Last weekend Mat and I went to Punta Gorda to visit and play drums with our friend Emmeth Young, an amazing Belizean African djembe player. I met and bought a drum from him when I was in Belize in 2005. At that time Emmeth had been based out of Gale's Point Manatee, Belize, a small traditional Kriol village on the southern Lagoon, south of Belize City.
Here is a picture of my drum (headless), which Emmeth made me in 2005! I have always loved this drum very much, but early on after our move to Belize in 2011, the skin split open! I contacted Emmeth right away to see if he could fix it for me, but apparently goat skins are a rare commodity in Belize! You can skin a djembe with cow skin, but it just doesn't make the right sound. So, after months of waiting, Mat was able to find me a goat skin on his last trip back to Montreal. We brought it back to Belize and took it down to Emmeth, to have him re-skin the drum and to give us a little drumming workshop.
It was very interesting for him to see this drum again, as he is still making drums but they look quite different now! His previous drums (like this one) were always a little crooked, as he just worked with what the tree gave him rather than trying to find the straightest tree he could find. But, that just gave the drums a very characteristic sound, allowing you to get slightly different tones from the instrument depending on what side of the head you were hitting. After 7 years, he was surprised that he had made a drum that sounded so good!
A couple of years ago Emmeth (below, seen skinning my drum) and his lovely family relocated to Punta Gorda from Gale's Point, the very southernmost town in Belize, right on the ocean. There he is building a drum school, the Maroon Creole Drum School, where he will soon be able to teach and lodge students that come from all over the world to learn the djembe from him.
Emmeth has never been to Africa but has been drumming African rhythms since he was a child! Fortunately some of the traditional West African drumming was carried to Belize with the slave trade, and although when the British first brought the slaves to Belize they were forbidden to drum, members of his family still secretly kept the tradition alive, instilling this love of African rhythms in Emmeth when he was a young child. In the beginning though in Belize, drummers were not able to make the appropriate drums as they could not find the correct wood, so they made a drum out of pine, which they called a sambai. From this drum evolved some unique rhythms that are used today only in Belize by the Kriol people, and only in some villages. Although Emmeth still plays this instrument, his djembes are modelled after the traditional West African djembe.
Emmeth is desperately trying to go to Africa to take lessons from an African Djembe master. It has always been his dream to visit West Africa, and we are hoping to help him get there this coming winter! I had a prepaid course in Guinea with some friends from Vancouver, and I am hoping to donate this course to Emmeth (running in December 2012) as he really deserves to go and learn from the best players in the world. Plus, he will bring those rhythms back to Belize, keeping the djembe tradition alive! Emmeth has worked with many youth in Belize, helping to keep them out of gangs and all of the terrible social problems that go with these gangs. He has inspired many youth to "Try Drums Not Guns" and he is an inspiration to us as well! If you are interested in trying to help Emmeth get to Africa to take this course, any little donation will help, and you can be assured that it will be going to a good cause!
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