SCS Djembe Drummers: Beating Around the Bush …

March 2, 2023

The African djembe drum resonates tradition and is at the heart of many ceremonies and celebrations. Similarly, the rhythmic drumming at Southern Cross Schools runs through the school’s blood. Most days if you are anywhere near the Southern Cross Schools premises, you will hear the sound of our drummers reverberating across the surrounding bush.

But, how did this all start?

What is a djembe drum?

Towards the end of 2004, Glynis Brooke and her husband made the ‘Great Trek’, leaving their farm on the outskirts of Johannesburg and moving to Hoedspruit. Their son Christopher, was already a learner at SCS having entered the boarding house at the beginning of 2004.

Shortly after their move, Glynis was approached by the then headmaster, Jumbo Williams, to teach music at the school. Although she had studied music at university level, Glynis had no teaching training or experience of any kind. Jumbo Williams wouldn’t take no for an answer, so Glynis jumped into the deep end and took up the position of part-time music teacher.

She was just beginning to find her feet teaching ‘normal’ music when Jumbo called her into his office and presented her with a djembe drum, asking how much she knew about traditional ethnic drumming practices. Her answer was short and to the point: “Nothing”! Jumbo had his heart set on establishing a core of musical practice at the school strongly centred around ethnic music, and suddenly a whole new challenge lay ahead.

The First Beat

Glynis went to visit the ‘Drum Café’, in the old Bus Shed complex near the Market Theatre in Johannesburg and it was here that the lessons really began! This fun and musical venue was entirely staffed by enthusiastic, wonderfully friendly and helpful young people who were passionate about musical culture, and happy to share everything they possibly could with a her.

“It’s simple,” they told her. “Nothing to it – this is how it works …” and they proceeded to demonstrate how to play djembe drums. The rules are simple: You establish a beat, and then you break it up, you get louder and softer, syncopate and innovate, and there is nothing that you can do wrong. In short, anything goes as long as you work within the beat.

Armed with her newly acquired insights, she returned to school and began working with a small group of learners. There were only eight drummers to begin with and what they lacked in experience and technique, they made up for in enthusiasm and energy. Everyone was learning as they went.

Slowly the reputation of the drummers began to build and they were asked to perform at the Bush Banquet, a prestigious dinner competition held every year. From time to time, they were invited to some of the local lodges to entertain their guests; Founders’ Day and end of term functions were always a regular performance opportunity for them.

The drummers became the idols of the school, and it was incredibly special to see the way the younger children looked up to them and aspired to be part of the drumming squad when they were old enough.

The Southern Cross Schools drummers began to earn a reputation in the area for their skilful drumming. They were always well received at performances and competitions where they shared the great rhythms of Africa with enthusiasm and passion.

The squad continued to grow as the school grew and soon there were squads throughout the Prep School and College, with the senior College team retaining a somewhat celebrity status amongst the learners.

Passing on the drum

Mrs Sandy Schulze took over the senior drumming squad in 2011 and suddenly it grew from a mere five drummers to approximately 21 drummers at one stage. Their talent, passion and pure determination for perfection was contagious from one drum leader to the next over the years.

It grew so much that soon it was time to split the College drummers into two groups: junior drummers and senior drummers.

The reality is that the Southern Cross Schools College drumming squad is a prestigious ‘club’ to belong to. Auditions take place and the best candidates became part of the senior squad where they develop from bass players to intermediate and finally to the centre seat, as leader.

Over the years, the senior drummers have performed at many functions and events. At the annual Music Eisteddfods in Tzaneen and Hoedspruit, they wow the crowd every year and walk away with the top results. They have also performed at lodges, weddings, markets, parties, morning teas and festivals.

Today, our brilliantly talented senior djembe drummers are a squad of 14, with a total of 28 in the College, and 43 up and coming drummers in the Prep School. Graeme Wuth, who was once a professional drummer himself, is now overseeing the senior drummers and focuses on pushing the technical aspect of the squad.

They continue to perform at various school events, lodges, weddings, markets and even some festivals. The traditions that were started almost 20 years ago remain deeply instilled in all the drummers and they continue to grow and learn, and ultimately perform at a higher level.

As they are about to embark on their first tour of Johannesburg where this story all began, the drummers are excited and confident. Now is the ideal time to share their beat beyond the bush.



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