, too) were New Age-y types. (Not meant as a putdown.) a lot of them had appropriated the djembe - and other drums - as some sort of sacred, mysterious "power objects" while knowing nothing of music - or life - in the cultures from which these instruments came.

I wanted to learn to play, but there wasn't anybody to go to that actually knew their stuff, outside of some of the African dance folks.

There's a lot of weird stuff out there, in terms of ideas - and books - written by some of the early US "adopters" of the djembe. Sule Greg Wilson is one of those people. I have met him and he's a nice guy, but he really had a problem with women playing djembe and has yet to revise his book (The Drummer's Path) to reflect his current ideas about that. Sule and others like him were lionized by a lot of the New Age-y types.

To make a long story short, it took almost 20 years for me to find a teacher who actually has deep roots in African culture as well as in US drum and dance. Was it worth the wait? Yes, especially because there are a lot less prejudices out there now about women drummers (which I am), and much more awareness of the cultural background of the music. There are people who are really seeking that out. To me, it's important to have that background - not only is it respectful (to Africans and African Americans), it gives you a far larger "vocabulary" to work with.

I think that making music with other people can really make us feel better about ourselves, teach us how to get along with other people, and much more. So in that sense, it can be a very powerful force for creating bonds between people, and for bringing people together. Understanding that the music cannot be created by one person alone - that it takes many to create a full, rich, nuanced sound - is "healing" in and of itself. (I think.) As a result of study, I am getting to meet new people, make friends, find opportunities to play with others and to perform - that's all very positive. Learning to play has been hugely helpful for me in terms of both physical fitness (I'm in far better shape now than I was when I began, largely due to the conditioning needed for playing), and in self-confidence. I feel far better about myself as a result of getting involved. And now, I'm thinking that in a few years (when I've got lots more knowledge and experience under my belt), I would like to teach kids' classes.

I hope that this helps answer your questions, G. :) :dundun:

Edited to add: I do think music has a great deal of therapeutic potential, but do you have to be messed up to benefit from it? No way. We all struggle with hurts, broken relationships, disappointments and losses. I've found that simply being in class, playing as one voice out of many, has helped me immeasurably with some very nuts and bolts, real-life problems. I am learning to give of myself to others, and developing mutual respect for the other folks who enjoy drum and dance. That's all very therapeutic, I think!
By Garvin
Cool... Great responses folks. I did read Greg Wilson's book when I was fairly immersed in Bata studies. That was years ago, and I can't remember any epiphanies coming from that one. I will definitely check out Yaya Diallo's book as well. That sounds like something I could really use right now.

I understand the role of drumming and music is different in Africa than here. And I think thats what my hangup is. We really don't have the same sets of struggles, cultures, and backgrounds here in the US (or anywhere) as in Africa. It is an extremely unique set of circumstances there as opposed to the "first world".

Perhaps some of my personal issues come from being a working, studying musician and taking it seriously in my own way, only to confront the casual and unprofessional manner that some people come to this music. Maybe I'm guilty of taking it too seriously, but I just want to make sure that people understand where this drum, and music actually come from as opposed to someone just "bangin' on the bongos" to relax after a long day at the office...

Yes, there is some anti-drum circle sentiment there as well, and that is for another thread, and definitely one of the other issues I have to deal with being in an area that doesn't necessarily have a West African "scene" persay, but rather a lot of open-minded musical types who dabble in percussion during festival season.

Again, thanks for the insight. I will check out Yaya's book ASAP.
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By e2c
Garvin, I think we've got a lot in common, as far as wanting to learn the music vs. the "bangin' on the bongos" attitude... I started studying Middle Eastern percussion instruments in the late 80s, so I'm very much coming to djembe/dunun from the perspective of enlarging my musical vocabulary, learning a different instrument (and tradition), and new - to me - ways of playing and thinking about music.

I've never felt comfortable with drum circles, or the idea that they're some sort of "authentic tradition" (when they're a US innovation), and all the rest.

As for Greg's book, it's probably enough to know that I think he's an accomplished musician.
By johnc
e2c wrote:

And now, I'm thinking that in a few years (when I've got lots more knowledge and experience under my belt), I would like to teach kids' classes.
why wait for all that to teach kids! I started learning 10 months ago so as to teach primary school aged kids at the school where im the art teacher.

I did not play any other instrument or have any west african knowledge worth a grain of anything prior to March 3rd 2008. The kids liked to drum and needed a teacher...i needed a reason to crash course and learn fast.

unless the kids are particulaly precousious (spelling?) and sophisticated and have ample pathways, why wait.

A dad took two of my students in to where Mady Keita makes drums and teachers. He and the kids had no idea that Mady is my teacher or the extent of my connection to the shop.

Mady was up the back skinning drums and heard Birea Dansa being played and so came up front to investigate. He was so chuffed that he gave them an hours impromtu lesson. They came back to school and taught me what Mady taught them.

Mady, who is quite the traditionalist did not care that me the beginner :uglynerd: was teaching

strangly through teaching (within reason and with kids it is a good example) you can learn stuff yourself a lot faster :dundun:

unless your setting up a credentialed buisness why wait :arrow:

ps: if drums are so healing....why do my hands hurt :?: :wink:
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By e2c
I'm waiting because I have lots to learn! Seriously.

And I'll need to have more instruments, as loaners/potential purchases. That costs a fair amount of $$$.

I could teach a few rhythms (per various djembe and dunun parts), but hey - it's only been within the past 6 months that a lot of the phrasing (etc.) in this music has started feeling natural to me.

To do an open class in my area, I'd definitely want to have halfway decent credentials. The people who've taught in this locale in the recent past are very knowledgeable about the music and culture. I love it all, but I'm definitely not at the point where I can convey all that I'd like. that takes time, and much more experience than I currently have.
By johnc
hey e2c

fair enough

I landed in a barren area where my little has proven to be a lot so I can get away with only being a few steps ahead.

But the need to teach does lead to fast tracking of skills for anybody whose a teacher with a ready made class and thinks drums might be good for their kids (healing)

good luck
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By e2c
john, I hear you! for me, it's not a matter of becoming "perfect"; more like needing some more experience under my belt.

The open classes that have been held in my (isolated) neck of the woods have been there for people of any age and level of experience/ability. I know one little boy (he's 9, maybe 10) who attended for a long time, then took private lessons - and to tell you the truth, he's pretty far ahead of me, in terms of skills and knowledge. ;)

What I'd like to do, ultimately, is to see this happen in conjunction with an open (community) dance class. It's been done before, and it can be done again, but it will take some time and work to get things up and running again. One of my short-term goals is to help with accompaniment for the most likely person's dance class. She teaches at a nearby university, but has been off on maternity leave for the past 6 months. Between her and her students, there will be no shortage of available dance teachers - but I think it pays to get to know people better, and to establish a bond through the music and helping out. (Which will also give me a chance to not only gain experience as a drummer, but to learn more about the teaching process, period.)

Now, if I had a few local kids clamoring for something right now, that would be a different story, though whatever I'd do would be on a highly informal basis. There are far too many unqualified "teachers" out there who set themselves up as "experts" after taking 2-3 lessons max. I'm not about to swell their ranks! (And I'm definitely not talking about you personally in saying this - you've got a great desire to learn and to pass on what you've learned, which is the complete opposite of the attitude many self-professed "experts" take, y'know? :))

The bottom line (for me, at least) is that this is ensemble music, where everyone is working together to add parts that form a larger whole. I need more experience at being in that situation in order to be able to direct others who want to try. (Which will continue to be true no matter how "good" I get at this, or not... :)) I've never wanted to teach anything before, and have been learning a great deal about the process by being a student myself. Hope that makes sense!
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By e2c
Garvin wrote:I never thought I'd be "teaching" but really I'm just trying to get some folks up to speed so I have live human beings to play with...
Nice article - and I really hear you, because I'm in much the same situation. (Though there are a few people who are more than qualified to teach; not sure why they're not pursuing that.)
By alfred
Hello I am Alfred from Tonganoxie, Kansas. It is a old Indian town. few years ago there was a Drum circle in Lawrence, There was a few full blooded Indians in the circle and they were among the best of them. I Play Djembe and Conga drums with matching bongo's also, even tambourine and morocco's now for five years. I used to have a drum set in high school years ago. I am also a Judeo Christian who has faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who is the great healer. I think it is great that there may be healing power in the Drums for many people, whether it is the south African Drum or the Latin Drums or any Drum, but I ask first for healing in prayer to my Heavenly Father. I used to be stubborn and disagree when anyone had a diferent view than me. I know now as a believer in the God of the Universe, that we all do good when we share each others beliefs with Love and respect for the other person, and not with a my way is the only way that I am going to accept or get along with. Love to all in Jesus Christ name from Alfred.
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By Dugafola
alfred wrote:Hello I am Alfred from Tonganoxie, Kansas. It is a old Indian town. few years ago there was a Drum circle in Lawrence,
i used to get some really decent outdoor chronic from Toganoxie...the T1, T2 etc etc...
By bubudi
aherrm i assume you're talking about chronic illness there, duga. playing drums should help with that :wink:

whatever makes you warm and fuzzy :wink:
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