I'll never forget the first time I joined a djembe drum circle. I could barely hold the drum, much less hold a rhythm but somehow I found myself sitting in a circle of well-polished djembe players on the beach of Sado Island.
Yup - an island off the coast of Japan, not Africa, mind you. Most of the people in the circle were smiling and visibly excited. Others tapped in and held musical space with stoic face. Me? At first, I tick-tacked along, trying not to mess anyone up with my two left hands. But soon, the voices of the djembe were all I could hear. The energy of the circle and those who had gathered around was empowering.
After a minute or two, (ok, it was honestly more like 10 or 15 minutes before I relaxed), I found a beat to hold and did my best to keep up as the circle got hot with a unique and spontaneous African-Japanese beat.
Every time I've had the chance to join a djembe circle since then, my emotions rush back and that fresh feeling of empowerment coupled with waves of pure fun wash and drench me all over again. But these days, I am more likely to be playing alone in my room or in the park while the sun slips behind the distant trees. Natural, wood-carved djembe emote an intense and storied wisdom that seems primal and pure while at the same time pushing me to new planes of creativity.
No one really knows where the drum originated but some believe it originated with the Mandinka people of western Africa. Migrating throughout west Africa along with the people and growing in popularity, the drum made it's way throughout all of Africa. I imagine the incredible ways the djembe voiced the stories in Africa's past. For ages the drum has been used in African ceremonies from marriages and baptisms, to funerals and harvest festivals and gained world-wide popularity in the 1950s.
There are some African instruments that were only meant to be played by certain people based on hereditary. The making of a djembe is spiritual and it offers a way to lift up the stories and history of a people. The djembe speaks. It no longer holds the stories of only the Mandinka people but I believe djembe holds the stories of all humanity. Anyone can join the djembe circle, create a rhythm and lift spirits with the fascinating drum beat.
But you can still hear and feel the difference in a west Africa-made djembe which come from trees traditionally used for making djembe and drums made elsewhere. Handmade African djembe hold the voice of craftsman and sing the song of a community of people who also benefit from sustainable economic development and donations that feed hungry children and educate a generation.
I recently read an article where the djembe was referred to as "the drum of a thousand voices." Certainly, the djembe has been used in every genre of music including rock, pop, opera and classical. It is the spirit of the drum that brings people together. Djembe also sets the tone for earth-connected grounding and self-awareness. Djembe spirit can soothe like a solitary mediation just as well as uplift in the joyful call of a thousand souls.
With the djembe, true and free expression is possible for anyone. Pick up a drum, find your rythm and speak with it! Doing so just may heal, empower and sustain all of humanity.
Peace Love and Light!
Liam LACS, LLC