Thrumming beats of Africa

A workshop, led by Thilakar Rajagopal alias Cheenu, the founder of Yogathalam Community, will be held for Chennaiites, to familiarise the musical culture of Africa.
Thilakar Rajagopal alias Cheenu
Thilakar Rajagopal alias Cheenu

CHENNAI : The bustling streets of Kodambakkam will now come alive to the reverberating beats of African music — the rythms of drums.

A workshop, led by Thilakar Rajagopal alias Cheenu, the founder of Yogathalam Community, will be held for Chennaiites, to familiarise the musical culture of Africa.

Music and African culture have always held a special place in Thilakar’s heart. He has a profound connection with the djembe, an ancient African drum, which was introduced to him in 2015 at a programme called Rainbow Gathering in Hampi, where people camped near the mountains for a month. It was then that he saw the Africans playing djembe and fell in love with the enticing sounds of the drum.

Thilakar’s passion for the instrument also reflects a deep sense of nostalgia for ancient Africa. Reminscing the experience of visiting Africa to construe the authentic sounds, he says, “Group drumming is a therapy which gives people a relief from all of their stress.” His extensive experience in conducting drum circle events for corporations and leading mental wellness programmes through drumming such as Breathe work, Sound Bark, African Drumming, and Ecstatic Dance, positions him as an expert in using rhythm as a tool for emotional and psychological well-being. His ultimate aim is to help participants reconnect with their inner child, fostering a sense of joy and spontaneity. He says, “When you are drumming, you are in the present moment. You won’t think about the past nor the future.”

African drumming has historically been a powerful means of communication. Different rhythms were used by African communities to convey messages over long distances. Till now, it is being practised in the villages of Africa. Wives would beat the drums indicating that the food is ready for their husbands who are working hard in the jungle. Djembe, the centrepiece of this tradition, is crafted with great reverence.

Before a tree is cut to make a djembe, there is a ceremonial process of seeking permission from the spirits, highlighting the spiritual and cultural significance of the instrument. Thilakar emphasises on the deep respect that African communities have for their traditions, adding that drumming ceremonies were held to honour the death of kings.

In this workshop, not just djembe but other kinds of African drumming instruments like kenkeni, dundun, cowbells, and shakers will also be played. Participants will be guided through the basics of playing these instruments and will also learn a few steps of African dance. After the initial instructions, participants can play or dance. “When people join together and play a simple rhythm, it brings lot of energy in oneself,” says Thilakar.

This workshop will be held at Idam, an organisation that invites and promotes multilingual art and culture. Nancy, the artistic manager of Idam says “For an artiste, a stage is very important. Idam is a collective vision of each and every artiste.” The workshop promises to be more than just a learning experience; it is an invitation to experience the rich culture of another country and explore the therapeutic benefits of rhythm and movement.

Whether you are a seasoned musician or a complete novice, this workshop offers something for everyone, creating a communal space where art and culture can be experienced and celebrated collectively.

The African Drumming and Dance is a three-hour workshop that will be held on May 26 at Idam, Kodambakkam, at 4 pm.

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The New Indian Express