News / USA

Washington Drum Circle Draws Many Cultures

Beats merge as different types of people intersect

About 150 drummers from all walks of life gather each Sunday in a Washington, DC park for an impromptu musical get-together.
About 150 drummers from all walks of life gather each Sunday in a Washington, DC park for an impromptu musical get-together.
Saskia Melker

Since it began more than four decades ago, the Meridian Hill Park drum circle has become a meeting place for people from all walks of life in Washington. And the nationalities and ethnic backgrounds of the drummers are as varied as the instruments and the beats they play.

They bring their djembes, their congos and their shakers. Rhythms build and fade. Strangers get up to dance. Crowds gather around.

You can find them here each Sunday, drawn by the drum circle that began nearly 50 years ago when several African-American drummers first gathered.

"At first, it was just a few people. They were playing over on that wall, just a few people," says Willy Posey, one of the originals members of the circle. "I would say in the last 10 years, it's grown tremendously."

Abdel Elgizouzi has been coming with his family since moving here from Sudan.

"Twelve years ago, there was a group of about 10,15 old people," says Elgizouzi. "Now you see, there is almost 150 drummers."

The circle reflects the shifting demographics in Washington.

The U.S. Census Bureau shows that the city's predominantly African-American population has declined five percent since 2000, while the total number of whites, Asians and Hispanics has increased 22  percent.

Kevin Lambert says he was the first white person to start playing at the circle.

"Several people just stopped drumming when I would show up and say, 'You can't play with this white boy.' And this went on for a while. The leader of this ensemble finally said, 'You cannot pull any racism in this. This is about music. This is not about black or white. This man can play and he stays.' And as soon as he said that, everyone shut up and it was over. Never any problems on that. And then other white people started coming and it became an integrated situation."

And each week, Elgizouzi says, more newcomers arrive.

"It is not only now black. It is black, Chinese, Hispanic, white, everywhere. And everyone bring his own drum from his country, region, from his people."

No rehearsals or auditions. Just rhythm.

"There is all sort of morphing together," says Lambert. "The African rhythms, the project beats and the Cuban rhythms, the salsa rhythms."

The beats merge as different types of people intersect.

"And that is the bottom line of this circle," says Elgizouzi.

Original member Willy Posey welcomes the widening circle.

"Just come on in here and join with us in the spirit and we can just keep on growing," says Posey. "You know, just dance to the beat."

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