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Stabroek News

Drums keep the beat!
published: Sunday | November 13, 2005

Members of the Inner City Marching Band perform at a Multicare Foundation Christmas concert at the Breezy Castle Centre in downtown Kingston.

Kesi Asher, Staff Reporter

THE DRUM is an important part of Jamaica's entertainment, with different types being used in various activities.

Drums are used in traditional and in creative dances, as well as the creation of dancehall rhythms.

"In dancehall and contemporary music, the drum is important," said Orville Hall, leader of the group Dance Xpressionz.

The kete drum is used extensively in Rastafarian-based music, and dub poetry which often depends heavily on a steady beat that helps keep the poem's rhythm.

For live performances, the drum set is the heartbeat of the band.

"The drums keep the timing and the rhythm. The drummer has to work with the artiste, the drums help with the aggression on stage," said Craig 'Left-Side' Parkes of the duo, Left-Side and Esco, and also Lloyd Parkes and We The People Band.

"The drum is the root. That's really where the dancing comes in. The drums are the most energetic part of the band," explained Left-Side.

The parts of the drum set that aid with the timing and rhythm are the snare and the hi hat.

"The other parts of the drum are just for fill-ins," explained Craig Parkes.

The other instruments in the drum set do their fair share of the work ­ the bass drum, cymbals (crash and ride), tom 1, tom 2, and tom 3.

Left-Side, who is also a producer, said "the drum sounds

that are heard in the songs are done by drum machines that sample sounds. Live recordings are still done in some studios."

An actual drum set naturally gives a more authentic sound.

The drum is the essential part of certain performances.


"The drums are considered the heartbeat of the people. The drums were used as our voices in Africa, to send signals that could be translated to mean something to the people who received it," said Orville Hall, choreographer, who is also one of the principal dancers in the Stella Maris Dance Ensemble.

The beat of the drum is often used in different dances. For the creative pieces, the different beats can be mixed in varying styles.

Playing the drum is more technical than it appears. In learning to play the instrument, one must learn the different hand positions that give different sounds.

The styles of playing the drum include closed tone, open tone, fingertips and a slap to the side of the drum.

The bass sound is achieved through cupping the hand with the fingers close together and hitting the centre of the instrument.

"It gives that hard drum bass that appeals to the heart. If you are a dance company, the Afro-centric nature of the drums is important to the performances. We know the drums, the beat of it. There is a link between blackness and the drums," said Hall.

Among the traditional dances that use the drums are Kumina, Gerreh, Brukins, Dinki Mini and Revival. There are certain drums for specific dances.


"The Kumina drums can only be used for Kumina, because it is rumoured that the drums evoke spirits. The Revival drums are also different," Hall said.

In Kumina, the beat of the drums and the African language facilitate communication with the ancient African spirits.

"When you knock your drum, the spirit come up, the spirit of Mother Earth," said Bernice Henry, the 'Mother' of the Port Morant Kumina Group.

The Kumina drums also add rhythm to the dance. "When you hear the beat of the drums, even if you not performing you feel the spirit, you want to dance," Henry said.

Linval Walker, one of the drummers of the group, speaks of the playing of the instrument as an art: "There is a special way to play the drums to the music; is not just a regular knocking. It's a particular beat. "

Road marches and parades also utilise drums in the marching band. The different types of drums used are the snare or side drum, bass drum and tenor drum. These come in varying shapes and sizes, with a strap to facilitate walking with the drum.


Dave McNeish, drum major for the East Jamaica Conference Drum Corps, said "The bass drum is the drum that carries the parade. It holds the beat. When the side drummers are running away with the song, the bass drum can slow it down".

For the slow march, the bass drummer starts the song and maintain the pace.

"When you are changing from slow time to quick time, the bass drum is one that carries you through timings," McNeish said.

The bass drum also signals the parade when to change songs or when to finish one. Not only is it the biggest and heaviest on the line, it is loudest.

The drum is also integral in the performance of the dub poem.

"The drum offers that earth sound, that roots rock type of sound, which is important for the dub poem," said Everaldo Creary, from the dub poetry group, Nomaddz.

The kete and the nyahbingi drums are accompanied by the acoustic guitar.

However, according to Creary, dub poems can be done without the use of the drum.

Depending on the rhythm used in the poem, the performance might be flat or boring without the accompaniment.

Drums enhance the mood of the poet and the general atmosphere of the poem.

"It provides a peaceful mood; it captures your entire being. It gives a special feeling," Creary said.

He explained that any poem can go on any rhythm, but mostly the traditional rhythms are used in dub poetry.

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