I was surprised to find more than a couple of angles to drum & dance camp.
Rhythms and techniques of the West African djembe, sure,
plus the lesser-known drums that define and drive the song: sangban, kinkene and dundun
and the beautiful balafone.
Well, that’s what we paid for, to learn how Africans play out
stories, romances, rivalries, gifts, wishes, prayers
from simple arrangements of wood and hide.
I was surprised by added dimensions, unexpected.
Some classes were about song. Like everything else, the African tradition is oral.
no handouts, no whiteboard, little English.
those of us with pen and paper scribbled and whispered.
In a rhythm class we asked: “does this rhythm have a song?”
“Every rhythm has a song.”
Every rhythm has a song.
The instructors from Guinea were to me intimidating at first.
Hardly smiling in class, serious about the material and focused, almost impatient.
Understandable. These people have talent enough to win national recognition in Africa
giving them reason and means to travel and live in other countries,
teaching people with love of the drum, but maybe not so much ability.
We lament and make fun of the traditional teaching
“Ok, gang-ga-dun-da-dun, ga-da-gung” … “do that”
“No? Watch my foot”
But there are teachers from our own native soil as well, who’ve spent more years than I can imagine learning the songs here and also in trips to Guinea, Senegal, Ghana…
They break it down for their fellow Americans and it helps.
We take our triumphs to the Africans with smiles, hoping they’ll shed a tiny part of that recognition
and what we learned underneath everything else was respect
for the music, for the traditions, for the teachers, for their people, their ancestors and ours
and for ourselves
After a few days, respect replaced intimidation.
Some classes were about dance, and I was surprise that I danced
(just as I write this, someone in the bar says to someone else “when were you dancing?”)
But dance we did. We danced the Dununba, the Strong Man dance.
the women danced the steps they’d learned with energy and beauty
Happy to learn just a taste, I panicked when Mohamed said we’d all be in Saturday’s performance.
But that panic rended a vision of life as a river, and gratitude to be swept along in its current.
At the performance, I had nothing but joy.
I was surprised how this all came together at Friday night’s folklore
Somehow those Africans brought the whole village with them to a small mountain in North Carolina and made us a part,
made a village out of us
and we drummed and danced and sang for hours of astonishing joy
and it felt like coming home.
We even read some poets one quiet night – originals, obscure classics, Bukowski –
sitting in a circle, like every other night, but this time no drums
except for the stout beatnik Wally, who punctuated his awkward, beautiful piece with a driving Lengin.
Our western currents of commune resurged, resonating with tribal, rhythmic spirits roused by our teachers.
The whole week was pure poetry