The Birthing of American Rhythmaculture

by Arthur Hull

Percussion Source Magazine, Spring 1997

You won’t find the word Rhythmaculture in your dictionary. It is an “Arthurian” word that describes a culture that has integrated, ritual, dance, song, and music, into almost every aspect of its existence, its expression of its self, and its celebration of life. In a Rhythmaculture, rhythm and music serves specific purposes. There are songs, dances, for courting, weddings, births, funerals, harvesting, planting, and spiritual expression. Song and dance, and ritual permeates nearly all Rhythmacultures in their community gatherings.

A Rhythmaculture has always had drums or percussion in its history of expression. Rhythmaculture people have evolved their cultures out of an intimate relationship with the earth they live on, and the animals they live with. A lot of their rhythms, songs and dances have been modeled from the movements of the animals, the songs of the birds, and the community’s dance for survival, such as the movements of harvesting, planting, and hunting.

Asians, Pacific islanders, native Americans, and Africans are all people who come from Rhythmacultures.

The people from European decent, started losing parts of their Rhythmaculture around the historical period called the inquisition. Back then, social conditioning was effected in such a way, that any thing that was considered primal, pagan, or unchristian, was frowned upon. Certain white Anglo-Saxon religious orders instigated persecution of the Druids, Witches, Gypsy, and Jewish cultures that still continues today.

European, colonizers tried to suppress drumming amongst the African people they had stolen from Africa, and brought to the Caribbean as slaves. They thought that through the drums, the slaves were talking to each other, and their ancestral spirits. That was true. The colonists also were afraid that drumming amongst the slaves might unite them into a rebellious spirit. That was also true. The first slave revolt in the Caribbean was in Haiti. The children of Africa, successfully kicked the colonists off the island and created the first third world country in the Caribbean. The rhythm and dance that fueled that revolution was called Petro. Many colonists tried to ban drums, but the spirit of Rhythmaculture cannot be stopped. Through the suppression of the drums by the colonists, many other rhythmical art forms were birthed, such as the Cuban Yambu rhythms and dances played on wooden boxes, the steel pan bands of Trinidad, and tap dancing in the Southern United States.

Haiti is an example of a new Rhythmaculture being formed. Three different Rhythmacultures from Africa were thrown together with the French and original native cultures on the island. Haiti was the mixing bowl, and these five cultures were the ingredients. The result, after two hundred years of cooking and evolving, is a Rhythmaculture that is distinctly Haitian, where dance, music and drumming, permeates many aspects of its social interaction. The Afro-Cuban Rhythmaculture is also a good example of this type of two hundred year mixing bowl evolution.

America is the largest mixing bowl in the world. Immigrants from all parts of the globe have come to this land, The first generation immigrants were able to maintain some of their traditions and Rhythmaculture from the old country. As each succeeding generation became more “Americanized,” some, if not all of that tradition has been lost. As our cities have gotten larger, our lives, and communities have become more fragmented and disconnected from different parts of its self. We Americans have become so isolated that we are seeking different ways of recreating safe, supportive, and healthy communities.

Drumming, dancing, singing, and the art of ritual, have been used through out the His/Herstory of Rhythmacultures all over the world, as a way of celebrating community and energizing the spirits of those communities,

The birthing of Rhythmaculture in America is in its beginning stages. We are modeling master drummers and dancers who have come here from all over the globe. They give us knowledge, tools and the blue prints we need to create, what in two hundred years from now, will be a Rhythmaculture that will be distinctly American. It won’t be just a mixture of African and European cultures. It will include Asians, Arabic, Polynesian, Mexican, and Native American as well.

We Americans are now starting to rebuild and redevelop our relationship with the drum as a tool for unity, and expression. Drumming and dancing are appearing in churches, as a tool for worship, in Music therapy, as a tool for healing, in corporations, as a tool for team building, in conferences, as a tool for synergizing, in schools, as a tool for learning, in men’s and women’s groups, as a tool for gender empowerment and goddess worship, in communities, as a tool for intrainment, entertainment, and community building.

A person who is drumming in a men’s group, could also be doing shaman drumming on his own, or with a group. While occasionally playing in a community drum circle, he could also be studying with an ethnically specific drum teacher and play for a dance class that relates to those rhythms. The drum is being used as a glue for all these populations through out the United States today.

Over the last thirty years, I’ve been working with these all different groups, as they have been growing and overlapping into a strong and diverse population, dedicated to creating community based on Rhythmaculture.

I’ve been asked by Percussion Source to write this continuing column, in order to chronicle the birthing process of the American Rhythmaculture in all its different aspects. This column will be covering all the populations mentioned above. We want to look at the ethnic drum and dance teachers, and the community facilitators who bring national teachers and facilitators to do programs in their regions. We want to explore the different kinds of drum and dance camps happening around the country. We want to interview people who use rhythm based events in kids at risk populations, corporations, and personal growth programs. We want to examine ethnic specific drumming verses anarchist thunder drumming, and every type of drumming in-between. We want to explore the connection between the drummer and the dancer. We will examine the chronological introduction of the different culturally different drums and their corresponding rhythms into the US, and their effects on our evolving community.

The Rhythmaculture column in the next issue of Percussion Source Magazine, will be on drum circles in the US. I want to talk to as many community drum circle facilitators as possible in order to get a demographic on the different types of circles available in our drumming community.

I would like to use this column as a sounding board for the hand drumming community. I would like to receive, and send out as many varied opinions about any one subject as possible. This can only be possible if there is inter-active dialogue, networking, and feedback between the readership of Percussion Source Magazine and my self. This way not only can we inform and educate, but we can also empower ourselves in the process of birthing our own American Rhythmaculture.

If you are a community drum circle facilitator, or if you have any ideas on possible subjects for this column. You can E-mail me at: teambuilding@drumcircle.com.

Arthur Hull is a nationally recognized community drumming facilitator, instrument maker and rhythmical evangelist.