Drum-focused music circles are encouraging people to relieve their stress through hand percussion instruments. The West African djembe has captured imaginations the most.
The youngest workforce in the world is also one of the most stressed, found a recent study by Forbes magazine, which was conducted through career agent firm Talent Magnets. This comes as no surprise, as Indian millennials work long hours to battle a heavy workload and meet looming deadlines.
As a way to beat this monotony, drum circles—a group activity that involves participants to sit in a circle while playing drums, etc, to create a group rhythm—across the country are encouraging people to relieve their stress through hand percussion instruments such as the tambourine (the circle is moderated by a facilitator who guides the group in rhythms and rhythm-based activities).
The most popular instrument, however, seems to be the West African djembe, a goblet-shaped drum that is traditionally carved from a single piece of African hardwood and topped with an animal skin as a drumhead. Common in countries such as Guinea, Ghana, Mali, etc, the djembe was conventionally used by women to drum along while performing household chores or by men during religious or folk performances in their communities, says Babara Bangoura Fakoly, a djembefola (lead djembe artiste) from Guinea. Percussionist Fakoly, who is widely recognised in international drum circles as the prodigy of Guinean djembe master Mamady Keita, was trained to play the djembe from the time he was 11 years old. “As a djembefola, I am dedicated to promoting Mamady’s message: music has no boundaries and skin colour is not an obstacle for befriending other cultures,” he says. The West African artiste, who tours and performs across the world, also teaches people how to play the djembe and other percussion instruments.
During a performance, says Fakoly, the djembe may begin the ritual followed by vocals or other instruments. Subsequently, the djembe player changes the beat of the drums in order to change the song, and vocalists and instrumental players use the rhythm to follow along, creating a unanimous rhythm. “The music of the djembe is contagious because it takes you to a primal place. While you play, you feel connected to your inner self, to your brothers and to nature. That is when healing begins,” says the percussionist, who was in the national capital recently to perform at the International Ancient Arts Festival (IAAF). Organised by Odissi dancer Reela Hota, it was held in collaboration with the ITDC and the Union ministry of culture. Hota is the founder of Rays of Wisdom Society that organises the IAAF. The daughter of yoga guru Bijoylaxmi Hota, the performer was exposed to dance, yoga and ashram life since childhood and that’s how she learnt to channel dance and music as vital therapeutic tools. “I want audiences and attendees to open up to the therapeutic potential of art, be it painting, dance or music. The djembe, in particular, proves to be vital due to its roots that celebrate life, community and connection through a common rhythm,” she says.
But how does one find the rhythm? “If you have a heartbeat, the rhythm is in you,” says Vasundhra Das, co-founder, drumJAM, an organisation that facilities drum circles across India. An actor, singer and songwriter by profession, Das started facilitating drum circles in India in 2006 along with her husband and musician Roberto Narain. While the idea was yet to catch fire in India at that time, the duo sensed the potential when corporates started approaching them to conduct sessions for their employees. “It was in 2008 that we set up drumJAM. Even though it was a universal concept, we adjusted it to the need in India,” says Das, disclosing how drumJAM initially catered only to first-generation corporates in the country.
Trained under the tutelage of world-renowned California-based percussionist Arthur Hull, the couple explain how the rhythm-based activity helps participants achieve harmony. “In a corporate set-up, there are many pressures, such as competition, politics, peer pressure and stress. Sitting together in a circle and playing the djembe breaks barriers between people… they make direct eye contact and communicate with each other through music,” says Das, adding that if need be around 20,000 musical instruments of the organisation can be put to use for such events.
Like most group activities, this is also an interactive one, which encourages people to contribute equally, making them work in sync to understand each other and reproduce beats in coordination. It forces people to tap into their creative space, while providing a safe environment to be confident, unique and capable, she says. From encouraging marketing professionals to achieve their targets to helping a group of students prepare for exams, a drum circle can help a varied group of people—the number of participants can vary from five to 10,000. “Most people are overwhelmed after a session. They are motivated and high on energy, and the credit usually goes to facilitators for helping them let loose,” says Das. Even for those who think they are too tone deaf to participate, psychologist Shruti Kumar urges participating as a great way to destress and achieve work-life balance.
Many groups, such as the Delhi Drum Circle and Pune-based Taal Rhythmic Solutions, organise such sessions. Vaibhav Chaturvedi, co-founder of the Noida-based Djembe Circle, says, “The whole idea is to come, jam with a fun set of people and shed your inhibitions. Ours is an open group and free for all.” The group—whose members are amateur musicians, as well as professionals—meets every alternate Sunday at a shopping mall in Noida. Debu Mishra, the other founding member, shares that the best part about jamming in a public place is that visitors walking by get intrigued and end up spending a few minutes with them. The most interesting part, however, is that none of the participants rehearse. “They are mostly working professionals who only meet on weekends. They come and start playing, and the synergy builds up naturally,” says Mishra.
What strikes a chord, Chaturvedi says, is that one may be the boss in their office or a team leader, but as part of the group, they have to leave behind their professional ranks and egos. “Members are aged from seven to 70 years who share a common passion—music—and use it as a method of stress relief.”
In drum circles, participants can express themselves freely in a language that has no words—the language of rhythm, shares Janak Vadgama, director, Taal Rhythmic Solutions, which hosts djembe circles not only for corporates, but also for students at schools and colleges, and even at marriages. “The drum circle experience is a rhythmic journey and the intention is to ‘come, drum and be one’. Our drum circles are designed to ensure that even participants with no prior experience in music can feed their most basic intellectual needs,” says Vadgama, who has also hosted sessions with Fakoly.
“It’s a treat to witness people feel free and ‘play’ out all their feelings, past and present. The experience ensures that all participants leave the session calmer and closer to their inner rhythm,” he says.