Djembe & Mande Music Page/Review Section
(last revision 02/11/99)


Available from Across Borders Productions: 1-888-711-8811,
Winner of the National Educational Media Association's Silver Apple Award.

This 30 minute video from Across Borders Productions is a multisensory feast! Spirit of the Drum is a sort of documentary-story which focuses on the involvement of a teenage boy named Miles in the local drumming group led by Gordy Ryan. Although it's not mentioned in the video, Gordy has been a core member of Baba Olatunji's Drums of Passion for over 25 years. The story I've heard is that he wandered into Olatunji's School of Music in Harlem, and never looked back.

Filmed on "a distant island on the Pacific coast" (Cortes Island, British Columbia) Spirit of the Drum is visually gorgeous. The camera reveals the various aspects of Miles' involvement in the local drum and dance community. We visit Gordy's African drum and song classes and hear about Miles' subjective experience of learning and playing djun djun, all the more poignnant as Miles has hearing problems in both ears. Gordy's drum building studio is shown in the context of Gordy sharing his beliefs about the spiritual aspects of drum making. (Gordy's workshop will be the envy of drum builders everywhere, and his love of the drum is nowhere more evident that in the beautiful drums he makes). Zoe teaches dance classes and speaks about the importance of the inter-relationship between drum and dance in bringing the community together.

What comes through over and over in this film is a deep love and
appreciation for the healing connection with self, others and life which drumming brings.

Every few minutes the film cuts to segments of Baba playing his drum on a spectaular beach setting, with voice-overs of Olatunji speaking about drumming, rhythm, culture, healing, community and more. These snippets of  wisdom from such a highly regarded elder add much to a video that is already remarkably rich in so many ways it's difficult to describe!

Baba spends time with the group of teenagers who are studying the drum and we are blessed to see him empowering them from his heart to embrace the drum, not only for it's own sake but for the life lessons of discipline, responsibility, creativity, self confidence and contribution it teaches.

Toward the end of the film we join the community in preparing for the upcoming Olatunji "concert", a performance featuring Drums of Passion and the entire local drum and dance community. People of all ages and skill levels learn basic steps and then present a rousing performance. One of the most delightful moments is seeing people take turns dancing in the middle of a clapping cheering group and making up their steps as they go. What a treat to see people who have embraced African drum and dance as a foundation to recreate community and celebration who also have gained a level of freedom and safety to allow themselves to not be constrained by traditional forms. I think this film will be cherished generations from now as an early glimpse of what Arthur Hull refers to as the birth of Rhythmaculture in North America.

Spirit of the Drum is a remarkable portrayal of the impact which African music, good hearted people, and a commitment to share, learn and grow with each other can have on our world. If you are someone like me who lives in an isolated area this film is pure inspiration. I know that my batteries have been fully recharged by seeing that a vibrant example of what I'm working to help create is healthy and happening in the western world. I'm eager to share Spirit of the Drum it with those who study with me who've never been to the drum and dance camps to glimpse the possibility.

If you are someone looking for a way to inform friends or family members who have no understanding of your percussion passion, sit them down and watch this video together. I'll bet the questions which follow will be as much fun to explore as the film was to watch. (Be sure to have some percussion toys ready to play with them afterwards!)  Spirit of the Drum will be a useful tool for those of you seeking funding for drum and dance related projects, and I cannot imagine a better experience to give school kids to help them understand what drumming is all about (except drummingwith them!).

If I was rich I'd buy you all a copy for Christmas!

Here's a brief bio forwarded by Doug Kane (thanks Doug!) which he found at the Hollyhock Institute Website:

"Gordy Ryan has called in the spirits with the Nigerian master drummer Babatunde Olatunji and the Drums of Passion for 25 years, touring internationally while maintaining a career as a recording artist and composer for albums, film scores and jingles. He leads rhythm workshops worldwide and has taught at New York University and the Drummer's Collective. Gordy currently tours with Olatunji as well as with Coleman Barks, David Darling, and Zuleikha integrating the poetry of Jelaluddin Rumi in music and dance. To Gordy, drumming is an activity that individual health and creative expression, family unity (his wife Zoe and 3 sons play), community focus and spiritual experience. A founding member of Arica Institute, he has studied with Oscar Ichazo for twenty-five years. Gordy's group Native Ground has two superb albums."

More information on this product at:

See also

(Which includes Gordy's Virtual Drumming Workshop with free Quicktime Video instruction!)

michael wall