Drums and various drumbeats from around the world were heard at Queens Park on the first June weekend of 2010 as part of the celebration that helps to wake Toronto up in preparation for the summer. The drum is recognized as the oldest musical instrument and on Saturday June 5 and Sunday June 6, Queens Park in Toronto was transformed into a global village with the sound of drums from Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Caribbean and Europe. The people of Toronto owe this spectacular awakening to a group led by a man who has brought the drumbeat of the world to Toronto via Trinidad. The 11th Muhtadi International Drumming Festival is the brainchild of Trinidad born Muhtadi who is the founder and artistic director of the annual festival which “celebrates the drum, its universality as an art form and its presence in all cultures around the world.”
The image dominating the main stage of the Drumming Festival recognized Africa as the place from where the drum grows its roots (humans originated on the African continent) the drum grows then branches out to where people of various ethnicities and places are playing the drum. The drumbeat is the human way of imitating the heartbeat, remembering that our mother’s heartbeat is what we heard and felt for the first months of life while in the womb. Small children respond to the beat of a drum by moving to the rhythm because we never lose our response to the comforting sound of our mother’s heart beat. The beat of the drum has the ability to unite people of different cultures from around the world and Muhtadi has definitely tapped into this to make the drumming festival an awesome success for 11 years.
Academics and grassroots traditional healers across cultures have recognized and acknowledged the healing properties of music including drumbeats. Researching and acknowledging the healing properties that connect the heart and musical rhythms, in his 1997 published book The Heart's Code: Tapping the Wisdom and Power of Our Heart Energy, white American Psychologist Dr. Paul Pearsall, wrote:
“There is no more obvious evidence of connection between our heart and energy outside the body than our heart's response to musical rhythms. Our heart is the metronome of our body's biorhythm, and health happens when we are in rhythm within ourselves, synchronized with other living systems and moving to our preset beat rather than trying to respond to the driving beat of the stressful outside world. Healing, then, becomes the ability of our heart to improvise and develop its own new rhythms to the chaotic rhythms that continually emerge in our daily life."
African American author and member of the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy, American Folklore Society and the Herb Research Foundation Stephanie Rose Bird has written about the healing properties of the drumbeat in her 2010 published book: The Big Book of Soul: The Ultimate Guide to the African American Spirit Legend & Lore, Music & Mysticism, Recipes & Rituals.
Drumming has been an integral part of the lives of Africans from the continent and the Diaspora. Even the centuries of enslavement and colonization did not destroy our connection to the healing of the drumbeat and the rhythm of our ancestors. On Saturday June 5th at the Drumming Festival I watched as Ras Leon Saul, a man who was educated at Queens College, (a school that was once Guyana’s most prestigious colonial bastion of education) playing the djembe drum as if he was communicating with our ancestors. The powerful rhythms of the African drums played at ceremonies (kwe-kwe, kumfa, naming and transitioning) throughout Berbice may also have had much influence. I have to acknowledge some bias since Ras Leon and I both hail from Berbice, Guyana and acknowledge our connection to Kofi who led the Berbice Revolution in 1763 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KTHLBpN7SM).
Kofi was an Akan man born in Ghana a place from where many of the enslaved Africans in Guyana were taken. The djembe is the most popular of the African drums in the Diaspora probably because the majority of Diasporan Africans are descended from people who were taken out of West African countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Senegal and the Gambia. West African rhythms gave birth to Caribbean and North and South American rhythms and even dance steps. The so called Latin dances like the Cha-cha-cha, Bolero, Mambo, Samba etc all owe their existence to African rhythms. Although in many of the Latin American countries an African presence is not acknowledged, enslaved Africans worked and died throughout the region and their descendants continue to survive mostly on the fringes.
In the Caribbean countries where the descendants of enslaved Africans have fared a bit better than their counterparts in the Latin American countries the influence of their African ancestors has not been completely ignored. The African influence on calypso and reggae is acknowledged by most Caribbean people. In the USA the influence of Africa on popular contemporary American music is also acknowledged. Several books including children’s books tell of the history of African contribution to the music of America. To be a drum written by Evelyn Coleman illustrated by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson and published in 1998 begins “Long before time, before hours and minutes and seconds, on the continent of Africa, the rhythm of the earth beat for the first people.” African American actor James Earl Jones reads the book here: http://www.storylineonline.net/ This children's book tells the story of how the Africans who were enslaved even after being prevented from playing the drum did not lose their ability to hear the drum and benifit from its healing properties.
Buy the book To be a drum, or borrow it from the library but share this beautiful and educational story of the African drum with the children in your life (your children, grandchildren, neighbours’ children, children in your community etc.,) Be a drum!