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The Monday drum circle at the Carlsbad Seawall by Offshore Surfshop. Courtesy photo
ColumnsSoul on Fire

Soul on Fire: Finding community in a drum circle

Monday was my birthday. I was looking for something casual to do outside. I knew there was a big super full moon coming, and the clouds were clearing up for a good sunset.

My friend had been trying to get me to come down to the grassy area at the Carlsbad Seawall by Offshore Surfshop and join in a drum circle. The last time I thought I was going to a drum circle, it turned out to be an AA meeting, so I was skeptical.

But it was my birthday, and I didn’t want to be alone, so I bundled up and grabbed a drum and a chair and headed to the coast.  Why not?

When I got there, there was excitement in the air as people set up their areas — all properly spaced out per protocol, by the way.

People of all types came with drums ranging from Home Depot tubs to an array of top-of-the-line Vjembes — African drums — which loosely translated means “everyone gather in peace.”

A professional group that regularly meets in other locales got the Meetup notice on Nextdoor and brought various instruments to pass out if a bystander wanted to join the fun and offered facilitation to beginners.

Children naturally bounced to the rhythms penetrating the air, and people walking by couldn’t help but slow their gait and smile, some taking pictures or videos while the tribal thump penetrated in rhythm with each gatherer’s heartbeat. Acrobats with fire batons swirled in the background. The sun setting into the ocean. The moon rising in the east. It was truly magical.

But how did this gathering of souls on fire for this kind of connection and community begin? I wanted to know why people came here and what were they looking for once they arrived — and did they get what they were looking for?

I spoke to my friend Narelle from Australia, who started the original Meetup for this particular drum circle. “It was before COVID hit — I had been in Spain and came across an amazing drum circle of hundreds of people. The inclusion that the circle brought, the sense of community — I knew I needed to start something like this in Carlsbad, so I threw it out there on a Meetup app. It was just me a lot of the time, and then slowly it grew, two, four, a dozen. Then the lockdown hit. It was even more important to keep it alive because now people really needed connection more than ever. The drum circle provides that involvement that we all crave, and everyone feels welcome to participate.”

Drumming does all that, and I witnessed people come in, young and old, wheelchairs and bikers — even folks seeing the circle form and then going home to bring back their musical instrument to share the rhythm of love in the human heart and soul found in this drum circle.

Drum circles originated in the US in the 1960s and ’70s, mainly counterculture groups playing music together, but the natural history of African drumming dates back to 1300 AD. Drums were used to communicate, celebrate, mourn and inspire, used in every aspect of African life, physical, emotional, and spiritual; during peace and war, birth and death, sorrow and happiness.

More recent drumming studies state that it is a therapeutic tool that accelerates physical healing, boosts the immune system, and releases emotional trauma. Drumming also helps with depression, anxiety, and grief, as well as behavioral issues. And let’s not forget the connection to be had in these group settings, where one can be accepted right where they are.

If you are looking to purchase a drum or any other musical instrument, check out Carlsbad Village Music. The owner, Janine Thomas, is a regular at the Carlsbad drum circle, with a few of her instructors, and offers various drumming options.

Something is growing and building between this community of drummers who gather every Monday at 6 p.m. A fire that burns within each soul that craves community and acceptance found in a drumbeat. Come join us.