“There is a rhythm in everything. To experience it, all you have to do is listen,” echoes the voice of our instructor. Trying to pinpoint this elusive rhythm is what I found myself doing on a relatively sunny Saturday morning, at a djembe workshop, organised as part of the Speaking of Theatre two-day confluence conducted by Atta Galatta, in association with Tahatto. Finding its roots in the traditions of West Africa, the djembe has come a long way. Made from animal hide, plastered tightly onto a hollow vessel and tuned using intricately knotted ropes, its name commonly translates to ‘gathering together in peace’ or ‘unity and harmony’. That was what we were doing – an intimate gathering of people with the most varied of backgrounds coming together to find our rhythm. Always made fun of for my small hands, I made my way to the workshop, not confident that I would be able to play this instrument. But my initial doubts were quelled through the course of the workshop and by the end of it; I could produce a decent beat. The three-hour session started off with a quick round of introductions, followed by a series of exercises to beat away any ounce of sleep.
Soon enough, we got drumming. Starting with simple beats, we soon moved on to routines that were a little more complicated. Paying attention to each of us, at one point in the workshop we were asked to play alone, so as to bring to notice tiny mistakes that can cause a change in the rhythm.
The instructor, Ashok Kumar, tells me it is all about finding your base rhythm and connecting with your inner being. “It has only been an hour, and you can already see the smile on everybody’s face.” He adds, “I’m trying to explore the therapeutic quality that music exudes. It is not that I’m teaching people to become better drummers or musicians. My focal point in these workshops is to help them get in touch with themselves and find their base rhythm.”
In a world defined by speed and chaos, this was the perfect way to relax. Towards the end of the session, we were divided into small groups and asked to come up with our own beat. Intense discussions and arguments ensued about what should be played and how. As each group performed, there was a certain excitement and happiness in the air that is not easily found in our otherwise mundane lives. The session closed off with a loud jam session, where we were asked to listen and harmonise our beats with those sitting around us.
Piyush Agarwal, co-founder of Tahatto and a participant, says, “The instrument is such, it allows you to experiment and come up with your own rhythm.” With regard to theatre, he says, “There are many plays where a djembe is the core instrument. You can have moments in a play just defined by it.”
“The beauty of the djembe is its simplicity and unique sound,” adds the instructor. “With enough practice, an average learner will take about six months to get the hang of it.”
Did the workshop help me listen to the rhythm around? Well, a little more tuning and I might just about be able to hear it. Might as well head to the nearest store and get myself a djembe.