Thu | Oct 22, 2020

Drumming connects uptown and downtown

Published:Monday | November 11, 2019 | 12:00 AMStephanie Lyew/Gleaner Writer
Part of the drumming circle at Kingston Night Market.
This Nyabinghi drummer pauses from his meditational chant.
Jah Sushi joins in on the drumming at Kingston Night Market last Tuesday, November 5.
French producer and owner of Tiger Records label in Jamaica Romain ‘Sherkhan’ Chiffre digs into one of the creations of Ibo Spice.
Musician Nelg gets lost in the Nyabinghi chant.
Musician Nelg leads the Nyabinghi drumming circle with the bass drum at Kingston Night Market last Tuesday, November 5.
Musician and bamboo flute-maker Andre France feels the rhythm of the Nyabinghi and begins to move.
Drummers Ziggy (left) and Medz beat their aketes hard.
Drummers Ziggy and Medz beat their aketes hard.

The sounds of meditational chants and drums, beating like a healthy heart, echo from the suburban roadway of Hillcrest Avenue in St Andrew. It serves as an invitation to passers-by to follow the pounding to a circle of positive energy at the home of Kingston Night Market (KNM).

Live cultural acts are a key element of the weekly pop-up shop, and one that does not go unnoticed is the Nyahbinghi drumming circle, which KNM’s conceptualiser, Hyacinth McDonald, names as her regular hideaway in the middle of the hustle and bustle. On the funde, akete and bass drums, I-cient, Medz, Ziggy, Nelg, Trujah and Jah Sushi answer each other in improvised syncopation. The chants are mostly inaudible but, like the flute that Andre France and the maracas that Gravity plays, the hum of words add to the rhythm that only makes persons want to close their eyes and focus on the meditation and even dance.

“The energy is just different,” McDonald told The Gleaner last Tuesday, as she watched the drummers connect.


Like McDonald, most supporters of KNM have welcomed the drumming as a form of therapy. Nyahbinghi drumming is not exclusive to the Nyahbinghi Order, it is a familiar activity to all Rastafarians and has been adopted into reggae and dancehall rhythms.

For Romain ‘Sherkhan’ Chiffre, a French producer who has been living on Jamaican soil since he planted business here 16 years ago, it is an unusual yet convivial vibration. Right here, in this corner, Sherkhan said, “is a melting pot of cultures and much more. It is a mix of uptown and downtown, Rastafarian and Christians (beliefs put aside) – it is all about good energy.”

Call it Nyabinghi or not, Nelg, a craftsman and drummer who is admired for his artful control over the bass and akete drums, notes that the entrenched societal views, that people with different beliefs, uptown and downtown cannot co-exist, is left outside the gate of 8 Hillcrest Avenue.

His visits to KNM are sporadic, but Nelg attends to be part of the circle because he believes the gathering helps to promote unity.

“Some people call it Nyabinghi chant, but I call it the chant of one’s heart … you hear that … one-two, one-two, it is speaking the buddup-buddup that you can hear if you are silent enough, saying positive in, negative out. The negative frequencies that revolve around communities are locked out of the space and is observed in the interaction of the people, while the meditation and the true music is a way to relax the mind,” he said.