By Kimber Fountain
It has been said that “talking about love is like dancing about architecture.” The same could be said for writing about music. Especially when the music is drawn from one of mankind’s oldest instruments, and especially when it feels like the music is making itself. Such is the case with Galveston Djembe, colloquially referred to as the “drum circle,” which has been a fixture on the Island for almost twenty years. The group, comprised of local musicians of all skill levels and from all walks of life, gathers weekly to summon the sounds of Earth. The result is a performance that leaves its participants breathless and intoxicated, and its onlookers charged with excitement.
The oldest drum on record dates all the way back to 6,000 B.C. Mesopotamia, and the use of drums is found in countless cultures and ancient traditions all over the world. The particular use of the drums is as varied as the histories. At times they were used as communication devices to carry messages to different tribes, by shamans to alter the state of consciousness in order to induce healing, and of course their most widely recognized use has been ritualistically for marriage ceremonies, amid fertility and harvest rituals, during the solstice and other seasonal gatherings, and in celebration.
Over the past several years this ancient ritual has gained widespread popularity in the United States, lauded for its ability to transcend cultural divides. Drum circles have been integrated into many modern forms of meditation, alternative medicine and therapies, and even into team-building exercises within large companies. But in the case of Galveston’s drum circle, it exists merely for the experience and music it provides, although many members of the group attribute several other advantages that arise out of their weekly meeting. Many say the physicality of playing the drum is enervating while others call it “therapeutic” and “relaxing.”
Galveston Djembe is led by Galveston businessman Mamady Sidibe, a native of Africa originally from Canokuy, Guinea, owner of Mamady’s Primitive Art from Africa on The Strand. He originally initiated the Galveston group in the late 1990s, and local personalities like Valerie Johnson and George Alvarez have been with Mamady since the early 2000s. But in the spirit of the drum circle itself, no experience is required to join and extra drums are provided for people who do not have their own. “I love playing with George,” Valerie says. “He is such an excellent drummer and he also is very helpful with others [who are] new to the rhythms.” Mamady, who is in essence at the helm of the music with his large bass drum guides the group from the inside-out, often inserting chants and encouraging the newer musicians with his spirited repartee.
Although the group and many of its members have always remained together their venue has changed many times over the years. Originally the circle was held downtown at a popular establishment called Java and then moved to the Courtyard Café on Mechanic Street for several years. Most recently, however, they have moved across town to their current location on the Seawall.
Galveston Djembe meets every Friday night in the open air dining room on the upper level of Jimmy’s on the Pier (Seawall and 81st Street). They typically convene around 10:30pm and the music begins as soon as the last diner has left and the tables are cleared to make room for the circle. The bar does remain open during the performance, which typically lasts until around 1:30am.
The group also holds a monthly performance the night of each full moon which takes place on the actual Seawall near 45th Street around The Great Storm commemorative monument. The Full Moon performances usually begin around 10pm.
For up to date information on the group search for ‘Galveston Djembe’ on Facebook.