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A Better Drum Circle 

click to enlarge burundi.jpeg

You’ve spent time in the Humboldt nation. You know that percussion, when allowed in public spaces, is a magnet for even more percussion. Surely, you’ve seen these gatherings of spontaneous musicians produce harmonious, uplifting community and, at other times, be a cacophonous earsore. It depends on who’s feeling most confident that day. Choose your drum circles wisely.

If you don’t want to take a chance, we’ve got some pros comin’ to town. For centuries now, the Royal Dancers and Drummers of Burundi have unified rhythm, passing down technique and tradition to subsequent generations. The group has provided the soundtrack for many a significant event in the small, landlocked central African nation -- the enthronement of kings, birth celebrations, funerals. You know, like our Army band, but not so stiff.

The drums are tied to the land they come from. Larger drums -- known as “ingoma” -- are made from hollowed out tree trunks with skin stretched over them.

As world music gained the attention of Western ears in the ‘60s, the Royal Dancers and Drummers ventured abroad, spreading the “Burundi beat” worldwide. They appeared on “The Jungle Line,” a song on Joni Mitchell’s 1975 album The Hissing of Summer Lawns (though they were credited as the “warrior drums of Burundi.” Not very PC, Joni). In 1982 they were an integral part of the spirit that the first WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) festival was organized around. The event -- founded by Peter Gabriel, among others -- was intended to simultaneously present the earth’s many musical forms, and brought further prominence to world music in the West.

Need that beat? You can catch the drummers on Thursday, Nov. 15, at 8 p.m. at HSU’s Van Duzer Theatre. Tickets are $45/$15 for HSU students. For more info, go to

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Andrew Goff

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