Tomorrow afternoon I’m attending a “Healing and Feeling” drum circle at a local yoga studio, so in honor of the event, today’s flashback will rewind to my very first drum circle in June 2007.

I fell in love with the sound of African drums back at Kripalu, when every Saturday the in-house ensemble KDZ would play live for the noon-time YogaDance class. There’s something about a drumbeat that is so human and primal, and my body reacts to the sound the way a moth does to light: It’s just mesmerized, completely sucked into the beauty. Other than a brief violin stint in 4th grade, two years of clarinet practice in elementary school, and a year or so learning how to play Hawaiian percussion instruments while trying to hula at the same time (“I Was a Hula Dancer,” coming soon to Flashback Friday), I do not have any musical training, but that didn’t stop me from buying an African djembe and bongo. I had been eyeing the instruments at Target’s Global Marketplace (man, I miss that!), and every week I’d hem and haw over whether to buy them. Then they went on clearance, and so they were mine. I’ve since upgraded to a better-sounding djembe with a fancy silver finish, and although I don’t get to drum circles as often as I’d like, I do bust out my djem-baby every so often to play along with an Alanis song or just take out my frustrations on a giant metallic goblet.

"Rock-a-bye djembaby..."

 

The following is an account of my very first drum circle, taken from my old journal:

Back in February, I bought my first set of djembes, and last night was my first opportunity to bust them out of the house and jam with others.

My yoga studio hosted a drum circle to celebrate the summer solstice, and I even got my Old Job friend, Carrol, to come with me. There were a few guys with drumming/percussion backgrounds who kicked off the music and helped sustain the rhythm, and they were wild to watch. Carrol and I dubbed the one guy “the Flatley of fingers,” because his hands were slapping off that drum as rapidly as Michael Flatley’s Irish feet flap on the stage. Everyone had a djembe or bongos, but there were also cowbells, wooden blocks, chimes, maracas, and foot bells to go around. We spread out all over the floor, left the front and back doors wide open, and let loose.

It was mad fun, and our music attracted curious stares and smiles from dozens of passersby strolling along the main road after their fancy dinners. One guy with his family stepped in, sat on the floor for a few minutes and his baby daughter bounced in the doorway, and then just got up and left. People stopped at the red light on the corner rolled down their windows and craned their necks to see what kind of craziness was brewing inside. For once, we were making the noise. At the yoga studio, there’s always some kind of “distracting” noises around us–the open mic night at the coffee shop next door, car horns, idling Wawa delivery trucks, gunning motorcycles, people who stand right outside the studio doors and have a 10-minute long cell phone conversation–so it felt awesome to be the “distractors” last night and make so much commotion that all of those things above could have been going on, and we would have never even realized it.

Halfway through, I felt compelled to get up and dance (of course), and I did my thing, getting lost in the music, stamping, rocking, swaying, spinning. Before they guys started the next jam, I suggested that we sit in silence for a minute, just to appreciate the sound by sitting without it for a while. It was a different kind of silence, because our ears were still buzzing from the last song. Our feet were still bouncing, our hands still moving as though there was still music. At my request, the guys started the next song r-e-a-l-l-y slowly, first just one guy playing a heartbeat rhythm, and then, one-by-one everyone delicately chiming in, bit by bit, until the fire began to grow, and an explosion of sound eventually shot out.

I couldn’t resist dancing again, so up I went. This time it was trance dance, and I allowed the music to do whatever it wanted with my body; I was keeping the mind out of it. I felt like I was a spectator of my own dancing, amazed at how my movements flowed along from one beat to the next, changing patterns and shifting directions without me calling any of the shots. I was integrated, man!

Some guy from the street starting jamming in the doorway. He put down his backpack and then started grooving in the entrance, until he came all the way inside and was dancing with the rest of us. (By now, at least three other people had joined me on the dance floor!) At first I thought Street Guy was a musician or something, because he seemed to be doing these weird moves like he was understanding every iota of sound. But then as he started to dance more, I realized, no, This guy is actually crazy. He started getting really close to me, so one of the yoga teachers, god bless her soul, started dancing like a wild woman between us, her limbs flying all over the place to break us up. He stayed for the remaining 10 minutes, and Carrol and I swear he was on ‘shrooms.

I was a flaming ball of sweat afterwards, and then Carrol, who publishes an art magazine, told me I should do a story about the event. Before I knew it, I had her reporter’s notebook and pen in my hand and was firing questions at the drummers and participants. I know I’m still a journalist at heart when awesome quotes send chills down my spine and get the pen running across the paper at 100 miles per hour.

One of my favorite lines from that article: The sound in a drum circle is never static–it’s more like the ocean: still at times, raging at others. An unseen force of nature quickens the tempo and changes the rhythm, and without thinking too much about it, your hands and fingers follow the flow to keep up.

Bass! Tone! Slap!

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