Drums of Diversity
Walk outside in the middle of a pasture far from any city or town in the middle of the night and it appears as though the stars, planets, and various moons are silent. Only nature seems to have a voice. Theoretical physicist Dr. Janna Levin disagrees. “I’d like to convince you that the universe has a soundtrack and that soundtrack is played on space itself, because space can wobble like a drum.”
Drums are well-known as being the oldest of played instruments; the voice is often considered the oldest of instruments. The popularity of the drum and the existence of it in almost every culture have led to people generally thinking they know everything about the drum. The truth is that it is an often misunderstood instrument. Not only does it provide rhythm for whatever piece in which it is played, it is the only instrument adapted to every culture. The drum is not only the heartbeat of a musical composition. The drum represents the heartbeat and diversity of man.
The conga drum is a perfect example of a misunderstood yet popular instrument with a place in the pages of history which scans one ocean, two continents, and three countries. Named by the slaves from the Bantu region of Africa who were shipped to Cuba to work the sugar plantations, the hand drum found a home in its new country and was renamed the tumbadora. During Carnaval the drum provided the rhythms of celebration, those rhythms known as “la conga”. Thus the drum during Carnaval was often called the conga because of the specific rhythms it played. The name also changed when played in an ensemble, and had one or two names based upon the instrumentation of the ensemble or band.
As many people left Cuba and immigrated to the United States of America, they brought not only their music but also their instruments. Movie and television star Desi Arnaz gave the conga drum its nickname and popularity. Suddenly the drum that originated in Africa was America’s party drum. While Arnaz’s technique was more showmanship than musically correct, the validity he gave the conga drum cannot be disputed.
Conga drums have undergone several recreations and epiphanies as the manner and materials for making them kept up with the times. In the 1940’s an autobody repairman in San Francisco made a conga drum out of fiberglass. This not only made the shell of the drum stronger but amplified the sound so that it could project farther and play louder.
“Spirit melodies are not material sound waves but spirit pulsations received by celestial personalities. There is a vastness of range and a soul of expression, as well as a grandeur of execution associated with the melody of the spheres that are wholly beyond human comprehension”, so says the Urantia Book. Many others would agree. Robert Ingersoll once said “Music expresses feeling and thought, without language; it was below and before speech, and it is above and beyond all words.” Ludwig van Beethoven described it thusly: “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.
Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.”
The epiphany of the conga drum gives one hope for a coming together of diverse minds. It has been said that music is a universal language and space probes carry not written messages but tonal ones. Perhaps one day world leaders will sit together in a drum circle and, emulating cultures from the past, find a common beat and denominator in which to resolve world problems. After all, despite the ethnicity, age, or location, it is still the hand, the hand that looks the same when turned to the palm side that plays the rhythms of life on a conga drum.
Plato felt that “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” Drums give us a chance to come together and recognize that we really are the same as we feel the rhythm of life, walking together and hearing the beats of unified hearts moving towards epiphanies of peace, following the soundtrack of life.