News / Arts & Entertainment

Drumming Recalls Centuries-old Link Between Caribbean, Africa

Vivien Jones stands behind the drummers waving the Jamaican flag at the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival. (Courtesy Hanan Bar Assulin/Jerusalem Season of Culture)
Vivien Jones stands behind the drummers waving the Jamaican flag at the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival. (Courtesy Hanan Bar Assulin/Jerusalem Season of Culture)
Gail Wein
Throughout the ages and around the globe, drumming has been used for communication, entertainment, and prayer. That is especially true for the Rastafarians who performed at this year's Sacred Music Festival in Jerusalem.

If you haven’t heard of Nyabinghi drumming, you are not alone. It is sacred music, played as a communal meditative practice in the Rastafarian religion of Jamaica, and rarely performed in public.

As Jamaican reggae star Vivien Jones explains, it is a centuries-old link between the Caribbean and Africa.

“That's been in Jamaica since we were taken there as slaves," Jones said. "Slave master used to bang the drums. So the drums were there from the time we landed on that island, the drums were being played. So it was African drumming … all the way from ancient Ethiopia. All it did was it traveled in a slave ship to Jamaica and then it bloomed and blossomed again in Jamaica.”

LISTEN: Drumming Recalls Centuries-old Link between Carribean, Africa
Drumming Recalls Centuries-old Link between Carribean, Africai
|| 0:00:00

It is a form of music passed down from generation to generation. Drummer Bonjo Iyapingi Noah started early.

"I grew up playing within the church," he said. "Before the elders would come up and play, we the children we have to play. We learn this all from the elders. The elders sit us down and they teach us what to sing.”

Bonjo plays with Drums of Defiance, a band of Jamaican musicians based in London. He says that although this is sacred music, the band is now beginning to perform it in public to spread the teachings of the Rastafarians.
Vivien Jones and Drums of Defiance perform at the medieval fortress, the Tower of David, in the heart of Old Jerusalem. (Courtesy Noam Chojnowski/Jerusalem Season of Culture)Vivien Jones and Drums of Defiance perform at the medieval fortress, the Tower of David, in the heart of Old Jerusalem. (Courtesy Noam Chojnowski/Jerusalem Season of Culture)

“I was even thinking it was wrong for me to even record it. I’m going to make a Nyabinghi album because, the way I was seeing it is from the church, but now, as I said before, the teachings have to go everywhere," Bonjo said. "Everyone has to know what Rastafari is. Show the power of nyabinghi.”  

For their performance at the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival, the band members are seated on stage. Some are dressed in white, and some are clad in vivid reds, yellows and greens, with long flowing robes and colorful headgear.

The musicians’ chanting often follows the “call and response” pattern that is typical of gospel and other genres of music whose roots are in Africa.

Biblical Israel is a core topic in much of gospel and reggae music. So when Vivien Jones had the chance to perform at the annual festival in Jerusalem, he didn’t hesitate. He invited the Drums of Defiance to join him.

"The importance of this place, Israel, from all our background, growing up as children, reading the Bible and things like this," Jones said. "Our parents are Christians, so it’s very special for me, because you feel a presence of a higher level of blessing and grace. You feel a presence of that. You can definitely feel it here.”

Nyabinghi drumming is ceremonial music for Rastafarians.  But, it is also universal.

“This music that we play, this music is music of love and upliftment," Jones said. "This music is for the whole world. It’s for all nations. It’s for us to get together. This music will draw everyone together, all nations together. We’re not singing of war, we’re singing of peace, we’re singing of love, we’re singing of caring for one another, your family. This is what we're singing about.”

Jones and the Drums of Defiance plan to take performances of Nyabinghi music around the world.

You May Like

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley












Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”