• The List
  • 26 October 2006

Make your own kind of music

In need of a stress-busting activity - but one that taps into your hearbeat and raises your energy levels? Kirsten Innes discovers the joy of drumming.

It all starts with a bassline. Boom-ba boom-ba - the beat working itself into your hips, making you quicken your pace as you pass by; seeping through the sandstone of the Pleasance or the Annexe on certain evenings. It pulses over the Meadows, hustles shoppers happily down thoroughfares and brings uncharacteristic rhythm to the Byres Road bustle every June. It’s not (always) a boy racer with souped-up speakers weighing down his Nova, and it’s certainly not a pipe band. Group drumming (in public spaces, in classes) is an increasingly popular pastime for non-professional musicians.

Glasgow group Partick Beat - responsible for all that incongruous booty-shaking during the West End Festival Mardi Gras - use traditional African instruments like the djembe, a large goblet-shaped drum played with bare hands. Although the group put on concerts and public performances, their main focus is evening classes and community outreach projects. Michele Keenan, who organises the outreach project, says, ‘We find that the heartbeat rhythm of the bass encourages people to express themselves in a way no other medium does. It’s calming, soothing or awakening - it works very well as a means of communication for those with sensory impairment.’

Partick Beat isn’t the only group to realise the therapeutic potential of hitting something repeatedly. Europe’s only professional Japanese Taiko group, the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers, is based in Lanarkshire. Taiko drumming is as much about spectacle as rhythm, as the musicians play barrel-shaped drums in gracefully choreographed movements to create a surprisingly rigid, insistent sound. ‘Taiko is music, energy, dance; it’s spiritual, it’s theatrical,’ says co-founder Miyuki Williams. ‘A live Taiko concert is a very moving experience. The reverberation of the drums goes right through you - it’s about feeling the music in a very physical way.’

Mugenkyo are currently recruiting for Project Taiko, their annual winter performance scheme for 18-29-year-olds. Students will take weekly classes at Mugenkyo’s Dojo centre over three months, building basic skills into a performance alongside the professional drummers. ‘Most of the participants won’t have even picked up a pair of drumsticks before - the only requirements are a good sense of rhythm, good movement and lots of energy,’ reassures Williams.

All the participants and organisers are keen to emphasise their group’s accessibility. Daniel Verdon, who helps run Edinburgh University’s Drumming Society (open to non-students too) says, ‘I was sceptical when I started, because I thought I had absolutely no rhythm. It just takes practice - anyone can play djembe to a very good standard if they have enough desire to do so.’

The Edinburgh group is an informal organisation - weekly prices vary depending on whether they ask a professional teacher to come along or just spend an evening getting into their own rhythm. Although they practise on the Meadows and busk in town, they aren’t a performance-led group, and the emphasis is on the sheer joy of making a loud rhythmic noise. ‘We’re not a band as such,’ Verdon explains. ‘We don’t make money by putting on private shows. Our sessions are officially two hours long, but we do sometimes hang back and jam together; everyone adds their own element and personality.’ Badda boom.

Partick Beat, every Wed, Annexe, Glasgow. Edinburgh University Drumming Society, every Mon; contact 0341948@sms.ed.ac.uk for venue details. The deadline for Project Taiko applications is 14 Nov; contact 01357 522008 or mail@taikodojo.com to apply.

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