Question: Do you make up the “breaks” that we play in our djembe drumming ensemble or are they taken from some where else?

My response:

I’ve composed a few djembe breaks and collaborated with other drummers to create them; however, most of the ones that I incorporate are ones that I’ve learned from my teachers.
They are traditional in the sense that they have been passed down by drummers that come from core djembe areas in Mali and Guinea in West Africa. Some of these breaks have become well known because they were created within the national folkloric ensembles such as Percussions de Guinee and Ballets Africaines and were widely disseminated via the recordings and videos of their performances.
Many working drummers in Mali and Guinea have their own groups. They often create their own short breaks that they use in the context of the ceremonies and festivals where they play.
All that said, in most of the drumming I’ve experienced at drumming activities in Guinea and Mali, these things aren’t played at all. Drummers are more involved with the success of ceremony and playing the rhythms to accompany the dancing and singing that’s taking place. Also, the drum ensemble may consist of various drummers that were “rounded up” for a particular and don’t usually play together, therefore they may not be familiar with each other’s “breaks.”
Drum enthusiasts call this style of playing: “traditional” drumming. And the type of drumming found in organized drum and dance ensembles where the emphasis is on creating an exciting performance is called “ballet style” drumming.
If anyone has any questions about drumming from any culture, I’d be glad to do my best to answer it, or point the way to more information on the subject.

Gordon Nunn

First Night of Open Drumming is a Success

Hello Pittsburgh Hand Drummers,

I’ll be leading an open drumming session at Greenfield Presbyterian Church, this Thursday, February 24 from 7–9 p.m. Some loaner drums will be provided. I’ll be asking for a five dollar donation from each participant.
The church is located at 3929 Coleman St. Pittsburgh, PA 15207.

My intention with this event is to provide an indoor environment where people can come together to drum, and have fun.

Drumming brings people together. My hope is that in this context, we can create rhythms that are the result of the collective creativity of everyone present.

First Night of Open Drumming is a Success

What is open drumming? What should participants expect? What is it not?

Open drumming is a term that I use to describe a collective drumming activity where participants are free to play what ever they like, so long as it adheres in some way to a central pulse. That pulse can be expressed as a single recurring beat, much like a heartbeat, or as a more complex rhythmic pattern.

One of the beauties of open drumming is that the pulse can change in response to the collective energy created by the drummers that are present.

As the facilitator, I’ll do my best to guide the music, and at the same time be sensitive to the energy of the drummers, because in this kind of context, it’s only natural that the rhythms and tempo change of the course of the event. My goal will be to provide some sense of continuity within the overall musical space.

It will also be responsibility to foster a safe environment, where participants can feel comfortable. It’s not a venue for drummers to come and show off their amazing speed or to play louder than anyone else. Collective drumming should be a medium for musical interaction and mutual respect.