Change Becomes You
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Change Becomes You

5 Lessons Drumming Has Taught Me About Being A Man

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

What do you think of when the word ‘drums’ come to mind?

You probably conjure up the image of someone rocking out on the drum kit. You probably think of the pace and rhythm in music. Some of you might think of bass and beats. Some of you might think of rock and roll, headbanging and stick twirling.

And some of you, particularly the quiet types, might think of headaches, soundproof walls, and noise restrictions.

The drums that I’m about to talk about is not the type that you would see at your typical rock concert — you know, the grandiose set up with the shiny golden cymbals. I’m talking about the djembe drum (pronounced Jem-bey) — a wooden, hand carved, goblet shaped hand drum originating from west Africa. According to DrumConnection, the ‘djembe’ got its name from the Bamana people in Mali, who called out “anke dje, anke be” to gather everyone together. The phrase translated to “everyone gather together”, with “dje” meaning gather, and “be” meaning everyone.

I was first introduced to the djembe around two years ago, when a colleague of mine invited me to help him facilitate a drumming program with a group of young male participants at a local behavioural school. The program taught young people how to play the drum whilst supporting them in developing healthy relationships with their peers and themselves.

It was then that I started to gain interest in the role of drumming in mental health. I was curious to know how a drumming program was so successful among young, disengaged men. It has been two years since that first session, and I have been involved in facilitating the drumming program ever since. I have learned many valuable life lessons from the program, particularly with the young men that I have worked with.

Personally, I have thought about the connection between the drumming and masculinity, and the lessons that men can gain from the humble djembe. Here are some of my reflections…

1. Men connect by ‘doing’

One reason why I think the drumming program has been so popular among young men is because they were ‘doing’. Whether it was working as a team to create a beat, or playing a beat to express disagreement, the djembe drum was used to help the male participants to communicate and connect with each other. The way that the group would play the drums, with boys and men gathering with their drum in a circle, encouraged communication between the participants and fostered a sense of belonging. From experience, the communication amongst the group helped to build supportive relationships — where the participants felt like they could rely on each other if they were lost in a rhythm, or lost in life.

2. Men express emotions and feelings through action

At the end of my first-ever session, I was amazed (and confused) by how engaged the male participants were. Apart from the impressive beats that the groups were able to play, I observed that the djembe drum was used as a tool to express themselves. The djembe drum was used to break the ice. It was used as a ‘talking stick’. It was used to express agreement or disagreement. While some participants found it difficult to find the words to say during a brief ‘check-in’, most found a way to express happiness, anger, frustration, and boredom on their drum, even if it was off rhythm. These musical expressions helped the group to understand what was going on, and whether a participant needed further acknowledgement or support.

3. The value of workmanship

“It is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle man who is the miserable man.” Benjamin Franklin

About three months ago, I decided to invest in my own djembe drum. The drum had a minimal design carved into its wooden base. Thin ropes were criss-crossed and securely tied around the drum, tightening the skin. Striking the drum made a beautiful crisp tone with minimal ringing. I could tell that the drum was made with thoughtfulness, precision, and care.

Photo of my djembe drum

The drum has become a reminder of the importance of work. The importance of ‘putting in the hard yards’ in every shift, whether it be at the workplace, at home or on the field. And a reminder of how we can be of service to others through our time and effort, whether it be for our family, friends, clients or community.

4. Passing on a tradition. Passing on a legacy

The history of drumming can be dated back thousands of years ago. The drumming that we know is associated with music — it helps to keep a stable pace and rhythm. However, drumming had many other functions in the daily lives of people thousands of years ago. For example, we can often make the link between drumming and war, where the drums would be used to accompany the troops when they marched onto the battlefield.

According to the Farai Malianga from The Kennedy Centre, The djembe drum was played for the King of Mali, and accompanied him wherever he went, whether in battle or to let the people know that the he was coming. Drumming was a form of communication for people at that time, and it’s amazing to know that it still is today.

Farai Malianga further expresses the importance of the wood used for the djembe drum, as it represents the African understanding of ‘The family tree’:

“The family tree which connects the youth — the young people which are the fruits and the leaves, to the family — which are its branches and the tree, to the ancestors — the people that have passed on, which is the bottom of the tree.” Farai Malianga

There is something about playing the djembe drum that reminds me of the past. I am reminded of preserving and passing down my own traditions. I ask myself: What traditions do I want to pass down to my future family? What traditions do I want to pass down to my future sons or future daughters? What kind of legacy do I want to leave behind?

I am reminded of where I have been, where I am now and where I am going. I am reminded of the question, when I leave this earth, what do I want to leave behind?

5. Going back to what’s important in life

Lately, I have filled up my leisure time playing the djembe drum. There is something about playing the djembe that pulls me back to the present moment. And, there is also a contemplative element to it. Sometimes you play and get lost in a thought or reflection.

It’s an instrument that reminds me of living the simple life. What would life look life if I was a simple man? The djembe drum is an instrument that doesn’t require much attention. Anyone who can strike their hand on the surface of the drum can play it. It doesn’t require you to understand notes or chords. It doesn’t require any wires, sticks or power outlets.

Just a man banging on his wooden drum.

In a world full of noise, ask yourself: What is important to you? What are the ‘back to basics’ when you are lost in life?

Final Words

You can learn a lot about yourself from the music that you listen to and the instruments that you play.

It can tell you about who you are and what you value and believe in.

It can tell you about the emotions and feelings you experience every day.

It can tell you about where you have come from and where you are going.

For me, it was the humble djembe drum that helped me to think about my own journey as a man.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time

Stephen

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