The group was made up of five Africans, one woman and four men. There was another man who did most of the talking. The men were all shapes and sizes just like the plethora of drums they sat next to. There was also a table full of shaky things and tappy things and knocky things and bangy things to create rhythm, but they didn’t hand them around. There was a workshop later on in the day.
The concert started off with some crowd participation. In Africa there is an element of the spiritual involved in creating music. They don’t presume that the gods (or God) is present or wants to be entertained or petitioned or wants to lift up downhearted souls. Permission needs to be sought. There was a prayer to be said or a song to be sung to ask permission.
In the Christian worship meeting we don’t need to ask permission to worship God. We are commanded to do so! We can come freely into His presence but I think it doesn’t hurt to have an internal check of the heart, spirit and soul to know we are ready to engage. We are often told to come as we are, but how much better to come ready and equipped? It never does one good to take a casual and careless attitude to worship.
Part of this permission-granting ritual involved a leader and response dialogue. We were taught our side of the script. The leader shouted out his part and the congregation shouted back. It was conducted in an African language – we could have been shouting anything.
What came to my mind was Isaiah’s experience in the throne room of heaven. Imagine being there to hear the seraphim calling to one another, “Holy is the Lord!” I preached about it once - that kind of worship excites me! There are churches that have a liturgy, words spoken by the leader and a response given by the congregation and it’s all written down. The seraphim had no scripts. It was heart to heart. Would that not be something that transformed our often predictable meetings? The writer in me wants me to compose a dialogue – and then I need the bravery to persuade the rest of the church to join in. Speaking truth to one another, loudly, has got to be a very powerful tool that builds us up while at the same time pulls down the works of the enemy.
We were given a quick demonstration of the basic drum patterns using fingers and fists at the side or the middle of the drum face. Never just about the one man and his drum, it’s all communal. It’s not a solitary performance! You learn with the intention of playing with others. Everybody plays together. That’s my kind of picture - worship being at its best when it’s communal. It not about a performance by the musicians with the rest of us being spectators, but everyone joining in - everyone from the very young to the very old participating.
The rhythm was set by someone with a bell – a clear note that stood out against the drums. The drummers, as much as they listened to the other drummers, first listened to the bell. As they kept pace with the bell, there were no awkward moments when someone was drumming to a different rhythm. There was harmony. With the volume they generated, they had to have their ears tuned to the bell first.
We live in a noisy, busy world. I was reading a newspaper article some weeks ago about birds. Some species of bird are finding it difficult to compete with the noise we generate. They have learned how to turn up the volume of their singing if they want to attract a mate.
Tuning our ears to God’s “bell”, filtering out the distractions around us, is important if we are to live in harmony with Him and with each other. We should be teaching others not to play according to our rhythm, but to listen for God’s voice instead.
I challenge you to find a person whose toe didn’t tap, whose knee didn’t jiggle or whose head didn’t nod back and forth this afternoon. The aim of some of the songs and their rhythms was about stirring the spirit. People were not being given permission to “sit this one out”. It was an almost unconscious response. There is power in music. None of the songs we heard were dirges played at funeral pace. They were lively jigs that almost pulled you to your feet.
The songs they shared were also work songs. They talked about the end of the day in a fishing village. The nets needed to be hauled in and the boats needed to be pulled up on to the shore. Why do it in silence? The music made a difficult and tiring task easier to do. How sad that we often wait until a Sunday morning when there is a band playing and the lyrics are projected on a screen before we begin to sing. We toil through difficult days in silence, perhaps with a vaguely negative mental dialogue playing in our heads. The answer is to sing! I think we rob ourselves of so much joy and so much victory when we choose not to sing.
I admit the concert has left me with fingers that can’t help but tap out a rhythm on my desk. When I get home, no doubt, I will dig out the pots and pans, arm myself with a wooden spoon and let my heart rise as I bang away.
One woman drumming!