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by Venesha Johnson | Associate Writer
We don’t hear drums used in day-to-day music production in Jamaica or even being played at events very often today. But, the use of drums in Jamaica can be traced way back, making them a significant part of our history and culture. The drums actually tell us a lot about our heritage and where the Jamaican people come from. Drums are now mostly played at cultural events.
Despite the decline in their use, they are undoubtedly influential to the sound of our music, and these drums were a major part of it.
These three drums were first used in Buru music, a leisurely African drumming and dancing style. As you know, the Rastafarian culture is a huge part of Jamaica’s culture and their unique nyabinghi drumming style, in which the three drums are collectively referred to as The Harp, has been greatly influenced by Buru.
The Maroons also play the bass and the repeater, a spherical drum played with sticks.
The Gumbeh is a single-sided, square, leg-supported drum from Jamaica, primarily utilised by Maroons. It is made with an inside, smaller drum (called "The Inner Baby"). Playing the Gumbeh involves using the hands.
Of all the folk traditions practised in Jamaica, Kumina is thought to be the most African. It is a dancing ritual with aspects of both the sacred and the profane. Spirit possession is a manifestation of this communion with ancestor spirits, which is the centre of its sacred aspect.
The Kumina custom was first practised by African indentured labourers who arrived in Jamaica after the end of slavery in the parish of St. Thomas, where it remains the strongest today.
Rum libations are given to placate the spirits of the goat skin and the wood before Kumina drums are made. Rum (and occasionally sugar water) is rubbed onto the skin of freshly constructed drums to consecrate them.
Drummers adjust the pitch and tone of the drums while seated atop them using their heels as well as their fingers and hands. A second musician uses "katta tick" sticks to play a separate rhythm on the side of the drum while seated at the drum's rear.
The Tambu drum was once used to connect with long-dead ancestors, much like Kumina drums are now.
In the parish of Trelawny, where indentured Africans also resided, the drum gave its name to dancing music. Both Kumina and Tambu appear to have come from the Congo, though Tambu is currently primarily performed for amusement.
While another player knocks katta sticks on the side of the drum, the primary musician stands astride it and utilises his heel to change the pitch while playing with his hands.
The Caribbean is home to many of these drums.
The Djembe, pronounced "jimbeh," is single-headed, has a goblet-like form, and comes in various sizes. Pairs of players hold bongo drums between their knees as they play. Drums used for congas are tall, cylindrical, and open at one end. All games include using your hands. Congas can occasionally be played with sticks in groups of two or three.
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