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Bass needs, and then some

Students learn the multifaceted nature of the West African djembe drum.

April 25, 2011|By Kelly Corrigan,
  • Students, Samantha Rosen, Jan Kline, Victoria da Salla, Rev. Emma Ynequez, and Kelly Corrigan join hands in a drum circle to start Gerald C. Rivers' African Djembe class called "Heartbeat of the Drum". (Photo By: Amy Opoka)
Students, Samantha Rosen, Jan Kline, Victoria da Salla,…

In the community room of Que Tu Linda Boutique and Body ’N Soul Studio in La Crescenta, students took a seat in a circle, wrapped their legs around djembe drums and prepared to play.

Students of actor and motivational speaker Gerald C. Rivers make a lot more than noise when beating their djembe drums.

During the six-week class in the community room of Que Tu Linda Boutique and Body ’N Soul Studio in La Crescenta, students leave with more than experience with just the West African drum, he said.

“I’ve watched individuals and people, collectively, be lifted up after playing,” he said. “Their breakthroughs on the drum are often in conjunction with their own liberation from some other area in their life.”

Djembe (pronounced jem-bay) is typically made of hardwood and goat skin and capable of producing far-reaching sounds, from bass to high notes and snare, “and lots of things in between,” Rivers said.


One drum can do what two congas or a full drum kit can do, he added. Rivers started playing the djembe 22 years ago, when he was 23.

“In my opinion, it’s a very healing instrument,” he said.

He hopes students feel liberated as they play — confident enough in their rhythms to join drum circles at Venice Beach or Griffith Park if they wish. Students also gain historical and cultural knowledge, he said.

At the start of class, Rivers directed new students to the visible creases in the center of the drum, which represents the spine of the animal sacrificed for the drummer to make music.

“What we teach and encourage is for you to have that spine in alignment with your own spine as you play,” Rivers said.

While there are rules to playing the drum and tones to achieve, the instrument welcomes an improvisational style. Rivers reiterated that listening is the most important quality of a drummer, and that the more liberated someone is when they play, a visible change occurs.

“Something happens,” he said.

Pointing to a student of his — the Rev. Emma Molina-Ynequez — Rivers said, “You literally see her spirit and her energy raise, and she plays so regally.”

When Molina-Ynequez was warned by a doctor that her blood pressure was higher than it should be, she looked outside of typical ways to treat it. She examined activities in her life that made her heart sing, she said, but without the pressure of walking or dancing.

She selected the drum class as a new venture because the beat of the drum symbolizes the human heartbeat, she said.

“Something about that resonated in me,” she said. “What I’ve learned to do is listen intensely. It’s added to my business. When I massage people, I listen with my eyes closed.”


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