Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Drum Talk

From 1985-1993 our family stayed every summer at Blue Harbour in Castle Garden, Jamaica, 14 miles on the double bendy road, the ziggy ziggy road up from Ocho Rios and a few miles from Port Maria and there it was, the old white block house that was once the home of playwright Noel Coward. 

So this is where we spent our summers -- running an excursion camp for teens on the North Coast.  A sort of outward bound, journal writing school for which Santa Fe Preparatory School gave us our accreditation. Our students were Anglo, American Indian, Latino and Jamaican.  Our teachers were  Jamaican. 

One year we followed the world of Jamaican drumming.  At night we listened to the Pocomania church drummers, with their conga echoes of Africa. Another time, junkanoo drums.  Jonkonnu.  John Canoe.  In the streets -- "dem a loot/dem a shoot/ dem a wail."

I remember a drummer showing us how to rid a house of ghosts by drumming them into the far, flat distance of the Caribbean sea.  Sometimes at night the rain on the zinc roof drummed its own tropical riddim and I always thought of Bob Marley: "The rain doesn't fall on one man's house alone."  And down with the rain came the almonds off the almond trees.  And they drummed too, and you could crack them open and eat them in the morning while the croton leaves glistened with raindrops in the sun.

Or the rhythmic repetition of Burning Spear: "Marcus Garvey words come to pass/Marcus Garvey words come to pass/ can't get no food to eat/can't get no money to spend." You could go and visit him in those days, down in St Ann where he had a little roadside store and eatery. 

Drum beats in the hills of St Mary.  At night, in the white owl pimento wood, drums.  In the day on the concrete jungle streets of Kingston, drums. 

In the mind, words and drums, drums and words. 

So I began recording the drummers we heard.  Some drummed on blackened, bottom-up pots and pans, anything to make riddim.  Some drummed burra style on goatskin repeater drums.  The repeater, funde, bass. Sometimes a whole bamboo forest clicked to the tune of the island wind.  Natural mystic drumming. 

Some rapped, ripped, rode upon their words like hill and gully donkey, up hill and down hill, singing all the while.  Rushing words like rivers.  Grumbling drums like thunder.  

A Jamaican zinc fence of sound, one man said.    

Word, sound and power, said another. 

Iron, Lion Zion, said a third.

As we gathered by the river and collected the songs, stories and poems for DRUM TALK.  Being there, listening and playing, talking to people like Bob Marley's old friend, Georgie -- "Georgie would make a fire light/as it was logwood burning through the night." 

Of which I'll share with you . . .
Drum Talk, just released by Speaking-Volumes. 

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