Arambol is a beach in the north of Goa, an old hippy hang out full of wizened old hippies and nubile young hipettes. Every night, there is a drumming circle as the sun sets. Last night, I danced in the circle, along with 30 or so other people, and worked up a sweat jacking my body to the syncopations, feeling my self dissolve to the beat. It was very pleasurable. Tonight, I played a drum instead, borrowing a large bongo from the place I’m staying (it’s called ‘the Love Temple’). It was the first time I’ve drummed for six years. I’ve played the drums since I was 8. I miss that shit.
There were 10-15 people drumming at any one time – a lady all in fake leopard skin playing a snare drum (she was there the night before too, obviously a regular – leopard-skin snare lady), a guy with a cowbell and a wicked sense of rhythm, and two or three ‘drum leaders’, who set the pace and rhythm. Then there was the rest of us part-timers, of varying degrees of skill. It was a truly cybernetic organism, no one explicitly in charge, with the group sometimes descending into irregularity, sometimes snapping into synch. A few just banged away regardless, and a few looked around, and listened, and responded.
There was a girl dancing in front of me, probably Russian (it’s mainly Russians here) and as the sun set her eyes closed in ecstasy. She was sinking into a trance as the beats rained down. And this lady was like a living biofeedback device, showing me the extent to which the drumming organism was in synch. Sometimes we jarred with each other, and the lady’s trance would grow shallow, to the point where she might open her eyes and look around, maybe think about leaving. And sometimes we got it back, so that we sounded like an army marching in synch, a terrible, mighty clatter, a storm, a cavalry charge, and her eyes would close and her mouth would open, and I could see, ah yes, it’s working.
I would sort of trance out myself – not in the sense of losing control, I had to keep the beat after all – but rather a feeling of moving beyond a consciousness of my own individual drumming, and into a hive mind where it felt like We were drumming as one. A great feeling. A sense of tribal power. But I was reminded of an insight about the Santeria, a drumming cult in Cuba that I read about. The drummers do not go into ecstasy, on the contrary, they create the ecstasy in others. That’s what it felt like, as I watched that Russian lady with her eyes closed, mouth open, and neck arched back.