The tree birthed the drum so that we, and spirit,
can speak a common language. (Bonnie Devlin)
One of my favourite events of the year is Eastern Ontario Women’s Drum Camp. Although we have big native pow wow drums and middle eastern temple tars, aboriginal didgeridoos, and evening kirtan with Indian instruments accompanying the Sanskrit prayers, the dominant rhythms come from Africa and the energy is high. I go primarily to dance my prayers, West African style, and to be inside the ‘society’ of women drummers. Whereas there might have been talks ten years ago about how drums were taken away from women, or how the dances have become sexualized and lost their original power, we gather now not to focus on the negative but to be the positive change itself: social change through co-creating a new path, or taking the path further, and making it a little wider, to bring more onto the path. We are a new configuration, a new tradition.
An example of conscious drumming movement was presented by drummer, social activist, and writer, Ubaka Hill. The first time I met her she reminded me that we are all African. Our ancestors all go back to mother Africa, and when an African American woman tells you that you are African too, believe me, you can dance and drum much better than before you heard those words.
This year she was talking about a conscious movement to acknowledge the impact we are having on the world as drummers and musicians using wooden instruments. It is wonderful that millions of us are drumming; returning to a deep tribal connection to the earth and our heartbeats; however that is a lot of trees. Right now there are trees being cut in African villages to make drums for us in Europe and North America, but it is resulting in mud slides and desertification. So the proposal is that as we become conscious of our footprint, that we plant trees: one drum, one tree. The movement is inspired also by the first African woman to receive a Nobel prize, Wangari Maathai. She decided that rather than fight the lumber companies, who were devastating village ecosystems, she would plant trees instead.
It was interesting to see how many drums each person had in the room in which we were gathered. The average was three drums per person. That is three trees and possibly three goats for the skins. We realized it was also a good idea to get the drums into circulation, to share and swap, so that fewer trees needed to be cut.
Ubaka suggested that the best forward motion is for each of us to create ‘meet ups’ where everyone can drum, chat about planting a tree for each drum, and drum some more. Imagine what it would be like five years from now if it is natural that we plant a tree to replace the wooden one we used for our instrument. It is not just drums; think of all the violins and pianos, wooden flutes, and clarinets made from ebony. If we don’t get creative, all our instruments will be made of plastic and metal. We owe it to the generations to come, that they be able to enjoy the beautiful resonances that come from wooden instruments.
Over time, we have become disconnected from living intimately with the earth. Now we are ready to rekindle those relationships. Our African ancestors would wait until lightning struck a tree, filling it with thunder spirit, before they made a drum. We are not that patient. Instead we can connect to the earth and give thanks, by playing music to the seedling when it is planted.
We have a ‘meet up’ planned for next week and we will plant our first tree, a white pine, and drum to it an inspired song, give it tobacco, sage, water and sunshine, and our thanks. If this resonates with you, visit http://www.millionwomendrummers2013.com and get a ‘meet up’ started. The plan is to get a million drummers to plant a million trees, and gather October 11, 12, 13 / 2013 at a summit that will produce a declaration to sustain our drums and traditions. We can actually go, which would be huge fun, or gather locally in our own groups. I see it like a group avatar tree, the tree of life, that we have been using to create beautiful songs to express everything we are feeling.
It is natural that as evolved humans, we would acknowledge our interconnectedness and that ‘giving thanks’ be a social movement. A nice seed to plant for our future.