African Music Beats a Path Across Ireland

Drumming Therapy

Drumming Therapy

One of Nuala Woulfe’s new year reslolutions was to learn an instrument and she chose African drumming. She’s not alone as African drumming is the new yoga.

Feeling a bit stressed and out of rhythm with life?

Perhaps a good session bashing an African tribal drum, with some playful human beings is all you need to come back to your natural, calm self. Hand drumming workshops – where teachers and participants let loose on Djembe and other African Drums – are the new ‘natural high’ meet ups in Ireland and the benefits from drumming are multi-fold.

Playing the drums reduces stress, increases problem solving, boosts the immune system, helps depression and has been used by stroke patients to aid recovery.

Having recently participated in an enjoyable workshop with respected drummer, John Bowker of I asked him why he thought the Irish are so interested in African drums.

“There is something mystical about the drum but in England and Ireland any ancient spiritual music we might have had went with the wiping out of the druids.

Community music was always used for grieving, transformation and celebration and there’s a yearning in the West to connect with that tribalness that we once had,”Bowker says.

Originally from Manchester and a guitarist and a singer in a rock band, Bowker has been teaching drumming for 25 years.

Disillusioned with the rock music business and wanting to seek out something more spiritual and community- orientated, he studied under a Nigerian drummer in the UK for two years but his interest in rhythm has allowed him discuss techniques with the American Sioux Indians and taken him to Australia to talk with the Aboriginals.

“Worldwide, the appeal of the drum is that anyone can pick it up and get music from it and by the end of a drumming session we always build up amazing rhythms.

“I’ve found the Irish really get the drum – they connect to it very quickly,’ he says. Acupuncturist Michelle Flanagan of Acupuncture Tipperary has been drumming for over a year with Bowker.

“I did a Winter Solstice Retreat with John in County Clare, which was amazing, and I’ve done some of his workshops and some with a female drummer who is also very good and has a different kind of energy.”

Flanagan believes the appeal of African drumming is that, ‘it’s very primal and it brings people back to their own natural rhythm.” “People take themselves too seriously – they get caught up in stuff but at the same time we’ve been socialised into being quiet, but I don’t think the body wants to be quiet at all.

The Irish are quite repressed but I think we want to get more fire into ourselves.

I think that’s why people keep coming back to drums– to reconnect with their wild nature, I always feel good coming away from a session – it’s very physically involved and yet it quietens the mind,’ she says.

Having previously played a little guitar and trad music, Flanagan says she loves drumming so much she’s thought of buying her own drum but has concluded that an important part of the magic is the community participation.

“Drumming is a good way to meet people. I’d recommend it for anyone looking for something new.”

Musicologist and Dr of Sociology, John O’Flynn, who is based at St Patrick’s College, Dublin City University, has a strong interest in intercultural music and drums.

Having previously worked in music education in the University of Limerick where drumming was offered to students, he has also carried out research on African music in Dublin.

An experienced musician, Dr O’Flynn not only observed African music for research but became a participant in drumming workshops in Dublin which he found very enjoyable.

“The appeal of the drum and Djembe circles is that everybody can participate and that you can do something that’s music making after quite a short period of time.

A lot of groups would combine dancing with drums and people can lose themselves in the music and get caught in ‘the flow’. I’ve been in drumming classes that lasted four hours and the experience can get kind of trance-like, but as the music gets faster and faster you feel more calm.

Drumming is very useful, it’s been used in conflict resolution, in education and ‘corporate drumming’ has been used as a team bonding exercise,’ he explains. Dr O’Flynn says there is also a perceived ‘spiritual’ side to drumming. Drums may be filling the gap left by the decline in organised religion.

“People generally are looking for different ways of engagement and drumming is an alternative social outlet.

“It’s a pleasant activity, people who come seem to want a shared community experience; they’re often less interested in alcohol and want to get a natural high. When you think about it, the most fundamental thing to music is a pulse or a beat and it’s the most fundamental thing to life too.”


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