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Afro Caribbean Drumming of Jamaica...

Drumming Styles of Jamaica by Eric Wills

Jamaica is often referred to as the most “Africanized” of the Caribbean countries. Many Jamaicans can trace their lineage back to the Ivory Coast of Africa, and this influence is obvious in the music, language, and traditions of Jamaica. Much of the drumming found across Jamaica is directly from West Africa – utilizing the traditional African instruments such as hand-drums, shakers, and bells. These drumming styles were introduced to Jamaica by the slaves, brought from West Africa to work in the sugar cane plantations, first by the Spanish, and later by the British. In addition to traditional West African rhythms, Jamaica has indigenous drumming styles of its own, which are strongly influenced by its African heritage, but are unique to the island. These traditional Jamaican drumming styles include the Kumina, Nyabinghi, and the Maroon styles of drumming.

Kumina Drumming

Kumina is the most Africanized of the native Jamaican drumming styles. It is the traditional music used in a “nine-night” or wake. Based on ancient African traditions, a nine-night ceremony (also called a “dead-yard” or “setup”) occurs after someone has died, often in the front yard of the deceased. The kumina drumming group consists of 2 drummers (rhythm and lead) who lay their drums sideways, and sit upon them as they play. Instruments also include shakers, scraper, and 2 heavy wooden sticks (called katta sticks). At a nine-night ceremony, the kumina group will play all night long, and is accompanied by singing, and a traditional dance, in which the dancers (and mourners) encircle the drumming group in a counter clockwise motion. The nine-night ceremony is steeped in tradition and symbolism, much of which is related to “Obeah” (called Voodoo

in Haiti). This traditional Jamaican drumming style continues today only in a few parts of eastern Jamaica, most notably the rural parishes of St. Thomas and Portland. In these parishes, many kumina drummers make a living from playing these all night wakes, still common in this mountainous region of Jamaica.

Nyabinghi Drumming

Nyabinghi is the traditional drumming style of the Rastafarian religion. This relatively young religion is common throughout Jamaica, and its influence has spread throughout the world. Many of its beliefs are based on ancient Judaism, including shared symbols, and some Rastafarian beliefs concerning food (called an “Ital” diet) which excludes pork, shellfish, and alcohol. Many (if not most) of the most famous reggae artists were (and continue to be) practicing Rastafarians-including Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and many others. Nyabinghi drumming is used during the all night religious ceremony, called a Nyabinghi, or “Binghi”. The defining characteristic of nyabinghi drumming is the slow, repeated heart beat, played on a “fundeh” drum. Over the top of this simple, repeated heartbeat, one or more drummers will solo, playing complex syncopated rhythms on a higher pitched “kete” drum – often made of coconut or breadfruit wood. The head of the kete drum is made of goatskin, and is held tight, often with a ring of iron rebar (used in concrete building construction). Nyabinghi drumming also often includes a large bass drum, similar to a concert bass drum.

It is played with a mallet, emphasizing the slow heartbeat common to this musical style. During these all-night drumming sessions, various songs or chants will be sung, many of which are traditional Rastafarian hymns. This slow heartbeat is also found in some forms of reggae music, typically denoting a song of religious or spiritual character (sometimes called “consciousness” music).  The example below is a is live field recording from Westmoreland Jamaica, 2008

Dinki Mini Drumming

Dinki Mini originates from the Congolese word “ndingi”, which means lamentation or funeral song. This style of drumming and dance is found in the northern parish of St. Mary where it is used for the traditional nine night ceremony or wake, as well as other celebrations. It is typically played by large and small drums, the shaker, and sometimes katta sticks (pair of wooden sticks). A version of Dinki Mini music can also be found in the western parish of Westmoreland, where it is called “Gerreh”. The Dinki Mini dance focuses on the pelvic region, as it is performed in defiance of the death that has occurred. It was traditionally performed by Jamaican slaves of Congolese origin, but is now taught to school children in the St Mary region as a way of preserving this regional folk form. Example #6 is a video clip of third graders in the rural village of Robins Bay doing the basic steps of the dinki mini dance. In this example the children are singing the Jamaican folk song “Go Down Emanuel Road”. Example #7 shows sixth grade dancers from the same region who have been trained in this traditional form.