Djembe and Mande Music Page/Review Section(last revision 02/11/99)
TITLE: WHEN THE DRUMMERS WERE WOMEN ARTIST: LAYNE REDMOND FORMAT: BOOK NUMBER: ISBN 0-609-80128-7 COMPANY: THREE RIVERS PRESS
(DIV. CROWN PUBLISHERS)
Most percussionists are at least vaguely aware that drums and rhythms have some ability to alter people's state of mind, sometimes in powerful and mysterious ways. In fact, in virtually all the world's ancient cultures, drums were used for religious ceremonies, trance-inducing, and other ritual purposes. But the ancient traditions have been lost or even suppressed; and we modern drummers are like sorcerer's apprentices, messing around with forces that we don't fully understand. For this reason, I am always eager to read anything that explores the spiritual side of drumming, and this book is a good one.
Layne Redmond started life in a rural Florida town. Her first exposures to music were tap dancing lessons, and then, oddly enough, the high school cheerleading squad. As she said in an interview for Drum! magazine:"As I reevaluated it later in my life, cheerleading was a very important part of my training ... In a small town in the south, the football game is the biggest thing going in the county. I was using rhythmic movement and chanted sound to entrain large groups of people with me. And now that I'm doing community ritual, I don't see how it's so very different."She went to college in the New York area, and began doing performance art and studying ethnic music. She became a student of Glen Velez, now famous as a virtuoso of frame drums, and performed and recorded with him for nine years.
In the 80's she became interested in Tibetan Buddhism, and after hearing some of their sacred music, she got a vivid sense of the power of music, and realized that something was missing from her performances. Later, through studying materials that Velez had collected, she noticed that in ancient pictures of drumming (stone carvings, decorations on pottery, ritual objects in tombs, etc.), it's almost always women playing the drums.
These insights led her to begin creating more of a ceremonial atmosphere in her performances, while also collecting bits and pieces of history, and gradually putting together a picture of how drumming was used in ancient cultures. This is the essence of her book.
There's actually not much about drumming in the book, in the sense of technique, rhythms, etc. Even so, I found it very interesting, and even important. It's not much of an exaggeration to say that this is what drumming is *really* about. Playing drums just for fun is sort of like having a magic lamp and using it for a reading light, never realizing the powers locked inside it.
The book has 13 chapters grouped into five larger sections:
Part I: The Divine Feminine -- a general introduction and autobiographical
Part II: In the Beginning -- covers the beginnings of civilization, Stone
Age culture, use of the drum, and sacred images & symbols.
Part III: In History -- Late Stone age and early historic cultures.
Harappans, Sumerians, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Discussions of each culture's beliefs, symbols, and use of music and drumming, with emphasis on the similarities, and how traditions passed from one to the next.
Part IV: Disposessed -- describes how warlike civilizations and
patriarchal religions suppressed the ancient goddess-based religion, but were not able to completely destroy it, although they did suceed in banning the drum in European Christian traditions.
Part V: The Return to Rhythm -- notes on how modern psychology and science dovetail with ancient knowledge, and more autbiographical notes on Layne's recent teaching and performing work.
The book also has about 10 pages of notes and references, a bibliography, a discography, and index.
By the way, the book has attracted some notice in feminist circles; you might find it in the Womens' Studies section of the bookstore, rather than Music. But it's not really about feminism, and it's definitely not just for women. Reading it, I half-expected to find some male-bashing in there somewhere, and I was happy to be wrong about that.
The book is available on-line at my bookstore page,
(actually an associate of Amazon.com).
Layne has a web site at:
As of 1/98, the site includes a copy of the above-mentioned article from Drum! magazine, plus:
* another article, from Percussion Notes magazine, on Brazilian ritual drumming
* information on the book
* a list of some of her music recordings and videos
* a calendar of upcoming events
* descriptions of several Remo drums that were designed with her advice.
She has played on a number of Glen Velez's recordings; two of them,
HandDance and Ramana, are available on-line at CD Now (http://www4.cdnow.com).
I haven't heard any of her recordings yet, but I attended some workshops and a lecture by her, and enjoyed them all. She has lots of knowledge, lots of chops, and a warm spirit. The material she teaches in her workshops is not strictly traditional, but is a mix of old and new ideas. She has a nice system of relating four sounds of the tambourine to the elements of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire, based on what she learned from Nubian frame drum expert Hamsa El Din. I'd recommend her to anyone who's interested in the spirituality of drumming, or who just wants to do something that's not as sweaty and noisy as the typical Afro- or Latin-based jam session. :^)
Review by Kent Multer (email@example.com), Jan. 1998