Thundering Drums of Arambol

By: Anuja Mavinkurve

Historically, drums and their rhythms have been the cynosure of social and cultural activities all over the world, in fact, it is said to be man’s oldest musical percussion instrument. However, drums have not always been used for creating music or entertainment. 

Drums made with alligator skins have been found in Neolithic cultures in China, dating to a period of 5500–2350 BC. The bronze Dong Son drum was created by the Bronze Age Dong Son culture of northern Vietnam. The Rig Veda, one of the oldest religious scriptures in the world, subsumes several references of the use of the Dundhubi or the war drum and of Arya tribes charging into the battlefield to the beating of the Dundhubis.

In African tribal cultures, drums rendered an important role in the use of rituals and religious ceremonies, to express themselves and for the purpose of communication. Across civilizations, the drum has been used in warfare, both as a means of dispatching signals to the soldiers and to create booming noise and drive fear into the enemy. The drum is a deep and sacred element of Native American culture, believing the beat of the drum to be in sync with the heartbeat of Mother Earth.

Cut to the contemporary world, where drums are used for composing music. Now, we have drum circles which has become a culture in itself, where drummers coalesce to create musical classics and music aficionados come to revel in the symphony.

For years, it had been a little gem tucked away on our northern shores, popular only among foreigners and the most intrepid Indian travellers. But Arambol, that silvery, sandy stretch began creating a buzz for a very special reason.

A little distance away is the hidden showpiece of this carnivalesque beach — the drum circle. Every day starting October, until April, people from all over the world gather in a circle on the beach to play musical instruments and dance as the sun goes down. The instruments are mostly a range of percussions, from Indian dholaks to djembes, tambourines and other drums. There are others who join in with shakers, harmonicas and more. As the evening progresses, the beats get louder as people start swaying to the hypnotic rhythm. Hula hoop artist and jugglers join in as the crowd gets bigger. Anyone is free to play the drums or percussions, dance or just watch, as dusk envelopes the sea and candles and string lights light up the beach.

The concept of Drum Circle is not new to Goa. In 2006, a few musicians concerted together in front of Chandra Café, near today’s Love Temple on Arambol Beach and started playing the Djembe Drums and Dununba. The Djembe and Dununbas are West African rhythm instruments which are now easily available in India. The Arambol Street Market itself has more than ten shops which sell Djembe Drums. 

The drummers got their own instruments, collocated at the beach, just before sunset and played into the night. What started as a one off event, went on to become the acclaimed Arambol Drum Circle.

When the pandemic struck in 2020, Arambol Drum Circle came to a screeching halt. Most of the regulars who spent fourteen or more seasons playing at circle went back home and never returned.

The MAMA Drum Circle which started organizing daily drum circles on the beaches of MAMA (Morjim – Ashwem – Mandrem- Arambol) was an inspiration to many to start their own drum circles on a smaller scale. They desired to build an eclectic community of “Rhythm Beings” who drum, dance, paint, meditate and believe in ‘Live and Let Live’.

In February 2021, music promoter Aditya Prabhu and his friend and writer Brian came to Goa to spend the season exploring music based activities in the north. Aditya, a Djembe student, had been a regular at the Arambol Drum Circle from 2007. Brian had been associated with the music industry since the 90s. The music loving duo decided to revive the Arambol Drum Circle and it bounced back rechristened as MAMA Drum Circle.

The MAMA Drum circle started with 4 Djembe Drums and 1 Cajon drum in October 2021 at Ashwem Beach. They planned to play every single day till the end of the season (April). Joining the drummers were hundreds of onlookers and a community had started building. The erstwhile Arambol drum circle musicians got their own drums. Aditya and Brian have twenty drums which they bring to the circle everyday so that many more aficionados can join in and experience the vibrations.

After playing at different venues on the four beaches, MAMA Drum Circle was invited by Rahul Sethi, the owner of new fashion and art destination, La Vie En Rose, who had introduced their Sunday Drum Circle. It’s been 250 days since MAMA Drum Circle began their journey, with people from over fifty nationalities having participated in the gig. People of all ages, cultures, nationalities gather together every day on the beach and spend 2 hours drumming, dancing, meditating and expressing together, with a common power that binds them, the rhythm. Now, Mama drum circle jams on non rainy days on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at Cafe Food Planet, off Mandrem Beach. 

The energy created by collective drumming and dancing is second to none. According to drummers the purest and highest vibrations are experienced in drum circles. These vibrations help you heal, balance heart rates, help reduce blood pressure and most importantly brings you “in the moment”.

Along the shore, a few steps away, the flea market sees backpackers selling a bunch of items. Post covid, the flea market is a pale shadow of its past glory. But regular popups keep the scene alive, till the action begins in full swing.

You could just spot the most unusual pancake man a little distance away from the palo santo oil and organic chia butter stall. A lone homemade organic vegan hot chocolate or vegan mango ice cream seller may catch your fancy. You could also shop for handmade macrame and semi-precious stone jewellery, bags, hand lettered post-cards, handmade rings with old spoons, dreamcatchers made of the Russian birch tree and natural stone beads, apart from hippie clothes, caps and other dilettantish accessories. This is probably the last stronghold of Goa’s vanishing hippie past.

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Author: Planet Goa Team
For us at Planet-Goa, our team is driven by that feeling of exhilaration that one gets when discovering that something ‘unique’ and ‘new’ about Goa for our ever-so-discerning readers.

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