Hand Drum

Arthur Hull Interviews Olatunji

Hull: [laughs] And this is one of them!
Olatunji: Not totally. It is answerable. The spirit of the drum is something that you feel but cannot put your hands on it. You feel when people come together to play. It does something to you from the inside out, but you can’t really put your hands on it. You feel it while you’re playing and after you play for a while, sometimes for 24 hours, sometimes for two or three days. It hits people in so many different ways, that to try to define it would just be a matter of semantics, the use of words. But the feeling is one that is satisfying and joyful. It is a feeling that makes you say to yourself, “Yes, I’m glad to be alive today. I’m glad I’m here. I’m glad I’m a part of this world.” It stays with you until other things come and take your attention away from it, but you will always remember it.

Hull: Another part of your mission is to be the focal point for orchestration. As a facilitator, you bring people together to express their rhythmical spirit in a community drum circle. As our drumming community grows so does our need for more facilitators. And as new facilitators crop up, the question is, what priorities should they have? I think as long as they are promoting the community rather than themselves, they are learning a basic and very important aspect about the mission.
Olatunji: First of all, whoever is given the opportunity to be a facilitator must have realized that it’s an opportunity to develop our own talents. It’s true; drum teachers might have certain knowledge that probably will prepare them to facilitate a drum community. But you cannot allow self interest to supersede the goal. I’m not playing a double role. I have to play the role of the facilitator, not the teacher, to bring out the common ground to all of the people in the community. That is the goal.

Hull: So, a drum teacher can have good facilitation tools, which you can use in a drum circle. But if you put them on top of the hierarchy of priorities then all of a sudden you’re teaching a drum class rather than facilitating spirit in a drum circle.
Olatunji: That’s right.

Hull: But, if you don’t use the tools that you’ve generated as a drum teacher then of course ...
Olatunji: You fail.

Hull: I’ve seen some people who aren’t good drummers become good drum circle facilitators.
Olatunji: Yes.

Hull: Because they understand the importance of the mission.
Olatunji: Because you are not there to teach or to show people how well you can play. You’re there because you know how to bring music out of them. You have to say, “Look, you’ve got something that you probably don’t know you’ve got. I will prove it to you that you can do it by just doing it.” That’s what we’re talking about.

Hull: You taught me a great lesson. A few years ago while I was being pushed out into the national drum community circuit, you took me aside and said, “You come into town and get them all excited and leave. What are you leaving? You have given them inspiration, but have you introduced them to teachers in the area?”
Olatunji: Where can they go after you’re gone? What are they going to do tomorrow or next week?

Hull: Now wherever I go, I contact all the drum teachers and facilitators in the area that I can, and have them come to the drum circle so they can be introduced and acknowledged.
Olatunji: So that the community will know “Oh yeah, we’ve got these people in our community.”

Hull: What would you like to say to the growing number of facilitators who are coming forward and fulfilling this need in the community?
Olatunji: The great teacher said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, that they shall inherit the earth.” Facilitators have to rejoice in the fact that they are messengers. They are given an opportunity to be the one who is called upon to help build the bond that exists between people. He’s the one who goes around telling it to the world, “Don’t you forget. We all have a job to do. We need to heal our community and heal the planet.” He becomes the servant of all. Because of that assignment he will be provided for automatically. Because it has been ordained that the flock will always take care of the shepherd. So the shepherd has to be there for the community to remind you that you are just as important as everybody else.

Hull: No one is any more or less important in a community drum circle. Everyone has something to give to bring the community song alive and to make the magic.
Olatunji: That’s what makes it become an irresistible force that can evolve and become an immovable object.

Hull: The media is calling this grass roots movement “the hand drumming phenomena.” It’s really the beginning of something that is going to affect the culture of the United States in some strong ways. I’d like to put you in a time machine and send you ten years into the future. Based upon what you have seen happening within the U. S. since 1950, where do you think hand drumming will be ten years from now?
Olatunji: Well, it depends on how we promote it. I think we will have to teach it to our schoolchildren as part of their education, like football or basketball. That way it will not be a fad. We don’t want all of them to be musicians, but they will know it because they have touched it.

Hull: It will be a part of our culture.
Olatunji: Yes. It needs to be a part of the culture for the simple reason that the world is here in America. And because the world is here, the world has brought its culture here. The world culture then must be preserved here as well. There will be people who know how to play sakara in Berkeley even if its not being played in Lagos, so at least it’s being preserved.

Hull: That’s why it has to be integrated into our cultural expression.
Olatunji: It’s happening now. This is a mosaic. It’s what makes this country great. There is no other place in the world like America, right? People come from all parts of the world to make America what it is. Cultures must be preserved for that reason. Let me tell you what’s going to happen. We are so lucky that some of the people who are now in our drumming and dance classes and our workshops can become executives. So they’re going to use it. It’s a good thing. They are young now, and are interested in what’s happening, and they are going to make sure that this thing survives. They are going to be different than the CEOs that we have now because of their exposure to multi-cultural situations. It is a quiet cultural revolution that will unite all people. It will solve many of the problems that seem so impossible. I have a great hope for this happening in the future. That will be a wonderful thing to see.

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