Vol 3 October 2002       

colorful drums
Drumming and
the Language
of the Heart

with Simone LaDrumma

by Carol Hiltner


So that we would not be lost forever, but always have a way of finding our way home, Grandfather Fire sent the Eagle to Grandmother Earth, and to those who are of her domain. This Eagle — Eagle Brother/First Shaman — brought to us Two-Leggeds "The Ways" — the compendium of knowledge, dances, songs, stories, methods, techniques, meditations, approaches to Spirit and ways of Power through which we could seek, find and fulfill our own unique Path of Reunification with Grandfather Fire, which is our path of self-realization.

There came a time when Eagle Brother brought to us the Shamanic Drum. It is the Shaman's foremost vehicle for engaging one's attention in spiritual upliftment, for the gift of the drum is that it enables us to once again communicate in the Sacred Language of Spirit!

—Jade Wah'oo Grigori

Often, when I'm singing while drumming, people assume that I'm singing in another language. Well, I am. Sort of. The language of the heart.

—Simone LaDrumma

Every since Michael Harner wrote The Way of the Shaman, drumming circles have spread. Today, just about every community in the United States has a group you can join if you want to "drum in" the full moons and the solstices, or use the trance-inducing rhythms of drums for shamanic journeying.

Even those who have difficulty visualizing or getting out of left-brain consciousness find inner work easy to do when it's accompanied by the rhythm of drumming, for the beat carries us into other dimensions of being. It is the heartbeat of the inner worlds.

Many of us have drums. Typically, although we bring them with us to occasional gatherings, the rest of the time we just leave them sitting around, looking beautiful but not in use. But there are those rare few like Simone LaDrumma for whom drums are a passion and drumming is a way of life.

I met with Simone at her home in a room containing a wild assortment of drums of every shape and size and description.

Carol: You teach a course called "Drumming and the Holistic Expression of Rhythm." How is it, in your experience, that drumming creates a holistic experience?

Simone: Holistic, for me, is the body, the mind, the spirit — and the heart. Drumming creates a holistic experience only if the individual wants it to happen, and also — it's hard to explain this — if the "spirit of the drum" is cooperating.

When the spirit of the drum is with you, it's as if you've been selected by some energy. It doesn't feel like something you choose. It's more as though someone puts you on the top of a slide and gives you a shove, and you decide to slide on down. You could grab onto the sides, you could resist, but you don't. You don't know what's coming, you don't know what's at the bottom of the slide, but you just let go and say, "Whoopee!"

But if you grab onto the sides, you get very sick. Because if the shove is coming from outside of you, then you have to start repressing in order to stay where you are. If joy and love are at the bottom of the slide, then you know that the shove is a good thing, and you try to be alert to those pushes and always let go.

And that's how all these drums have come to me. I have a little slogan: "When you love what you do, what you do loves you." That was my insurance policy for years.

So holistic means you let go and stop thinking. Then every part of you responds to what's going on.

Carol: You say that your drumming was your insurance policy, and I thought of health insurance. Do you think that the practice of drumming makes you healthy?

Simone: Yeah! Of course it makes you healthy. Absolutely. I used to live the life of a regular civilian, and in those days I got sick all the time. I don't do that any more.

As a matter of fact, I did a gig the other night for a group of AIDS sufferers. I'd felt really punk when I got up that day — the sore throat, the swollen glands, the whole bit — but not so sick that I couldn't go. So I went and did my thing, which is 50 percent performance and 50 percent involving the audience in rhythm. And I began to sweat profusely, which I normally don't do. And by the time I drove home, there was not a hint of illness in me. This kind of thing has happened many times. I begin to get ill and then I do my art, and the illness doesn't happen.

Well, either that or it kills you — I've also had experiences where I burned so much energy that I absolutely collapsed.

But most of the time, the other thing happens. I feel like my whole self gets on overdrive. Every single part of me is involved. It's sort of a channeling. Those parts of the body that fight disease are up there boogeyin', too.

Carol: Would you consider that you are in an altered state when you do your drumming.

Simone: It depends. There are times when way I'm out there, but there have to be certain conditions present. For example, I don't often drum by myself. But if I'm drumming with people, they have to be good at what they do for me to reach the Nirvana place. Unfortunately, I don't have that opportunity very often, but that's what I live for.

Carol: So say more about that.

Simone: About that "goody" place? You feel as though you've disappeared, and there's this huge energy that's pouring through you, and you are doing things with your hands that you can't do unless you are in this state. You didn't even know you could play like that.

It's like gambling: They say that to get hooked on gambling, you just have to win once in a while. This is the same. Just once in a while you need to reach that place, and then you're hooked! You keep trying to get back there.

And that makes sense, because if it were all the time, it wouldn't be special. Sometimes I'd rather just go to the grocery store and buy a quart of milk.

Carol: Is that place what you would call a "groove"?

Simone: No. A groove is a very wonderful thing, but it's the next level down. In this Nirvana place, you feel it's not you that's playing — you feel as though you're being played. The poet Rumi's says: "You pick up a flute, and the flute plays you." I really dig that.

You can be in the groove and not reach that. For me, a lot of that place is in improvisation — when the individual is speaking on the drum. I can be in the groove and be enjoying myself — be in heaven, actually — but I'm just playing my part.

And maybe the music exists outside of me, and maybe I even hear voices. If I am very lucky and the music is very tight, then I can hear ancestor voices. It's not only me. Other people have told me they've had that experience. It's not explainable in any other way, because you can actually sing with these voices. I have created songs from these voices — with harmonies, because these voices do harmonies, too.

Carol: Do you work with people to help them get to that Nirvana spot, or do you discuss it at all with your students? Or is that a secret between musicians?

Simone: Years ago, a woman called, trying to understand what I taught. She said, "Will I see God?"

And I said, "If you do, it's not my fault."

Sometimes I see a beatific look come over a student's face, and it's extremely satisfying to me. That is nourishing to me. But I don't talk about it much, because I don't think it matters whether you talk about it. It's between you and Spirit.

The closest I can take students to that kind of feeling is sometimes when we do a meditation on drums, and we will drum softly and all play the same thing. And I will talk. I go into sort of a trance when I talk, I take people into a jungle, and we walk through that jungle until they no longer think about what their hands are doing. I'm in that jungle with them, and we go deeper and deeper into that place.

What I'm looking for is a kind of connection, on a cellular level, with our earliest beginnings. It's really nice in that place — it's very green and very dark. And then we start listening to the music that's around us in that place. We forget that we're making it.

But I have to take people out of there. You know, I've found in this business that everyone wants to go into a trance — they just love it. It's really easy to put people into a trance — there's nothing to it. You just say, "Take a breath and close your eyes."

However, it's not my focus to do that. They are going to do that if it's right for them. The rest of it is, You play this way, and maybe it'll happen." It's about them, not me.

Carol: How does the way the soundwaves resonate in the body feel to you? Can you put words to that?

Simone: No, I can't — because there are no words in that place. The ego is not there, and the ego is the one with the words.

Carol: And is the ego not there because the drumming takes you?

Simone: Yes, I'm a channel. There is an energy pouring through me, moving my hands, and filling me with joy. The left brain is not there. Every good drummer will tell you that drumming is in the body, not in the head. For instance, I can drum very complex rhythms and have a chat with you about breakfast. I don't need my head to do that.

Carol: I have been told that drummers are, as a group, crazy? Do you think that's related to this?

Simone: I hope so. People who are not crazy are really boring.

Carol: I note that you had a band called Ladies Don't Drum. Why did you name it that?

Simone: The name just came to me out of the blue. Ladies don't drum, it's not feminine.

I started that band in 1992. We played Carnegie Hall. We had incredible, amazing experiences. We made a CD and it sold out.

I said I was going to end that band when its name didn't make sense any more, and we reached that point in 1999. Today, young women — and men, thank God — don't know what that means any more. "Ladies Don't Drum"? They wouldn't understand it.

Carol: Is drumming your whole life, Simone?

Simone: Absolutely. Every cent I get is through drumming. I made a vow on October 11, 1992, and since then, drumming is entirely how I've existed. I made the full commitment. I changed my name legally to LaDrumma.

But it's not "drumming or nothing." It's "whatever produces ecstasy or nothing."

Carol: Anything else you want to say?

Simone: These young hippie types who think that if everyone drummed we would have peace — I just wish they were right.

Drums have been used to start wars many more times than they've been used to announce peace. Much as I would like to believe that if we all drummed furiously enough we wouldn't bomb Iraq, I don't believe that's true.

I just wish that there were some way my drums could make a difference. I always tell people, if my drums can help, call on me.

Simone LaDrummaSimone LaDrumma has been drumming professionally since 1987. In 1991 she began teaching hand drumming on congas and djembes (Afro-Cuban and West African), and continues to earn her living primarily through teaching.

In 1992, she founded and for eight years directed Ladies Don't Drum, a world-beat percussion ensemble that performed and recorded with the Seattle Men's Chorus, Maya Angelou, Bobby McFerrin, and Holly Near, among others. Simone also works as a solo performer and performs with several Seattle-area bands.

She is sixty years old and proud of it! Her website is at LaDrumma.com.