I discovered something this weekend, practically in my own backyard, that is just absolutely fabulous! (I love when this happens; it takes a familiar place and makes it new all over again)
I don't know how I missed it for so long...it's really loud, tons of fun and crowds of people attend this thing: Every Sunday in Meridian Hill Park there is an African drum circle.
Not a drum circle with a bunch of white hippies (although there were some in attendance, naturally). No, this one actually had real, pure soul.
Around the circle there were a ton of people (like, 50), each with a set of bongoes, drums, cowbell-type things, or cymbals. There were a few 'leaders' who would reset the rhythym by playing a simple beat which meant to stop the current one they were playing. Once everyone would do the restart beat, the leader then tapped out the next one, and slowly everyone would join in.
Standing outside the circle, but still close to it, I closed my eyes and took in this makeshift orchestra's performance. I could hear every. single. individual instrument--even the small rain-trickley sound made by some hollow wooden rod--and, at the same time, one big instrument, one big song.
It was a whole and also the sum of its parts.
And it was so celebratory! Everyone was having a such good time! They weren't there for a demonstration or to raise money. They were there to get together, forget about everything on their minds. To make beats, to dance (people dance in the middle--not your hippies trying to look African, but the real deal- the real dancing with the flailing arms, the smiling faces, the stomping, the loose wrists) They were just getting together to beat on whatever they had for a good four hours in the sweltering DC summer heat.
I love it!
I thought about "race." Well, not race cause I don't really believe in race. But it made me think about cultures in a way which I haven't in the recent months.
The first was the history of this drum circle--not just here in DC but back in Africa. The tribal aspect. Standing there, my whole body felt taken over by the beat. I couldn't help it! The rhythym just coursed through my veins. I didn't want to dance--I enjoyed watching others do so. But my soul was dancing involuntarily at the sounds.
This is part of daily life for these people. Music and dancing are in their culture. (I also love this about Latin, and now come to think of it, most of the world's non-white cultures because of this). Here our celebrations are organized, purposeful and, when compared to this kind of stuff, kinda boring! I experienced the same, I think, when I went to one of Nicole's student's Quince Ano. It was a random attendence on my part and I didn't really know what it was. But in the basement of a local El Salvadorean church with its flourescent lighting, plastic decorations and erratic DJ, the family still danced like there was no tomorrow.
Getting back to the drum circle,
It made me think how the colonialists could ever think the same thing savage, beastly, barbaric.
This was something new to me--something I could never do, per se, and I felt so appreciative of what I heard. How could something like this not be seen as beautiful?? I thought of Waiting for the Barbarians by JM Koetzee. In reality, which group is the "civilized" one?
That being said, I also got some chuckles out of the white people in the drum circle. There were about 3 or 4 and they were focused concentratingly on the drum leaders, their lips pursed, their brow sweaty and their movements stiff...making SURE that they stayed on beat. I wonder if that's how blacks feel in our mostly "white" world: somewhat stressed out about getting it right, making enough to get by, and being able to stay in the game for atleast one more whatever it is that individuals measure their increments of life by.
But at the Meridian Hill drum circle it was the other way around, even if for a few hours on a hazy Sunday afternoon. This was their world.
We had to keep up this time.