Drummer’s Hands

August 6, 2014

Drummer's Hands

Drummer’s Hands

 

Shake hands now and come

Out conjuring.

                 -Ishmael Reed

Hands are a very important part of the human body. It is with our hands that we experience the world. The sense of touch is most intimately associated with the hands and we like to use our hands to touch things – to feel their textures, their temperature, their weight, their density. There is a reason for that. Fingers are some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the body and thus are the richest source of tactile feedback.

The hands also have the greatest positioning capability of the body which allows us to use the hand not only to perceive the world that is within our reach, but to also manipulate the world around us. This is due to the skeletal structure of the hand. The skeleton of the human hand consists of 27 bones, most of which (14 bones) are the phalanges or the bones of the fingers. There are 5 bones that connect the fingers to the wrist (metacarpals) and 8 that connect the wrist to the forearm (carpals). The fixed and mobile parts of the hand adapts to various everyday tasks through the arches formed by the relationship of these bones to one another. There are longitudinal arches (the rays formed by the finger bones and their associated metacarpal bones), transverse arches (formed by the carpal bones and distal ends of the metacarpal bones), and oblique arches (between the thumb and four fingers). 1

 Hands are particularly important to those who play traditional drums because it is the hands that bring out the sound of the drum, even when that hand is using a stick. Yet there is no one particular type of hand that is more suited to the drum than any other. A drummer’s fingers may be long and thin or short and thick; their palm can be enlarged by callouses or smooth like a baby’s skin; they may be hard or supple; they may be old or they may be young. And just like people, no two drummers will have the same hand. This is one of the things that makes a drummer’s hands special. As special as a drummer’s hands are, they are often an unnoticed aspect of drumming.

Like other paired organs, (eyes, feet, legs), each hand is dominantly controlled by the opposing brain hemisphere, so that handedness, or the preferred hand choice for single-handed activities such as writing with a pencil, reflects individual brain functioning. Handedness, ones preferred hand choice, is very significant in drumming. Also ones handedness affects which hand plays the dominant role, especially when you are first learning. But to be an effective drummer you have to develop a balance between the hands, so that your weak hand becomes as strong as your dominant hand, and so the sounds between the two hands match. This is one of the first steps towards developing the balance, or equilibration that drummers need to have. As Sule Greg Wilson wrote in The Drummer’s Path, “If both your hands work, then so do both sides of the brain.”2 The balance between the hands reflects the balance between lobes of the brain, which reflects ones deeper connection to/understanding of rhythm and time. It is also an important part of the journey towards balance between the physical, the mental and the spiritual.

In discussing drums, percussionist Rocky Maffit said ”under knowing hands they [drums] are capable of complexity, subtlety, and power.”3 The particular phrasing of this comment is significant. It is the hands that bring out the drum’s range of expression because the hands are “knowing.” The idea that the hands of the drummer possesses a particular body of knowledge that allows them to bring out the voice of the drum is an insightful description. An important part of a drummer’s training involves developing the hand -its sense of touch, the shape of its arches, its movement through space – so that it can make the drum talk.

In his song Grandma’s Hands Bill Withers sings about the many skills that were expressed through his Grandma’s hands. In one line he says: “Grandma’s hands played the tambourine so well.”4 It was not the Grandmother, but her hands that held the knowledge of how to make the tambourine sing.

A drummer’s trained hands are a wonder to behold. “The drummer’s strokes dart and weave, like a boxer’s hands.” A drummer’s hands can bring out the full expressiveness of the drum. A true drummer understands that drums are not just struck, but that they can also be tapped, snapped, brushed, rubbed, and stroked and they are able to use their hands to caress the full range of tones and slaps from the skin on the drum. It is the hands of the drummer that enables drums to communicate, to “rustle, ripple, march, dance, bend, and buzz.“ A drummer’s hands can make “drums laugh, but can also” make them “give voice to tears.” A drummer can use a rubbed finger to make a drum moan, use a slap to make the drum shout or use a caress to make the drum whisper or tell secrets. It is through the hands of the drummer that drums become the life of the party, whether providing the rhythm for a carnival strut, a slow burial pulse, or for a rebellion.5

It is not only playing rhythms, the combinations of tones and slaps. A drummer’s “knowing hands” are not only skilled in the production of sound. They also understand how to manipulate the energy of the sound. The drummer knows how to either send the sound energy through the body of the drum and into the earth, or pull the sound energy from the drum and send it out to the heavens.

In the hands of a trained drummer, the drum communicates. On the earthly plane the drum is part of a community and shares the values, emotions, and aspirations of its community and it is able to communicate aspects of that community’s history. So traditionally speaking, the drum is the voice of the community in which it is a member. To say a drum is a member of the community is to recognize the drum as a being. After all each drum has a body, and each body has a particular shape and size. And once the skin is attached a drum has a head. But it is the drummer’s hands that bring out the drum’s voice. It is when the human skin of the hand comes together with the skin of the drum head, whether that is cow, goat, lizard or other, that the drum is brought to life and is able to share its message with the community.

But the drum is also a spiritual entity and is a vehicle of communication between the world of humans and the world of spirits. But whether it is being played for earthly or spiritual purposes, traditional drumming is not about the drummer. The drummer is merely the vehicle that the message comes through. To play traditional drums, one’s hands become part of the drum and one’s being the extension of the drum. The drummer is a conduit for the passage of the rhythmic energy between the corporeal and spiritual planes.

In order to do this the drummer must take the time to develop that most tactilely sensitive part of the body – the hand. The full preparation of a drummer’s hands is not only a physical undertaking. It must also encompass the mental and the spiritual for a drummer’s hands must be an extension of the brain and of the heart. To be a traditional drummer means that one is engaged in developing “the head, the hand and the heart.” This is an essential, though often overlooked part of drumming.

Sabar hands

Hands of Sing Sing Faye

Notes

1. General information about the structure of the hand from Wikipedia entry on Hand (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand)

2. Sule Greg Wilson, The Drummer’ Path, 40. Additional information about the relationship between the hand and the brain from Hand Movements by J. Randall Flanagan and Roland S. Johansson (http://psyc.queensu.ca/~flanagan/papers/FlaJoh_EHB_02.pdf),

3. Rocky Maffit, Rhythm & Beauty, the Art of Percussion, 65

4. Bill Withers, “Grandma’s Hands” on Just As I Am, 1971

5. excerpts from Rocky Maffit, Rhythm & Beauty, the Art of Percussion, 45, 62 & 63

This has been a somewhat quiet but constructive year for the Géwël Tradition Project. The focus has been on using the materials from the archives to present ngéwël history and culture and the work of the project to the public through presentations, publications and an increased on-line presence. Our biggest accomplishments were:

March 2013

Géwël Tradition Project opened a Face Book Page

Gewel FB Page

Géwël Tradition Project FB Page

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Géwël-Tradition-Project/593776840649951

April 2013

Moustapha Faye was the Visiting Scholar and Artist in Residence for the Black Studies Program at Suffolk University, Boston, MA. Moustapha’s fourth residency for the Black Studies Program was a huge success.

Moustapha Faye teaching dance class.

Moustapha Faye teaching dance class at Suffolk University.

Spring 2013

The Géwël Tradition Project: Supporting A Living Tradition

An article on the Géwël Tradition Project was published in the Spring issue of African Arts Magazine.

African Arts magazine cover

African Arts magazine cover

http://www.mitpressjournals.org/action/showMultipleAbstracts?doi=10.1162%2FAFAR_a_00045&href=%2Ftoc%2Fafar%2F46%2F1&title=African+Arts+-+Volume+46%2C+Issue+1+-+Spring+2013

October 2013

Dancing Through Time and Space: African Dance and the Géwël Tradition of Senegal at Suffolk University

An article on the dance class that the Project has taught at Suffolk University since 2005 was published in the Journal of Pan African Studies, an on-line journal.

Journal of Pan African Studies Cover

Journal of Pan African Studies Cover

http://www.jpanafrican.com/docs/vol6no5/6.5-Bellinger.pdf

The Géwël Tradition Project would like to wish everyone a prosperous and productive New Year! May we all continue to learn from and share with each other. And int hat spirit we invite you to continue to visit the Géwël Tradition Project’s blog and Facebook page. We also invite you to read the articles about the project in the publications above, and please let share your comments on either the blog or Facebook page. Thank you for your continued support in 2014.

Remembering the Elders

January 1, 2014

The child looks everywhere and often sees nought; but the old man sitting on the ground sees everything.    -Wolof

One of the most important natural resources that a community has is its elders. It is said that a long life brings wisdom. An elder is a repository for a lifetime of learning and experience as well as for the wisdom gained from his or her elders. So a physically long life, by linking to previous generations adds cultural, historical and spiritual length to a physically long life. And because during their lifetime elders have welcomed many when they entered the world and have bid farewell to many who have departed, elders know their communities. This is why they are and should be revered. To gain knowledge from an elder, to have the opportunity to listen to or converse with an elder, and take in the wisdom that such an exchange will bring, is a special thing. But it is an even greater blessing when one can sit in the shadow of an elder, even if only for a brief time. To share space with an elder during moments of quiet reflection, to feel the wake of their energy, amassed over their lifetime, washing over you, and through you, informing you and enriching you with its power. This is special. As we start the new year The Géwël Tradition Project would like to remember all of the elders who have made a transition from this plane, especially Elhadji Moussa Faye and Nelson Madiba Mandela.

Elhadji Moussa Faye

Elhadji Moussa Faye

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

A parent dies in the body, but not in the minds of the children.  -Ganda

 

In addition to teaching university students during his time as Artist in Residence, Moustapha has also shared the power and joy of the Sing Sing Experience with a variety of young people in the Greater Boston area. These are a few photos of Moustapha at work.

Cambridge School of Weston, Weston, MA

Moustapha teaching drums to students at the Cambridge School of Weston.

Moustapha teaching drums to students at the Cambridge School of Weston.

Moustapha teaching drums to students at the Cambridge School of Weston.

Moustapha teaching drums to students at the Cambridge School of Weston.

Students at the Cambridge School of Weston in sabar drum class.

Students at the Cambridge School of Weston in sabar drum class.

Students at the Cambridge School of Weston in sabar drum class.

Students at the Cambridge School of Weston in sabar drum class.

The Gold School, Brockton, MA

Moustapha and students at the Gold School.

Moustapha and students at the Gold School.

Students at the Gold School.

Moustapha and students at the Gold School.

Students at the Gold School.

Moustaph and students at the Gold School.

Students at the Gold School.

Students at the Gold School.

Whether taking a drum class or a dance class with Moustapha, the students all had a wonderful experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moustapha Faye has been Artist in Residence and Instructor for the Black Studies Program at Suffolk University in Boston during the month of April. The residency was established through a partnership between the Black Studies Program and the Géwël Traditon Project (see previous post for a history of this relationship). Below are some photos of the Moustapha and his class.

Moustapha teaching students in the saber dance class.

Moustapha teaching students in the sabar dance class.

Moustapha leading students in the saber dance class.

Moustapha leading students in the sabar dance class.

Students in the saber dance class.

Students in the sabar dance class.

Students in the saber dance class.

Students in the sabar dance class.

Students in the saber dance class prepare to present what they learned.

Students in the sabar dance class prepare to present what they learned.

Moustapha preparing students to present what they learned.

Moustapha preparing students to present what they learned.

Sabar dance class 2013

Sabar dance class 2013

 

2001

Sabar Dance Workshop, organized by Kevin King and Moustapha Faye,

offered in Senegal at the Suffolk University Dakar Campus. (Spring 2001)

Students dance at first sabar dance workshop, Suffolk University Dakar Campus.

Students dance at first sabar dance workshop, Suffolk University Dakar Campus.

Dance teacher and drummers Moustapha Faye and Malick Ngom (front) with  Sipho Bellinger and Nailah Randall Bellinger, after class.

Dance teacher Aisatou and drummers Moustapha Faye and Malick Ngom (front) with Sipho Bellinger and Nailah Randall Bellinger, after class.

2002

Sabar: The Music and Dance of Senegal, organized and taught by

Professor Robert A. Bellinger, Kevin King and Moustapha Faye, first offered

for academic credit at the Suffolk University Dakar Campus. (August 2002)

Suffolk students in sabar dance class in Dakar.

Suffolk students in sabar dance class in Dakar.

(l-r) Malick Ngom, Doudou Faye, Kevin King, Moustapha Faye and Suffolk students taking drum class in Dakar.

(l-r) Malick Ngom, Doudou Faye, Kevin King, Moustapha Faye and Suffolk students taking drum class in Dakar.

2003

Sabar Dance Workshop, organized by Professor Robert A. Bellinger and

taught by Lamine Touré, presented by the Collection of African American Literature and the Black Studies Program at Suffolk University, Boston. (Fall 2003)

2004

Sabar Dance Workshop, organized by Professor Robert A. Bellinger and

taught by Lamine Touré, presented by the Collection of African American Literature and the Black Studies Program at Suffolk University, Boston. (Fall 2004)

2005

Sabar: The Music and Dance of Senegal, taught by Professor Robert

A. Bellinger and Lamine Touré, first offered for academic credit by the Black Studies Program at Suffolk University, Boston. (Spring 2005)

2006

Sabar: The Music and Dance of Senegal, taught by Professor Robert

A. Bellinger and Lamine Touré, offered for academic credit by the Black Studies Program at Suffolk University, Boston. (Spring 2006)

Suffolk students presenting the dances they learned in class.

Suffolk students presenting the dances they learned in class.

2007

Sabar: The Music and Dance of Senegal, taught by Professor Robert

A. Bellinger and Lamine Touré, offered for academic credit by the Black Studies Program at Suffolk University, Boston. (Spring 2007)

2008

Sabar: The Music and Dance of Senegal, taught by Professor Robert

A. Bellinger and Lamine Touré, offered for academic credit by the Black Studies Program at Suffolk University, Boston. (Spring 2008)

Lamine Touré teaching sabar dace class at Suffolk.

Lamine Touré teaching sabar dace class at Suffolk.

Sing Sing Faye, Moustapha Faye, Aziz Faye and Malick Ngom are

Suffolk University Distinguished Visiting Scholars and Artists in Residence for the Black Studies Program at Suffolk University, Boston. (April 2008)

Sing Sing at Suffolk

img_0270

Aziz and Lamine Diallo explaining the sabar drum

Aziz and Lamine Diallo explaining the sabar drum

2009

Sabar: The Music and Dance of Senegal, taught by Professor Robert

A. Bellinger and Moustapha Faye with Aziz Faye and Malick Ngom, offered

for academic credit at the Suffolk University Boston Campus. (Fall 2009)

Moustapha Faye, Aziz Faye and Malick Ngom are Suffolk University Distinguished Visiting Scholars and Artists in Residence for the Black Studies Program at Suffolk University, Boston. (October – December 2009)

Celebrate Senegal, a conference on the sabar tradition of Senegal,

presented through lectures, films, demonstrations, classes, workshops and

performances is presented by the Black Studies Program at Suffolk University, Boston. (October -December 2009)

Moustapha (center) with Malick (right) and Kimani (left).

Moustapha (center) with Malick (right) and Kimani (left).

Aziz leads the dancers from the dance class.

Aziz leads the dancers from the dance class. (Prestige Image)

Before the show.

Before the show. (Photo by Ken Martin)

Celebrate Senegal Conference Poster

Celebrate Senegal Conference Poster

2011

Sabar: The Music and Dance of Senegal, taught by Professor Robert A. Bellinger offered for academic credit by the Black Studies Program at Suffolk University, Boston. (Spring 2011)

Suffolk students dancing sabar in class.

Suffolk students dancing sabar in class.

 Suffolk Student dancing sabar in class.


Suffolk Student dancing sabar in class.

Suffolk Student dancing sabar in class.

Suffolk Student dancing sabar in class.

2012

Sabar: The Music and Dance of Senegal, taught by Professor Robert

A. Bellinger and Moustapha Faye with Nogaye Ngom and Malick Ngom, offered for academic credit by the Black Studies Program at Suffolk University, Boston. (Spring 2012)

Moustapha Faye, Nogaye Ngom and Malick Ngom are Artists in Residence for the Black Studies Program at Suffolk University, Boston. (October -December 2009)

Moustapha Faye.

Nogaye teaching Suffolk University students

Nogaye teaching Suffolk University students at the Jeanette Neil Dance Studio.

Moustapha instructing students in sabar drumming.

Moustapha instructing students in sabar drumming in the Donahue Building, Suffolk University.

Pape Faye, Malick Ngom and Moustapha Faye.

Pape Faye, Malick Ngom and Moustapha Faye.

2013

Sabar: The Music and Dance of Senegal, taught by Professor Robert

A. Bellinger and Moustapha Faye, offered for academic credit by the Black Studies Program at Suffolk University, Boston. (Spring 2013)

Moustapha Faye is Artist in Residence for the Suffolk University Black

Studies Program at Suffolk University, Boston. (October – December 2009)

Moustapha Faye teaching dance to students at Suffolk University.

Moustapha Faye teaching dance to students at Suffolk University.

Moustapha Faye preparing dance students for Celebration of Senegal.

Moustapha Faye preparing dance students for Celebration of Senegal.

Abdoulaye Bậll

Abdoulaye Bậll

A kind spirit with a gentle, caring heart,

with an infectious laugh that reflected the joy he found in life,

and a voice that embodied the drums that he loved so much.

His presence will be missed but he will remain in our collective memories.

Abdoulaye Bậll and Moustapha Faye

Abdoulaye Bậll and Moustapha Faye

Abdoulaye Bậll

Abdoulaye Bậll

Abdoulaye Bậll

(front l-r) Abdoulaye Bậll, Vieux Sing Faye, Moussa DIang, Moustapha Faye. (back row l-r) Lamine Faye, Bakari Diom, El Hadji Moussa Faye, Papa Chas Faye ad Isma Aw.

This i a video of the dance class that Nogaye Ngom taught to the students who were enrolled in the class Sabar: The Music and Dance of Senegal atSsuffolk University during the month of April 2012. Nogaye created choreography to a bakk that was played by her uncle Moustapha Faye and brother Malick Ngom. The choreography/bakk while based on traditional sabar dance movements also incorporated some of the most recent popular dances in Senegal such as yousa representing the fact that sabar is a living art form that is both traditional and modern at the same time.

Stay tuned for more videos soon.

On Sunday, April 29 Moustapha, Nogaye and Malick, along with Pape Faye, played a sabar party at Teranga Restaurant in Boston’s South End. There were quite a few people who came for the party and quite a few who came for the food and had the extra benefit of the party. At any rate, bringing sabar drums to a Senegalese restaurant was a natural combination that added the a fitting ambiance.

Nogaye and Malick relax before the party.

Nogaye and Malick relax before the party.

Moustapha plays outside of Teranga.

Moustapha plays outside of Teranga.

Mloustapha and Pape Faye play outside of Teranga.

Mloustapha and Pape Faye play outside of Teranga.

Sarah joins the drummers.

Sarah joins the drummers.

Playing at Teranga.

Playing at Teranga.

Marie-Claude, owner of Teranga Restaurant, dances to the rhytms.

Marie-Claude, owner of Teranga Restaurant, dances to the rhytms.

Dancing to the drums.

Dancing to the drums.

Nogaye dancing at Teranga.

Nogaye dancing at Teranga.

Sarah dances to the sabar drums.

Sarah dances to the sabar drums.

Marie-Claude takes time to dance.

Marie-Claude takes time to dance.

Moustapha plays Tagumbar.

Moustapha plays Tagumbar.

The residency of the Sing sing family ended with  a concert performance at Suffolk University’s C. Walsh Theater. Moustapha, Nogaye and Malick were joined by long time friend, Pape Faye. In the true spirit of the African Tradition the concert was an interactive event with lots of give and take between the musicians/dancer and the audience and with audience members taking to the stage to dance to the rhythms of the sabar drums.

Pape Faye, Malick Ngom and Moustapha Faye.

Pape Faye, Malick Ngom and Moustapha Faye.

Malick Ngom.

Malick Ngom.

The drummers.

Moustapha Faye.

Nogaye Ngom dances to the drums.

Nogaye Ngom dances to the drums.

Nogaye takes flight.

Nogaye takes flight.

Nogaye dances Youza.

Nogaye dances Youza.

Malick plays cól mbundow.

Malick plays cól mbundow.

Nogaye joins in on drums.

Nogaye joins in on drums.

Malick's signature dance move.

Malick's signature dance move.

Pa Seck joins Nogaye on stage.

Pa Seck joins Nogaye on stage.

Pa Seck joins Nogaye on stage.

Pa Seck joins Nogaye on stage.

Malick plays nder.

Malick plays nder.

Pape Faye.

Pape Faye.

A student dances on stage.

A student dances on stage.

A student dances on stage.

A student dances on stage.

A student dances on stage.

A student dances on stage.

Members of the audience dance on stage.

Members of the audience dance on stage.

 

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