I was looking at Sir John Alexander Macdonald’s (Canada first Prime Minister) statue in Kingston (ON) City Park, wondering what he would think about today’s multicultural and colorful Canada. I suddenly heard the unique sound of a djembe in the distance. I followed the music and, in the shade of a tree, I discovered people drumming. Hey, wait! It’s my friend Yessica!
Hey Yessica, I heard you play drums and, (wo)man, you’ve got the beat!
So, tell me, how did you get into drumming?
Yessica: I’ll share with you how drumming got into me, and then how I got into drumming. As everyone else, the first beat I ever heard was in the womb of my mom. Then growing up my family would take us to visit family in Mexico. In Mexico I fell in love with the Mexica/Aztec drumming. It was beautiful and a spiritual experience. Then throughout my years living in Canada I was drawn to the Canadian Aboriginal drumming. Drumming has always been within me.
It wasn’t until 2007 that I was walking near Queen’s University Campus in Kingston Ontario, that I heard a powerful vibrate drum beat at a distance. I walked towards the beats and I was lead to a performance by a local Brazilian Samba band! I fell in love and contacted the organizers and immersed myself in the Brazilian base drum called a “surdo”. This was the time that I feel I really got into drumming. I continue to play with the wonderful group. The name has changed over the years, currently we are known as SamBatuKana.
I’ve seen you plan djembe too… How does the African drumming fit in?
Yessica: I actually first played the West African drum called the “djembe” when I was living in Mexico in 2009. There was a local group of djembe drummers that gathered and also did performances. Their group is called Africa Malinke and they welcomed me in their gatherings. On my return to Kingston, I was gifted my first djembe drum by a fellow artisan bread maker, and then with time I joined a local open drum circle in Kingston within 2013. The organizer of that open drum circle ended his facilitated community drum circle in the end of May 2014. Thus, I started organizing my own initiative in the weekly community drum circle since June 1st, 2014. Most of the drums are the West African djembes; however, I supply a wide range of other percussion and belly dancing skirts to add to the events. I then had the wonderful opportunity to facilitate drumming at Kingston’s Senior Centre and Ongwanada Community Care Centre.
Wow, Brazilian and African Drumming! What else?
Yessica: In November 2014, I had the pleasure of embracing my roots and started teaching Mexica/Aztec drumming. I am grateful that I am able to share this with the community. My main goal is to embrace and celebrate diversity. The drum circle that I organize is welcoming to all types of drums, percussion, and all instruments. In addition it is about creating a welcoming space for all individuals, regardless of race, gender, abilities, economic status. The key is that all involved respect the circle, the environment, the instruments, and each other. For more information you can follow Kingston Drum Circle on Facebook! !
That drum circle sounds cool! But wait, I am a rapper, I don’t have a drum! Do I need to buy a drum if I want to join?
Yessica: All are welcome. I encourage people to bring their own instrument if they have one, but if not, there are plenty available to share. When I started Kingston Drum Circle in June 2014, not many people came. It was primarily my dad, Carlos Belsham, and two wonderful friends Brian and Linda. With time I put energy in networking and starting an email list that is now steadily growing. My dad began investing in some more drums which has helped me greatly. I rely on the donations from participants for drum repair/replacement and things that will help sustain the drum circle and expand.
Awesome! Yessica, I want to support your drum circle too: I’ll give you my autograph and if you sell it, you’ll be able to buy tons of new drums 😉
Ok, what kind of locations do you prefer to drum?
Yessica: I love drumming in all locations. There is something special about every place. Currently, I hold ongoing drop-in/open drum circles on Sundays from 2-4PM outdoors at City Park and 6-8PM indoors at Musiikki Café. Both locations attract different participants. At times people think we are performing, but really all drum circles are about relaxing, having fun, letting go, and welcoming others to join in.
Yeah, playing music is a lot of fun! Do you have any other drumming projects?
Yessica: I am in the works of creating more Aztec influenced drums. I will be making my next round for a centre for individuals with special/varying abilities. My project is to generally connect more to vulnerable populations and share the joy of drumming. All the projects that I am working on fall under my main organization called Circle of Wellness.
With time I want to create a set of drums to focus on dancing while drumming.
You seems very involved! But what do you get out of doing all of this?
Yessica: Joy. I love that I am doing what I love and I am grateful that is has brought a positive impact on individuals and the community. I have the hope of raising more awareness of the healing/therapeutic benefits of all arts, and making this accessible to all populations.
Ok, the big question now (I promised Mom’s I would ask you)… Can drumming change the world?
I feel drumming can be a part of bringing change to the world. Drumming is connecting with nature, self, and others. It is the core of communication and its positive message has a ripple effect that will be heard/felt for generations, and it has for many centuries before us.
That’s so cool, Yess! Ok, let’s keep that secret for now, but I WANT you to be my drummer on my next album!
In the meanwhile, what’s the best thing I can wish you?
Yessica: Positive warm thoughts as I continue my own path following my heart. I wish this for you.
Text written by Yessica Rivera Belsham & Doggy
Hey, Doggy, and what about Chaka Chikodzi?
He is a wonderful mixed-media sculptor, musician, and public artist. Originally from Zimbabwe, Chaka conceived the Africville Dandaro Centre, “dandaro” meaning “meeting place”, as a creative and safe space for youth in the communities of Kingston, Peterborough, and Hamilton. He has also taught in- school programs for school boards across Ontario (Lakefield, Peterborough, Toronto, Oakville) and British Columbia (Victoria and White Rock) with the focus of multi-cultural interaction and appreciation.
Thank you so much Chaka 🙂