Yesterday I took the time to take my djembe out to Piedmont Park at 4 PM, when Shaun said the drum circle folks met every Sunday.
We sat down on a sunny, breezy afternoon in the small stone-paved plaza / overlook next to The Lawn. The core of the circle had already formed – a couple of experienced and well-practiced black conga players, and around them some people with djembes of various sizes. Mine was the largest and deepest. I can’t escape the large instruments.
Shaun played first, and then I played two afterwards. The rhythms were varied, richly textured, and lasted a good long time. I definitely delighted in getting lost in them after I caught my groove. As the player of the lowest-pitched drum I was pretty important so I had to pay attention to providing a reliable beat, rather than indulging in adding garnishes or flair.
As we played to our hearts’ content, people came to sit and watch, to listen. Children played and danced in front of us, and so did some adults – dancing skilfully to the syncopated beats, shaking every axis of freedom with the Sun and the people watching on. There were people unconventionally dressed – throwbacks to the ’60s, some just not locked into the prevailing fashion, one woman looked like an African godmother. As I watched I became entranced by the very beat I was a part of creating. I closed my eyes and let it flow.
As I subjected myself to the charging tide of the beat of which I was a weaver, one of the paddlers on the grand boat down the river of music and art and life that was happening in the southeast corner of Piedmont Park, I thought about a world or a place where this gathering would be frowned upon, or illegal, or attacked. People dressed differently would be shunned, spat upon, pissed upon, attacked with rocks or sticks or bags full of old food. The musicians would be surrounded by the police, their instruments confiscated or smashed on the ground in front of the illegally gathered crowd who would have to flee for their safety, weeping with confusion and anger and desperation if they were caught. And when those expressing themselves were safely detained, the mouthpiece of the regime would declare to the park: “This has been an illegal gathering in violation of the Code of Peace. You are reminded not to attend unauthorized and unsanctioned cultural gatherings at the risk of punishment under the prevailing Ordinances. Return to your homes.”
With that in my mind, I reveled in the small but remarkable moment of expression we were a part of. And I was thankful for the place I lay my head.