Soaring with the drums

Jennifer Kingsley
September 28, 2017

We’ve only been in town an hour when someone knocks on the door. It’s the local English teacher, who is the last messenger in a long line of connections that began back in Canada. “The dancing will begin in an hour,” she says.

When we arrive, women and girls are pulling on their tunics while the elders sort out the drums. Kids crowd the entrance way. A little girl comes to sit between me and her grandma and looks sideways at my microphones.

Whether the dancers are here for us or whether we are in on a regular rehearsal we will never know, but as the women spray water across their drums and smooth it into the skins with the palms of their hands, the room goes quiet for an instant. Then, this community centre– which used to be a hospital–explodes with the throb of Yupik songs.

I turn the recording level down and down again as the electricity in their music rises and the levels peak. I’m in a tunnel of sound that blurs motion and vibration, and when the woman next to me tells me that this music can make her fly, I understand.

From the outside, this building looks like it could crumble any day, but it won’t. The people inside are soaring … and taking us with them.

Photo by Eric Guth.

Women play music on drums in Russia.