Drum and dance performance

Occasions on which local communities gather and dance to jembe music range from wedding celebrations and other life-cycle rituals to Islamic holidays, a successful harvest, a politician’s or NGO’s wish to demonstrate power, wealth and good will, or an ethnographer’s or tourist manager’s wish to arrange for such an interesting cultural event to be particularly accessible. Polak 2007 studies the relation of performance and audience and between presentational and participatory aspects of performance in the historically oldest and still most socially relevant context of jembe performance: playing for dance in the framework of local communal celebration culture.

Jembe dance-drumming is participatory in that, often, everybody gathered is invited to participate in dance performance. However, it is presentational at the same time, in at least two fundamental respects. First, some modes of action such as the drumming fall in the exclusive domain of specialists (compare the contrasting idea of an open-access drum-circle in the West). Second, in the participatory dance performance, dancers present their identities to the public, and the event is framed so as to guarantee that the dancers are recognized (seen and known).

In sum, participatory and presentational aspects of the performance are more than entangled, they mutually constitute each other in jembe drum-dance performance.

Click on images to enlarge. All photographs: Polak