May Mansour delves into the dynamics of music and in particular drumming, wondering why there has been a steady decline in the number of female drummers over the centuries even though history shows that in early times, the practice was dominated by women.
Playing music is one of the earliest practices known to man, found in every known culture past and present, including the most isolated of tribes on the planet; none exist without a form of music in their community. It is essential to acknowledge the mere practice of percussions as a form of music. Accordingly it becomes apparent that music existed amongst the first humans, before the scattering and diversity of people and creation of societies across the planet. It is possibly the one activity which engages the mind, body and spirit all at once, an essential form of unabridged human expression.
“Our brain waves operate on four different levels,” stated percussionist Sabrine El Hossamy in a lecture on female drummers which took place at the Muzix Expo at The Greek Campus last week in Cairo. “Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta; the Beta state is a conscious wave and is responsible for reasoning, logic, critical thinking, and effective functioning throughout the day while we are fully awake; the Alpha state is a deep relaxation, meditative wave responsible for visualisation, memory, learning and concentration. Theta waves are present during deep meditation, light sleep including the R.E.M dream state and finally Delta is responsible for deep sleep or when transcendental meditation is in full effect. When we play music, and are in the zone, you can’t think of anything else. You are in the Alpha state where the left side of the brain responsible for logic and calculation works in perfect synchronicity with the right side of the brain responsible for emotions. Now, rhythm in particular, enhances focus, and this has a whole lot to do with why percussions are used in ritualistic ceremonies and spiritual practices, to evoke a sort of trance dedicated to communicating with the essence of all creation.”
In most cities around the world, where contemporary musicians are operating in full force and within a multitude of genres, bands in general always have a hard time digging up drummers. Only a scarce breed of instrumentalists appreciate the practice, when in fact, while we were in our mothers wombs, percussions were the first sound we ever heard and felt; our first initiation to coming alive via sensation! Percussions are possibly the oldest instrument in the history of mankind, tracing back to thousands of years to around 4000 B.C., making its first historically recognised appearance in Egypt actually. The tabla came first since drumsticks had not yet been invented - people simply used their hands. Ancient Africans used drums as a form of communication. In literary records, drums were often used for ritual ceremonies - and get this! - females were the primary gender on drum duties for thousands of years! From there on out percussions evolved through the various cultures which created them and into the omnifarious musical styles across the globe today, with more advancements being made on what was once a very simple instrument. It makes you wonder why a lot of people, particularly women, lost interest in the activity.
“The tabla nowadays is, for some reason, usually directly linked to belly dancing or to men! People see me holding the tabla at an event or something and go ‘oh so no belly dancer?’ or ask me why the tabla and not any other activity!” states El Hossamy, “No, it was never meant to belong to a particular gender, even though it was dominated mostly by women in early history its relation to women now no longer exists! It doesn’t need to have a groove to dance to either you can simply listen to it and appreciate it. I find it hard to believe when people aren’t interested in the mere practice of percussions! People are always drawn to drumming on anything they get a chance to drum on, and if there’s a tabla or a drum kit at bay, and no one else is around, I’m certain they will have a go at it! A lot of women today are getting back into the tabla and I’m actually taking it upon myself as a mission to change the perception of percussions instilled in our society, and get more people to try and learn it. It’s not a difficult instrument, I mean of course you have put in the effort to get anything done, but it’s an easy instrument, it’s not as hard as many people think or assume!”
Certainly Egypt can do with more female percussionists, from a feminist perspective to empower themselves within a male dominant society as well as to re-ignite a long lost cultural practice. Plus, percussionists playing on drum kits are scientifically proven to be as fit as a football players or long distance runners; it improves heart rate and flexibility, burns calories and builds muscles. So why not give it a go! Guaranteed fun and a perfect gateway for stress release improving focus, tempo and general cognitive functioning. Onwards and forwards into action ladies!
Photo Credits: Dee Plakas FB page and www.grimeygoods.com