It started many years ago as a vague but insistent yearning—this call to the drums—surfacing every now and then through the years only to be suppressed by me; pushed aside as foolishness; a primitive urge best forgotten while I got on with the business of my unrelenting pursuit of the new American Dream: a pheasant in every pot and BMW in each garage.
Then as the American Dream tarnished—or my vision improved—and I began to redirect my energies towards the pursuit of truth and discovery of self, the call to the drums—this urge to put hand to skin to the beat of an inner, silent rhythm—grew stronger. Being an explorer of everything New Age, from past life regression to herbal healing and laying on of the hands, it was inevitable that one evening I should find myself in a circle of New Yorkers, not one of them, incidentally, of Native American heritage, practicing the art of American Indian shamanism.
I waited for the slow steady, methodic boom-boom of the drum to carry me to the underworld where I would encounter my spirit guide or power animal and learn what I needed to know for wholeness and full expression of body, mind and spirit. I waited and waited. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. My lone meditations reaped more fruitful spiritual results. I felt cheated and disappointed as the other group members shared the details of their marvelous visions and journeys to other levels of consciousness.
But the call continued. This persistent urge to play the drums—to hear the drums—grew stronger and more insistent. The beat was wrong, my inner voice said of the Native American shamanism session, the beat was wrong. But I continued reading books on Native American and European shamanism. I bought drumming tapes and lay down at night listening to the steady boom boom of drums, trying to journey on my own to the world of Shamanism. But the only journey I succeeded in making was to sleep— with my usual dreams—until the night that the Ancestors came. “Poor, thick-skulled child”, they must have said to each other, “searching other cultures for her taproot—she has completely forgotten who she is. Let us visit her and clarify this thing about the drums.”
And so, one night while I was deep in the dream state, he appeared. An old, old man, more ancient than time itself. His skin blue-black, his body erect, majestically draped in a white ceremonial robe. Under his left arm, a drum, an exquisitely beautiful drum, carved with strange hieroglyphics. In his right hand he held the drumstick. It too, a magnificent work of art with its thick wool head and leather streamers. Boom-boom-boom. I felt the steady beat of the ancestor’s drum—or could it have been my own heartbeat?
I was captivated by the beauty of his drum. I found myself filled with an almost lustful covetousness—I must have the old
man’s drum. It was then I noticed a boy carrying a simpler, childlike rendition of the ancient one’s drum and stick. The little
boy followed the old man, drumming to the same beat: boom-boom boom. He, too, was attired in African garb. I followed the two of them, ignoring the boy’s drum, still lusting for the old man’s. Into an inner chamber we three marched, boom-boom-boom. They continued deeper still, into an inner, inner chamber not accessible to me. I want the old man’s drum, I shouted into the empty silence of my dream. An old woman instantly appeared. She too, African garbed, coal black, ancient as Mother Earth Herself. No, she answered, raising her hand imperiously. You must have the child’s drum.
I awoke. I understood this call to the drums—this call to self. (The Call to the Drums, Part II – Next week)
A pdf version of this back issue of Routes, A Guide to Black Entertainment August 26, 1991 is available.