Drumming A Path to Wellness
Rhythm is the sound we live. We feel it before we hear it. Before your ears are fully developed, the first sound we experience is our mother’s heartbeat. Then the gentle thump of your own becomes the subtle soundtrack to every delicious or disgusting moment of your life. Rhythm unites us. The Circadian rhythms conduct our dreams. The looping cycles create the seasons. Everything is syncopated through the perfect harmony of life. Together, through drums, I believe we can find the one.
Every Sunday at 1pm for almost two years my brother Ayinde and I have invited men to The Quarry to drum. We call it MANifest Wellness Sundays. It’s an intergenerational male identified, inclusive, safe space for men of all walks to gather, share, build, cry, heal, and grow. It is an initiative of Real Men Charities, Inc. Through the vision and sacrifice of our founder Yvette Moyo we have been able to purchase our own space. We could not sit idly by and watch everyone else carve up South Shore to prepare for what some call development and others will experience as displacement. Real Men Charities continues to wonder, through action, what impact we can make to fight to heal the communities we come from and still live in. The first step to fight gentrification was to own property. The second was to figure out what to do with it that would actually help people. Jobs, food, education, art, culture are all a part of the mix, but there has been a unique role drumming has played in our work.
During our Sunday MANifest sessions it has been important to allow space for men to share experiences, ask others for help, think critically, challenge each other and express authentic emotions. We have had some incredible conversations. However, there is a limit to the levels of healing available through talking. Particularly since the English adorning our tongue is a consequence of the generations of trauma we are healing from. There is pain stuck in our body. Epigenetics says it’s embedded in our DNA. Therefore, parts of our healing journey must include movement. Some of this trauma needs to be exorcised via sweat.
Have you ever looked up ‘African Drum Therapy’ on YouTube? Spoiler alert, it’s mostly white people doing it. I completely understand why other cultures gravitate towards Africa. Our culture is amazing. I can’t be mad at anyone else for recognizing that. However, it is difficult to see them use their privilege, institutional power, infrastructure and access to profit off our culture more than us. The Quarry allows Real Men Charities to begin institutionalizing wellness opportunities that center our cultural as artistic medicinal rituals.
One of the points of orientation for MANifest Sundays is a discussion out this piece of legislature from 1696:
"...for the prevention of the meeting of slaves in great numbers on Sundays and Holidays, whereby they have taken liberty to contrive and bring to pass many of their bloody and inhuman transactions...no master, or mistress, or overseer, shall suffer any drumming or meeting of any slaves not belonging to their own plantations, to rendezvous, feast, revel, beat drum, or cause any disturbance."
We spend some time discussing this legislature periodically. We make some of the connections between past and present laws that hinder the wellness of Black communities. We discuss the inherent threat that simply gathering presents to systems of domination. We discuss the audacity that lawmakers of the time possessed to write in their laws that our desire and attempts to liberate ourselves from their bondage was considered the “inhumane transaction”. Then we continue, with urgency, to rendezvous, beat drum and cause as much disturbance as we can muster. On behalf of our ancestors that were not able to.
One of the consequences of slavery’s reckless reassortment of ethnicities is that I carry in my blood a diverse combination of lineages. On one hand that means I don’t belong to any particular place or people. On the other, I can legitimately claim connection to diversities of cultures across the diaspora. MANifest Sundays considers that approach by allowing space for improvised rhythms being created that represent the unique cultural and ethnic experiences of African descents with generations of ancestry born in the United States. I started studying the Djembe orchestra from the Mali empire of West Africa but have expanded to playing congas and other percussion with Orisha worship music (based on a traditional African spiritual called IFA), and I incorporate West African percussion into contemporary hip-hop, jazz and soul music. Whatever the setting, on stage or on a street corner, my approach to the drum is always more participatory than performance, more spiritual than physical, more sacred than aesthetic.
We love taking the drum circle outside. In a neighborhood where the loud sounds are usually gunshots or sirens. I love watching cars pull over, people dance, recording with their phones. The children are always so fascinated. I love when neighbors walking past join the circle. It allows us for be in instant conversations with our community and the ancestors that walk with them. Drum has replaced the language we lost. Drums are our time travel. Drums are our salve. Drums are our resistance. Our enemies tried everything they could to disconnect us from our drums. They tried to make us think our drums are evil and unsophisticated. Our drums are classical music. Fine art. Healing and reclamation.
The essence of all my work seeks to redeem the sacrifices of my ancestors. I think about American slavery and it’s persisting consequences every day. It keeps me in a constant state of agitation. Art is my salve. Teaching African drumming and incorporating them into healing circles satisfies an ancestral obligation to reclaim aspects of our culture that were violently removed from us. We didn’t forget our culture, it was stomped out of us. Less like forgetting your friend’s birthday, more like traumatic brain injury. Drums allows us to speak stolen languages. They create portals of time travel that invoke wisdom from a time before the Great Tragedy. They’re also good for focus, stamina, and teamwork. There is medicine in the memory. They offer pockets of freedom and joy that remind me what I’m fighting for. When we gather, when we drum, our ancestors hear it, and they know that despite all we’ve been through -we haven’t lost everything.