X8 Community Drummer Spotlight: Russ M.

“Why we drum”
We drum to belong to the past, our earth, our people, and the animals who we share the earth.
We have been drumming since the Stone Age.
Drumming ties us to our ancestors who have drummed before us.
Every culture has drums. By drumming, we recognize we belong to one earth.
When we come together and drum, we belong to the people in our circle.
Drumming is so fundamental to us that our very heart beats.
We drum to connect to our own heart beat.
We drum to belong.
(by Russ Mead)

We lived in a remote high desert area 30 miles from Zion National Park for many years. We would rescue abused and neglected animals and often found ourselves in a dark place after witnessing this cruelty. We discovered that having a simple ceremony to honor the animals eased some of the burden of this emotionally heavy work. Drums and flutes became part of these ceremonies. After pondering why drums fit so naturally into this healing process I wrote “Why we drum”. At least for me, I do feel connected to those around me, the animals, the earth and do center myself when I am in a drum circle.

For years I carved Native American Style Flutes. I added to this knowledge by learning how to make cedar elk hide drums. We invited friends over for weekend drum making sessions where we built cedar frame drums on an old cable spool under a mesquite tree. When the drums were tight we would say a few words over the drums to honor the Elk, then have a drum circle around a fire in the front yard. Those were tremendous times with incredible friends.

We moved to Seattle where the drum culture is strong. I discovered the Turtle Spirit Jam which in Seattle which draws a unique mix of musicians, Shamans, Wiccans and some folks who just like to drum. When the weather is nice we meet under huge trees, next to moving rivers, and on the beaches of the Salish Sea. I now prefer non-animal skin heads on my drums. For Christmas my wife ordered me an X8 Cajon which has become my favorite drum which I take to drum circles with a flute I carved long ago.

Drums owned:
X8 Cajon
8-sided cedar frame Elk head drum
Toca Freestyle II Djembe
I also play a red heart Native American style flute at drum circles.

Russ, you are an inspiration to us all, thank you for sharing your story with us!  Drummers, tell us why YOU love drumming and drum circles! We'd love to share your story, too! 

Talu Green Continues to Bring Rhythm to the Stage after Fela!

Talu Green was the percussionist and Djembe drummer for the
Broadway musical Fela!. Photo from AllHipHop.com.
If you had a chance to see Fela! during its one-month stint Off-Broadway, two-year Broadway run, or two-year U.S. tour, you know that the rhythmic production of the revolutionary life of civil rights activist Fela Kuti is filled with music, dance, and contagious energy. Fela! was beloved and supported by theatergoers and received high praises from rappers and hip-hop musicians, including Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, and Questlove.

But Fela! wouldn’t quite be the hit that it was without one of its principal performers: Djembe drummer and percussionist Rasaan-Elijah “Talu” Green. Though Fela! directors weren’t looking for a Djembe drummer specifically when they brought Talu Green on as the musical’s percussionist, his African hand drumming experience brought a unique rhythm to the show. “With the musical director, it was kinda like trying to mesh the style that I play - which is a traditional West African style or Djembe - with this ‘Afro-Beat’ style that was created by Fela Kuti,” he told AllHipHop.com in 2012.

Talu Green’s performance in Fela! not only made the musical a hit, particularly among the hip-hop community, but gave Talu Green a chance to meet some of the biggest names in hip-hop music. He even received an invitation to record with Busta Rhymes.

Since Fela! closed, Talu Green has continued to perform through Talu Green Lion Falcon Ent. and taught Djembe and Doundoun drumming during the Art Saves Lives Foundation’s 2013 Summer Workshop. In fact, Talu Green was one of the teaching artists featured in the foundation’s Art heals, Art transforms and Art Saves Lives documentary, released in February 2014. Currently, Talu Green is playing percussion on Ms. Lauryn Hill’s Homecoming tour, which has included a performance on Late Show With David Letterman during the show’s Beatles Tribute Week and at Amnesty International 2014.

Thrones: The Drummer’s Seat of Power

The throne is an important part of any drummer’s performance. Many beginner drummers don’t understand the importance of a good drum throne. Regular chairs can limit the range of motion and control over a drum while rocking out. Thrones can be the key to maintaining a good level of comfort while performing or practicing. Since there are many different options when choosing a throne, and as with most things when it comes to drumming, there is no right or wrong choice. What you find to be comfortable will depend on your personal preferences. Finding the best throne fit as a drummer is a personal journey.

Kids Experience the Power of Hand Drumming through the YES Campaign

Hand drumming teaches students about music, culture, and
diversity while allowing them to create a sense of community.
Photo from www.x8interactivedrumming.com.
At X8 Drums, we love hearing about the positive impacts drumming has on youth, and this inspiring story about the Youth Education Success (YES) campaign in Southern Oregon is no exception. Launched by NBC5, YES supports local kids and school programs affected by school budget cuts. One day out of the month, businesses partnering with YES donate a percentage of their earnings to YES. These proceeds are then given to local school programs in the form of grants used to expand students’ learning skills.

One way in which school programs have used YES grants is through music. Some school programs teach kids music using handmade djembe drums. If you know anything about hand drumming, you know that wailing on a djembe does a lot more than teach kids about music. It also allows kids to express themselves, work as a group, create energy and a sense of community, and feel empowered. We also love the idea of using hand drums to enhance students’ learning skills and create community energy because hand drumming is an activity that everyone can enjoy, which means no one gets left out.

We applaud NBC5 for creating the YES campaign, a program that has lead to activities such as hand drumming, and we’re not the only ones. In fact, the YES campaign was recently awarded the national Service to America - Service to Children Award from the National Association of Broadcasters. Kudos to NBC5 and local YES partners and businesses for not only helping children expand their learning skills but for giving them a way to experience the power of hand drumming!

Drum Therapy Helps Dementia Patients Maintain Basic Mental Functions

Drumming stimulates and challenges the brains of dementia
patients at Phoebe Allentown Health Care. Photo by
April Bartholomew, The Morning Call.
Drumming continuously proves to be an effective form of music therapy. Most recently, drumming is used to challenge the brains of dementia patients at Phoebe Allentown Health Care. Elderly suffering from dementia experience a loss of intellectual and social functions, such as memory, language, and judgment. However, Phoebe has recently introduced its dementia patients to drum therapy to help them keep and strengthen what’s left of these functions.

At drum therapy sessions, staff members trained in therapeutic drumming give each patient a small drum and mallet and ask them to repeat simple rhythms, recite rhymes, and drum along to songs. Drums are also used to encourage language skills by using beats to represent names, dates, or colors. Eileen Mihocko, one of the staff members trained in therapeutic drumming, even uses drum beats to introduce group members to one another. Each syllable of the phrase, “My name is ___,” is a beat on the drum.

So how exactly does drumming help dementia patients? According to Kelly O’Shea Carney, executive director of the Phoebe Center for Excellence in Dementia Care, drumming stimulates and challenges the brain. While drumming mostly maintains what’s left of the brain connections needed for basic mental functions, some dementia patients have been able to rebuild lost connections, as Carney told The Morning Call. Carney also explains that drumming allows dementia patients to communicate and provides stress relief and relaxation.

Drumming is certainly not a cure for dementia and cannot reverse the disease. However, by stimulating and challenging the brain, drumming can slow down dementia’s rate of deterioration and help dementia patients maintain and use the skills they have left for as long as possible.