Musical Healing: Assisting the Process of HumanRemodeling

Drum class in Kapiolani park

SpiralOnUp traditional African dance classes

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What to bring / prepare

What to expect

Good Feeling

Study further

Rhythm Reference Project

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African Music: Musical Healing

African Drum and Dance Classes in Hawaii.

Remember what to do before/after your HumanRemodeling session Stretch. Go to the great outdoors areas, have some good fun, practice spiritually and build community. 

How can you make it happen all at once? Go African drumming or dancing, preferably outdoors. Your cells will say: THANK YOU! Take my dance class!

Playing and dancing African music is extremely healing because it engages higher parts of the brain, and joins mind and body. It heals grief and makes us relax into God.

What to bring and how to prepare

Some teachers have loaner drums, and some do not. Ask them before you show up. Regge at  makes djembe drums in case you need one. It costs about $400. Dunduns (stick drums) need to be bought in a store, they are typically cheaper than djembes. Conga drums need to be bought in a store and are very easy to buy used, because latin music, afro-cuban music all use them. Real Congolese drums, ngomas, are expensive and hard to come by.

For dance classes, just come dressed in a comfortable shirt and wrap, if you are female, or shorts/pants for men. Some dancers like to wear leotards with a hip wrap. Keep it all covered and decent. African dance is not about mooning or sunshining anyone. Remember, this is danced in a village, in front of everyone.

And most importantly, bring the right attitude - of community, respect and celebrating life.


What to expect

For a more formal history of African music, read the djembe article. 

For informal personal experiences of someone who did this for the last several years, and eventually with Native teachers, read below. 

While African dancing and drumming looks very "shake my okole" - pardon my French - to the Westerners, just like hula does, it is not about that. It is a lot more Sacred and very traditional activity, it is about community building and participation, and helping the community in living daily life. 

Africans (used to - with 21st century, these traditional habits can die unless we keep them) drum and dance for every occasion. For example, while working in the fields, someone drums a certain rhythm which is played specifically for working in the fields. There is a specific rhythm for every occasion - harvest, baby naming, leaving house to get married, fishing, having troubles, going to war, etc. 

So, African musical experience is not about some drum circle where anything goes. It is a very structured, traditional, communal experience, with exact rhythms for exact occasions, and everyone following the exact protocol.

While some modern people can drum and dance to show off - and yes, you might get a lot of attention from immature people if you shake your okole with an attitude - and some others think that it is about learning about how to shake one's okole, that is not it. 

African dance will put you in touch with your body in a healthy way - if you look at the dances, arms and okoles and toes and head and legs and all body parts all have equal significance, and the emphasis is not on any one of them. The whole body moves in unity and all parts are equal. Africans understand that one needs toes as much as okole in order to live daily life. All body parts are equally honorable and useful. There is no shame or "specialness" that Westerners feel about the pelvis, coming from the Christian track record of feeling guilty about the body and never actually being in the body. The whole Western world is all about being in the head and thinking only. Feelings are dangerous and body is shameful. Thus, Westerners typically do not exist below the neck and their pelvises are very stiff. Well, relax and enjoy, African stuff has no such ideas! It has a lot of respect for the totality of everything and that makes it so healing.

The whole West African experience is about CONNECTING WITH EARTH, WITH ONESELF, WITH THE COMMUNITY, AND WITH SPRIT. It is a highly meditative experience that forces one to really relax and pay attention at the same time. In short, meditation in motion. This Sacred attitude or Respect and Yes! Effort is what is necessary to really get the benefit out of African drum and dance. It puts you in touch with your body, your feelings, and something Higher. The mind and the body get connected. This allows for something Higher to come in. As it is performed as a communal event, it also brings the community together, and keeps energy positive, high, and channeled productively. 

Overall, it is extremely healing. At this point, I experience several facets that allow this healing effect. 

First, the music is very "funky," it is unusual and catches you by surprise, so it requires a certain kind of Effort and full Engagement to follow it. It requires relaxing yet paying attention, it requires enjoying and letting oneself fly with the music and Thinking at the same time, it requires Awareness, and thus it calms the mind and evokes Higher, and produces a certain meditative effect. It also builds up concentration. It is the "yes!" kind of effort that is very healing.

Second, it is aerobic exercise and stretching at the same time, both drumming and dancing. It brings one into shape very quickly. The dance or drum sessions last a long time (1.5-2hrs) and require physical stamina and consistent effort. But it is so fun that you won't notice how much you are sweating and losing breath :) 

This concentration and physical stamina at the same is critical. Especially drummers must stay consistently engaged, they literally cannot lose a beat although they do not even have time to take a sip of water, they have to play non-stop and correctly. Any inconsistencies in drum music are heard and felt, as the dancers cannot dance anymore. The music is the "fuel" for the dance - and vice versa. Dancers might slip and do some off steps here and there, nobody will notice in a large group, although if at least some dancers don't dance correctly and all dancers don't exude the feeling of "yes!" kind of effort, the drumers won't be motivated to play. Dancers do have the "official" few seconds to catch the breath while waiting for the dancing lines to start again. This is needed as the dance is highly aerobic. 

Third, there are no emotions, no dramas, no "stories," no games, in West African music. You know how certain traditions can create dramas, for example belly dance is often danced in a dramatic way, the goal is to keep the audience titillated and piqued and to show off. (I don't think that was the original intent of belly dance but it has become that - an ego loaded performance - in many cases. ) Eastern European music and dances often have a sad feeling to it, or some kind of tough standing back. West African has no games about it. It is plain Earthly connection and the only feeling is the feeling of sheer exuberance and joy, being rooted in the Earth and celebrating Life. In some ways, perhaps modern gospel dancing in church comes the closest to this feeling. One just dances for the sheer enjoyment and gratitude for being alive and celebrating All That Is. There is no shame and no pulling back. The whole body moves and is experienced and felt, and Something Higher moves through as we say "yes!".

Fourth, West African is a participative and collaborative activity. It is not something to be watched from the side while sitting down, like in a Western concert :) It is meant to be experienced first-hand. To be experienced, it requires Working with others in a communal effort. The dancers dance in lines that move together, so each dancer has to pay attention to other dancers. There is a collaboration between dancers and drummers, as dancers move exactly on the drum beat. The drummers have to keep the beat "up" in order to produce the tenacity that drives the dancers. In other words, the beat has to be exactly on time and driven non-stop with effort and tenacity in order to produce the feeling of exuberance that motivates the dancers to keep on moving and giving their best. This exuberance keeps the drummers engaged. The music is kept "tight" with effort and it just "blows up", keeps on opening up, into something that feels like flying on a magic carpet. The drummers play together, as each drummer plays a different pattern and all patterns have to precisely match. 

So, overall, the whole West African experience is a very organic, ecological thing, with many pieces that intricately fit in a collaborative and participative way. There is no pulling back, there is only giving one's best. It is a lesson in Survival as well as Spirituality, a miniature lesson in how the Universe works. It is a taste of Oneness.

Drum and dance teachers do not say this. It is way more than most audience wants to hear. I am saying it :) as a healer. I have seen that people who are drawn to West African drum and dance because of this healing aspect and who do not fully understand the Sacredness of it can get really sidetracked. Drum and dance is a Doorway into Spirit. Any activity is a Doorway into Spirit, when performed with Intent. West African drum and dance has this Intent built in as a basic ingredient of the activity. It was designed as a Doorway. Yes, it can be practiced "just for fun", definitely, but then it is not "it". 

Playing and dancing African music is extremely healing because it engages higher parts of the brain, and joins mind and body. It heals grief and makes us relax into God. 

I personally got to experience this to the fullest with Native teachers. They have Something that non-Native teachers often do not. Perhaps it is mastery, perhaps it is a finer understanding, perhaps a lifestyle and attitude that is more in touch with Reality and God, including no addictions, active prayer, a higher state of consciousness, a better teaching technique with more giving to the students and more demonstration, more conscious knowledge about the communal aspects, more unconscious habit of living in a community and being accommodating to the community, more investment into student learning in order to pass the culture - who knows. Whatever it is, is very healing and makes me learn very very quickly. For example, just about 4-6 classes with Moustaffa Bangoura made me drum properly, and my dance improved too. Just a few classes with Moussa Bangoura made me drum much more easily and quickly, and even venture into dance solos (because I can hear the drums better and thus can move more accurately). 

What is the Native teaching strategy in case of drumming? The teacher presents the rhythm, piece by piece. Then we follow and he/she plays with us (so that we can hear what it sounds like). We keep on playing many many times over, adding more and more pieces, until we can play the entire thing (the call, the break, the accompaniments). Then we play the entire thing but keep on changing the accompaniment (there are usually 2 or 3) . Then we split the class and one group plays one accompaniment, another group the next one, etc. and then we keep on switching accompaniments amongst the groups. Then we play solos at the end. The dance strategy is similar, except that  it pertains to dance moves.



Good Feeling

Yousuff Koumbassa was here teaching a West African dance class for 2 days. He is an amazing amazing dancer, the best I have ever seen. The next best dancer imo is Chrysogone Diangouaya, Congolese dancer, but he is a little younger and a little less mature than Yousuff. Yousuff has presence, very deep presence. His class is completely about technique and completely free of any ego. Yousuff is totally present yet he is completely absent from the picture, and the Art is invited and comes in. So that frees us dancers to just Be too, and to experiment and experience the Dance.

The directions we got from Yousuff were: take your time; and feel, have a good feeling, enjoy the movement.  

"Take your time" does not mean "slow it down". African dance is really fast. How he explained it is: don't push, don't force yourself, let the movement happen. And enjoy it. Have a good feeling.

Dancing with this attitude is extremely healing. I was not tired or sore anymore. Everything just flows. I danced for hours, stayed up late, and still was full of energy. (Little nap in the afternoon and some good food also helps :)

More importantly, I was free to be, and to feel, and to experience myself. Yousuff created space for us. Because he wasn't in the picture but only Art, there was a lot of space for us to engage with the Art. Somehow I got more connected with my body and with myself, and a lot of things became clearer.

Also, my body was "lubricated" and healed quite well, some neck issues and shoulder issues and pelvic issues got better because I was warmed up and stretched out. I also massaged it myself and got it even better. Other dancers were reporting similar results with their necks and bodies. Even my chiropractor told me to KEEP ON MOVING because that is the only way to stay healthy.

Indeed, it is! Famous African dancers are in their late 50s and even early 60s and they look and move like youngsters. Movement and music helps to age very very slowly.


Study Further

If you want to experience it, there is so much resources!!! There are many drum and dance teachers, resident and visiting, as well as drum/dance camps:

         African in Hawaii

         Yousuff Koumbassa  - click on "bio" and scroll down to see him dance - WOW! the best dancer ever. Check out his camp Fareta and his instructional DVDs.

         Moustaffa Bangoura and Le Bagatae (click on this to hear it!) troup - they also have instructional dance DVDs that are excellent



         West African Guinea camp, on North Shore, recently every year, around May. This year we had Yousuff Koumbassa and his wife give 4 classes. Other master teachers that come are Karamba Diabate, Fara Tolno, Nabi, and Fode.

         Conglese camp on Maui, yearly, around February-March.



The Rhythm Reference Project
The music is traditionally not recorded but learned by listening and practicing with a live teacher. That works for African village where you hang out with the teachers, hear the music, and drum and dance every day. In modern western life, when there is one-two drum or dance class per week, it is harder to remember what you played/danced last week. It is possible to bring a tape recorder / camera to some classes, but most professional teachers do not allow recording. TO THE RESCUE: 

Master drummer and dancer Fara Tolno compiled 50 West African rhythms: Rhythm Reference Project

So for $40 you can download the traditional version of it. For $100 you can download traditional, ballet, and master teachers (e.g. Mamadu) versions of the same rhythms. Each rhythm has many different parts, so all together it is about 500 different pieces.

This is a good deal! The money is going to help open a school in Guinea, West Africa, for traditional teachers to share their knowledge of drum, dance, balafon, cora, etc. and other aspects of the traditional African culture. Which is quickly dieing. It needs to be preserved. The quality of that music is extremely healing. If you want to read my opinions and experiments with it, read this page and also read my blog and my articles.

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