The basics of Love

A special guest post from one of our students, Rachel Grace Keerie, on her first djembe class last week:


Last night I caught the beat train to djembe city. More accurately, I watched other people drum up a storm and I had the best fun trying to keep up. Grab a chair and a drum, make a circle. Our teacher for the evening is Rendra and he starts us off with some very simple beats around the circle and then quickly moves into showing us and telling us some drumming theory and practice. It’s more technical than I’d imagined and therefore loads more engaging. The camaraderie at the Hut is as awesome as ever and nobody is a stranger for long.

Palm slap is a no-no, but so tempting. Hitting the drum in the middle of the skin, with the palm of my hand needs to be done in a very particular way. Who knew? Not me. Fingertips together for one sound, and fingers relaxed and apart to make another, completely different, higher pitched sound.

Relaxing the fingers, aha, not this newbie! Fingers together – beat – fingers splayed – beat, keep up with the pattern, as if I can. Laughing my ass off at my lack of skills! It’s my first time, but who am I to give myself a break. Staring at Rendra’s speedy hands for a clue about where to start in again; so much fun, so physical, so technical, and somehow relaxing at the same time, which seems impossible.

Thighs don’t fail me now, but my djembe is slipping and I have to grab it before I drop it. Looking around the group, everyone is in a different state of being; some confident of their hands on the drum skin one second, and then smiling, distracted and losing the rhythm the next. It’s good that we’re a mix of experienced drummers and total newbies. Rendra and Denise call the beat; they count it out loud and pound their djembe’s on the start or the end of the pattern.

Some of the more experienced drummers can keep up, even when we’re mixing three beat timing and four beat timing. That’s when I stop and take a breath and look around the group for a second before diving back in.

Aliya lies in the centre. She’s heard lots of drums in her lifetime. My pathetic attempts, loose thighs, and slipping djembe don’t concern her one bit. She just struggles to find a comfy position for her old bones.

My djembe is furry around the top. It was handed to me to use because it is one that has recently had a new skin stretched on it. This means the sound is better than some of the older drums. I must ask again what the different parts of the drum are called.

I feel like a tribal woman, beating my gorgeous, happy sounding African drum, and then the next minute I’ve lost the plot and I need to get my ear into the beat to start again.

I feel so tempted to stare at the hands of the person leading the group, trying to copy them perfectly. Somehow this just isn’t the best way to keep the beat, though. You lose the rhythm completely if you just copy what’s happening.

Learning set-rhythms does seem hard at first, if you are trying too hard, pushing yourself to get it right, holding your breath. Just kind of let it wash over you and just feel it. This is the best way, I’m finding.

The roller door is wide open because the weather is perfect for it; a cool breeze trickling in on us as we pound those drums.

Drumming around the circle, taking turns, keeping track of whose turn it is; leader, group, individual, leader, group, next individual. Keeping the beat going, trying not be the one to falter and stuff up the beat.

My fingers get sore hitting that drum for the millionth time, but I have no pain as soon as we stop. I can’t wait for next Wednesday night to roll around so I can get back on the djembe train. I might not yet have the confidence that I can keep up with the rhythm king, but I’m looking forward to the rush as my hands, arms, brain and heart meld and become one with the Rhythm of the Hut.


definitely having fun!

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