So, this morning I, like the fangirl I am, was watching YouTube videos of my favorite rock drummer (you guessed it), Neil Peart.
(Stay with me here!)
One of the clips on YouTube is from his instructional DVD called Anatomy of a Drum Solo. He says something to the effect that one of his recent drum solos is more than just drumming, it's a tribute to the history of the drum... from African, to jazz, to rock...
And that got me thinking: Every culture has drums. And I can imagine that even before the first human stretched an animal skin across a circular frame, her fellow humans were striking stone against stone, stick against stick, using gourds as rattles, and, of course, clapping their hands together... in synchronized rhythm.
Rhythm is the glue that holds a song together, even if the time signature is constantly changing. Even songs without any actual drumming have a rhythm, a pulse.
Percussion and rhythm seem to be completely necessary for human existence. We as humans need it. We are drawn to it. We are moved by it. The beat of the drum is present everywhere. You can't go through a day of your life (unless you're a hermit) without hearing a beat somewhere. My husband and I live on a busy city street, so we hear the drum beats echoing from passing cars all the time: hip hop, reggaeton, pop, rock, and everything else in between. Right now I hear the beat of the clock... tick tick tick...
Before we are born, we hear the rhythm of our mother's heart. Bump-BUMP... bump-BUMP... bump-BUMP
When we emerge from the womb, we pound our tiny fists on our high chairs. Thump thump thumpity thump.
When we finally can hold utensils, we bang them on the table. Rat-tat-tat... rat-tat-tat...
I think each human has a personal beat. There's a rhythm and tempo that resonates with each of us, and not everyone will respond the same to the same rhythm or tempo. That resonant rhythm is the one that makes us get out of our chair and dance. Personally, I like the heavy sound of the Saidi beat, or the odd meter of the Turkish karsilama, or the frantic racing of the Amen Break heard often in drum and bass and breakcore music.
The drum is of paramount importance for bellydancers. The drum solo is a ubiquitous and exciting part of a classical bellydancer's performance. The Arabic tabla (also called darbuka, darabuka, and doumbek) is the backbone of Middle Eastern music.
The great master instructors of bellydance will always tell you, "know your rhythms. Know them by name, and be able to play them, at least at a basic level." And besides being able to communicate with a live drummer for a performance should the opportunity ever arise, there's something deeper about knowing Middle Eastern rhythms. The drum patterns of a culture ARE its culture. The Saidi rhythm with its heavy double-doum is the sound of Upper Egypt. It IS Upper Egypt. The 9/8 karsilama is the sound of the Turkish Rom. The lilting 6/8 of North Africa is North Africa. These rhythms distinguish their cultures from every other. The rhythm is the people, and the people hold these rhythms in their bodies. When you start becoming familiar with these rhythms, you are connecting to a deep history of culture and tradition. Learning these rhythms grounds you to the people whose dance you have chosen to present.
Even when we play finger cymbals when dancing, we are tapping (haha... pun!) into the great culture of the Middle East and North Africa. We become percussionists ourselves. It is our duty to not only keep the rhythm and melody of the song in our bodies but also in our cymbals. Cymbals aren't just for clinking along with the beat of the music; they are meant to enhance your dance and add depth to your and the musicians performance. They are instruments, and their playing should not be taken lightly.
So, when we dance, particularly to traditional rhythms (even when remixed into modern electronica), we should take a moment to reflect on the cultures who gave us this dance and gave us this music. Our dance should honor those traditions and pay tribute to those who have come before us... but also pave the way for future dancers to find their own personal rhythm.