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Pulse of the spirit: Drums the foundation for diverse rituals, popular culture

Published:Sunday | February 15, 2015 | 2:00 AM

Amitabh Sharma, Contributor

"The rhythm is in your blood" goes an African proverb, resonating from the beats of the drums, which are not merely musical instruments in that part of the world; their rhythm is embedded in the society's DNA.

"Across the world, of all the instruments associated with black music, the drums are considered emblematic," said Herbie Miller, director/curator of Jamaica Music Museum (JaMM).

The semblance of many modern percussion instruments - from the American trapset to the postmodern drum machine - find their genesis in African drums.

"African drums and drummers have also fostered new rhythms and inspired dances," Miller said. "They have served as the foundation for diverse spiritual rituals and popular culture throughout the Americas."

Bathed in soft yellow lights, some of these traditions come alive at the Institute of Jamaica Lecture Hall at Tower Street in varied shapes and genres, each resonating a different aspect of African tradition and history - their spirituality and masquerade, which creates the façade behind the long lineage and fables.

"Symbolically and in reality,
drums have had a long history of migration, from the days of slavery to
the present," Miller said. "They are at the foundation of cultural and
spiritual expressions throughout the diaspora."

In
civilisations across the world, music has always been the critical and
essential media bridging the mortal souls with varied manifestations of a
supreme being.

With a range of materials, shapes, and
taboos attached to them, each drum on display at the exhibition embed
strains of spirituality in their sanctum
sanctorum.

"Drums, unquestionably, represent the
spirit, soul and innermost feelings of peoples from Africa and its
diasporas," Miller said.

"They set the rhythm of
masquerade and dance and encourage and appease
spirits."

This dance of the spirits employs the use of
drumming, which links the physical being of the human, standing
steadfast on terra firma, to a higher energy
level.

The exhibition, the director/curator of JaMM
informed, is a material illustration of such a
manifestation.

The spirituality and rituals are the
basis of what will be discussed in the ongoing 4th Grounation series, of
which the drum exhibition forms a part.

The exhibits
are an eclectic mix of not only the drums, but rituals and symbolism
associated with them.

"Using objects, including
various drums from Africa and the diaspora, and including other objects
of culture such as masks and ritual pieces, we try to give a visual
interpretation of the discussion and the music," Miller
informed.

"For example," he said, "Cuba's Santeria is
represented by a bata drum, and the Haitian voodoo drum and flag
provides context for the discussion; although the various drums are from
Africa and Jamaica."

The exhibition, 'Call &
Response: Drums, Masques and Spirits', according to Miller, illuminates
the role of the drums as conveyor of art and philosophy connecting Black
Atlantic worlds.

These drums, he said, are mediums of
expression, which are creative, artistic, and philosophical and
critically chart the contribution of African civilisations to the
West.

"The expressions," he said, "are intellectually
perceived, and spiritually and sensuously appreciated for the measure of
accomplishment and
achievement."

amitabh.sharma@hotmail.com

Photos by Amitabh Sharma