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Drumming to an Ancient Beat

Last week, we heard about how music can help patients with Parkinson's disease. This week, we'll explore how some very old music touches people of all stripes. From the KUHF Newslab, Melissa Galvez reports.


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Go past the pink crystals and the incense sticks, and you’ll find them in the backroom of Temples Gate, a mystical gifts store in the Heights.  In one way or another, they come here to be transformed.

“Sometimes we are going so fast and everything just syncs together. Everybody’s playing just right and it’s the most incredible feeling in the world.”

No, Kathleen Gresham is not practicing the dark arts.  Every Thursday, she joins an unusual gathering, one that pulls from all walks of life: young, old, black, white, newbies and old hands.  They’re all here to learn African drumming with a man named Abu Bakr. 

“You can always tell the sangba from the kenkeni because the sangba is always bigger than the kenkeni and smaller than the dununba”

Abu Bakr teaches rhythms from West Africa, in what used to be the Mali Empire.  These beats are as old as the pharaohs, and each one tells a story. 

“Ok, I’ll play one for women. Murdibiasa is for a woman who’s had a problem. She’s going through all this trouble and she finally got rid of the problem and what it is, so the women are coming to celebrate her getting rid of what she was going through.”

For some players, African drumming is about connecting with their heritage.  7th grader Morgan Landers has been playing with Abu Bakr for over a year:

“I feel like, I’m playing something that maybe my great-great-great-great grandfather or grandmother played at some point in their lives.”

But you don’t need African roots to feel this music.  Kathleen Gresham describes how the drumbeats sync with her body.

“The timing is related, I think, to the breath and to movement. Abu Bakr talks about the heart beat, but it’s much more complex than that.  Some of them are just like the heart beat, but it’s very complex, very intricate. It’s something you have to feel in your body.  I like that.  I keep time with my body.”

Or maybe it’s that ancient sense of connection, of working together.  Patty Fitzgerald’s son studied in Senegal, so she picked up drumming too.  Though she has only come a few times, there’s a magic glue in the music:

“I have the feeling of a village, or a family…and that feels good”

This is called Sofa, played for men about to go to war.  They need the drummers’ energy, and the drummers themselves are transformed.  Kathleen Gresham:

“You’re both relaxed and energized. Whatever your cares and worries are, you come in here, and when you walk out of here, you’re just walking on air.”

From the KUHF NewsLab, I’m Melissa Galvez.