Drums are Magnificent!
This blog sat on ice for a year because I wanted to give drums the heartfelt homage they deserve! After all, they are used in many societies in similar ways.
A few weeks ago, I went to my first Trinidadian Thanksgiving. It was very energized by drums and the songs were dedicated to various Orisha. It was a particularly hot week in July. Temperatures were over 100 that week and in the facility that hosted the event, it was baking-hot. However, the call and response to the drums were electrifying. I also got to witness the Ghanaian spiritual presence. Ghana gave the world Anansi stories which I love to recite! The deities were called through the drum rhythms, marched in to greet each other, and demanded reverence from their audience.
Drums and I have a deep connection. They call my spirit responds. I had been to Nyabingi, a drumming style from Rwanda/Tanzania/Uganda that was later adopted by Rastafarians in Jamaica. Nyabingi, a woman, “the one who possesses many things”. I have been to vodun ceremonies even Palo Mayombe’s fiery presentations. However, nothing prepared me for an Ocha drumming. La Regla de Ocha or “Ocha” as it can be affectionately called is misnomered as Santeria. It is the intricate response to keeping the gods alive through the transatlantic journey. It was brought by slaves from West Africa, mostly the Yoruba of Nigeria; it linguistically adapts its origin of Ile-Ife into an Afro-Cuban story.
Pre-Instagram, I went to a house in Kendall with my Baba. It was a huge house, dedicated to Ocha. There were several rooms dedicated to the major seven deities. There were huge mounds of fruit, food, and gifts. There were plenty of burning candles with many petitions as well as ornate bovedas (where the spirit is housed), draperies, and representations of deities and their tools. Sweet smell wafted from everywhere as well as the smell of food being prepared. Iyas and Babas, students and devotees were all colorfully dressed. My baba advised that I dressed in all white. It was truly a bazaar for the senses. The bata drummers were so handsome. I wondered nearer as they began to play a dedication to Eshu-Elegba. I was entranced. Soon I heard whispering in my ear of words I understood, although I didn’t know the language. I began to cry. I awoke in a small den with an elderly lady patting my knee and a fan blowing directly in my face. I can’t divulge what happened because I don’t remember. I do remember my Baba telling me he had never come across anyone like me throughout his time. I wish I had asked him more questions, but to be completely honest, it scared the shit out of me.
Have you had experiences with drums, ceremony, or trance? Let me know in the comment section below!
References of drums in Psalms verses
The Psalm mentions the drum several times. In verse 81:2, it says, “Raise a song; strike the timbrel, the sweet-sounding lyre with the harp.” The meaning of this verse is quite clear. It emphasizes the instrument’s importance in creating a reverberating effect that makes the praise sound even better.
In verse, 149:3, it says, “Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre.” This verse reflects how the timbrel’s sound helps praise the Lord in a more melodic manner.
It says in verse 150: 5, “Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.” If you notice, you’ll see that the verses till now all speak of drums being played along with another instrument. Even today, musical bands play the drum and the cymbal together to produce the tunes deemed necessary.
References of drums in the Exodus
The Book of Exodus, the second book of the Bible says in verse 15:20, “Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dancing.”
The use of the timbrel or drum in this commandment is clearly defined as an instrument used for celebrations that helps express joy and liveliness.
Reference of drums in the Jeremiah
In the Book of Jeremiah, the second of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, and the second of the Prophets in the Old Testament, mentions not drums but tambourines in verse 31:4 as, “again I will build you and you will be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel! Again you will take up your tambourines, and go forth to the dances of the merrymakers.”
In the aforementioned verse, we see that in addition to the drum, another instrument that occupied importance is the tambourine. It was often a part of celebration and helped people express their emotions.