Monday, 4 January 2021

Unshackled by the Red Sea — Free-Form Djembe Jam: The Lysergic Recordings [video]

Omar Cherif in Ein el Sokhna, the Red Sea, December 2020


I did something extremely liberating here on the beach on the last Full Moon of 2020, which I’m sharing with you. So, instead of drifting into a certain repetitive and meditative pattern of beats as I normally drum — often with eyes closed — whenever I would find myself getting too comfortable I instantly put an end to said pattern. Whatever move would be coming next is an absolute mystery. The only thing I know for certain is that it won’t be as my hands are subconsciously guiding me. You see, I’m prompting myself to make mistakes, then making it part of the dance, by improvising in the moment: Order [or some of it] out of chaos. There is certain beauty in the uncertainty. I’m like hacking into my own brain, forcing it to go against where it naturally wants to “head”, the easy way out. The result is a free-form, almost tempo-less freestyle kind of jam. Instead of The Zone, this time I took myself and my drum on a ride outside the safety of the known comfort zone. However, Flow State was still there; only significantly different than all I have experienced before. 

As you can see, in the first four minutes I was till toying with what I know. You have probably heard these beats before in many of my previous videos. Then as I got more bold I slowly began the deconstruction process.

Philosophising aside, I had a jolly delightful time. The resulting novelty is refreshing to the soul. At one point mid playing I remember telling myself this is the most original YOU it has ever been. As in, no one could have possibly done the exact same routine because it’s ridiculously random and incredibly simple and stupid yet somehow also complex and multi-layered. Notice how many different sounds are produced in this mere half-hour video. It was so uniquely and idiosyncratically authentic, I thought anyone hearing it would clearly think I’m mental; possibly also that it’s not even music.

At times, you see, the playful, experimental mood felt like I was a three year old with his first drum. Other times it felt like a jammed Energiser bunny. Then there were times when I felt like I was giving a concert — a free-styling no-form kind of performance to thousands of people in an auditorium or stadium. 

Thing is, I didn’t care at all how anyone would perceive this freestyling. Again, not blindly following your hands and the constructs we have built ourselves from memories of previous experiences is a truly liberating endeavour. In fact, a rebellious part of me was secretly hoping that no one likes it. Just to be sure that it’s marvellously random and outright wacky. But I was also enjoying the fact that I’m almost all alone in the entire Red Sea beach compound — except a few neighbours who happened to pass right by and still gave compliments despite what I thought. 

Notice I ask Raghda and Nayla if I was too loud; to which they responded “No”, “To keep it up”, and “I love it”. Maybe they were just being nice. I think it was the solitude that encouraged me to play as I did here rather than how I play in Drum Circles when surrounded by others. 
Apparently the cat and kittens enjoyed it just as well.

Funnily enough, I noticed that right after getting complimented by the ladies my head and hands were almost tempted to go back to “normalcy” — whatever that means in terms of melodic drumming. Back to the comfort zone where I feel seemingly in control. Then once again I would snap out of it and stop. It was an ongoing Yin-Yang struggle, or dance more likely. Almost as though it is some form of communication between the two sides of my brain: The analytical left hemisphere — responsible for the right hand — wanting order and consistency while its counterpart the intuitive right hemisphere — responsible for the left hand — wanting creativity and even a certain degree of chaos. I tried bridging the gap between these two poles by baltering along The Path of the Razor’s Edge with my tunes.

Other than the first three-four minutes, throughout this one hour of playing I found myself going back to the consistency maybe every five minutes or so. Probably visiting this known realm just to see that I still can keep a beat and have not lost it completely. Not for too long though. Then I remember the fun in breaking away from the norms and the known. So I would stop the patterns and proceed to carry on the improvisation — trying different speeds, combinations, pauses, even fingers and hands positionings — leaving me absolutely clueless about how things will turn out. Unshackled! New patterns then emerge, which are broken and so on and so forth. 

Previous writings about the topic can be found in How Drumming Changed The Way My Brain Processes Music where, beside Neuroplasticity (Brain Plasticity), I discuss a relatively new field of study called Cognitive Neuroscience of Music. This is the scientific study of brain-based mechanisms involved in the cognitive processes underlying music, including music listening, performing, composing, reading, writing, and ancillary activities. It is also increasingly concerned with the brain basis for musical aesthetics and musical emotion. In that regard, music can help science advance its understanding of the human brain and its mental functions.

Drum Circle Etiquette — The Do’s and Don’ts is another list article. Then there is the more general exposé: The Intertwining of Music and Sexuality ― A Djembefola’s Tale.

O’ man. I felt empowered after putting myself out there, naked and vulnerable while dealing with the unknown and the uncertainty from one second to the next. This spontaneity seemed to have somehow sharpened my senses. All I had in mind was nothing but the very present Here and Now. No past. No future. Not that I usually do while normally drumming; but this time I went even further inside my mind to try to stop all forms of conditioning and restrictions. In the process, I destructed all known-forms — to me. Notice the liberating sighs and “Ahhhhhhhs” at the end of each section.

It truly felt like all the nonsense I carry around in my head has gone out of it like a steam engine. Things the three languages I speak and write cannot convey or explain. Being an abstract art form less complex than language, music equally helps us expunge such nonsense… until the next jam. How therapeutic that is.
Another difference is how this time instead of the dreamy, meditative state I usually indulge in, I kept my eyes fully open almost throughout the entire session. Almost daringly so.

For some reason this Rumi quote was conveniently the highlight of these recordings, which kept flashing into my mind like a Las Vegas Strip neon light. What trip.

“Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I’ll be mad.” 

― Rumi

All that said, I sincerely invite you all to get out of your comfort zones. For comfort is the enemy of creativity and achievement. Make mistakes. Make beautiful, glorious mistakes. Make better ones, right now and tomorrow and the day after that. Experience, after all, is how we learn and evolve. Free thy mind. Be You! Madly. Fully. Wholly. Unapologetically. 

Salute to your Souls. 

Omar Cherif in Ein el Sokhna, the Red Sea, December 2020

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