Rhythm, Magic and Meaning of the Drum

I thought about writing a separate post about who I am as an author, why I develop novels pertaining to Native history, culture and archaeology and why I have created such engaging characters, including Joe Luna, a Navajo medicine man and FBI agent featured in “The Ancient Ones” series. Instead, I saw this previous article that I wrote for a pow-wow band and thought it would explain my infatuation with the Southwest and the Native cultures who inspire through dance, history, art and commitment to their culture.

Pow wows are about camaraderie and competition, gathering with family and friends, and appreciation and reverence of native culture and dance. The smell of fry bread so strong you can almost taste the honey and powdered sugar, seeing the brilliant colors and designs of the extravagant regalia, listening to the tinkling of dance bells on the contestants clothing, and hearing childrens’ excited laughter as well as encouraging yells of the crowd for the proud dancers.

Perhaps one of the most important sounds? The drum groups who come to inspire the performers and instill a powerful sense of spirituality for the myriad of Native cultures present who greatly value their traditions, which have been passed down from generation to generation. For many pow wow dancers and drummers, the circuit is their life.

For Young Buffalo Horse, a drum group with 13 members from Oklahoma, New Mexico, Montana, Kansas, North Dakota, and Wisconsin, the pow wow is an opportunity to inspire the dancers, families, elders and audience to move, dance or tap their feet to the highly engaging, awe-inspiring rhythm and magic of the drum.

According to Robert Lincoln with Young Buffalo Horse, “For many American Indians, the drum is an important part of our lives, and has been for thousands of years. The drum is our heartbeat, our grandpa, a healer – the songs that we sing around it are sacred and all have meaning. The role of a singer is significant as we keep the heartbeat of our people alive and make the people happy and reverent, or even evoke the strong emotions to empower them to get up and dance as they feel the spirit that is the songs we sing.”

With members representing the Sioux, Choctaw, Creek, Ojibwe Cree, Lakota, Dakota and Sac & Fox Nations, they have performed all over the country at pow wows, the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Comanche Nation Fair, the Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival—one of the biggest pow wows in Oklahoma as well as at schools and special ceremonies. The drum group sings Northern style pow wow, a high-pitched style originating from tribes in the Northern Plains, Great Lakes, Great Basin, Upper Northwest and all of Canada. Northern singing was shunned in Oklahoma and the rest of the Southern Plains until the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Slight physical differences distinguish northern and southern drums, with a northern drum sometimes being smaller. The corresponding dance styles are also different than northern style, generally slower with a different accent beat pattern (called “honor beats”).

Robert Lincoln, lead singer with YBH, learned to sing by traveling with his grandfather and performing with other drum groups, such as Whitefish Bay Singers, Red Spirit from Utah, and the Eagleheart Singers and Drummers during his time with the military.

Young Buffalo Horse’s first album, “A New Beginning” was recorded live at the Cherokee Nation Holiday Powwow and was submitted in the “Aboriginal Peoples Choice Awards in 2013. The album includes 17 individual tracks of Northern Style songs. Watch for their second album, named “Debwewin—Sincerity In Action,” will be released in July 2014. The title of their latest release comes from their desire to be true to their cultures and the people.

The pow wow drum carries the heartbeat of Mother Earth and the Indian nation, calling the spirits and nations together. The drum is often thought to help bring the physical and mental side of a person back in touch with his or her spiritual or heart side. As with many things in the Indian culture, the drum is used to bring balance and rejuvenation to a person through their participation in dancing, singing or listening to the heartbeat. For the 13 members of Young Buffalo Horse, it isn’t about the money. It’s about connecting with the pow wow contestants, their families and the Native and non-Native audience through the meditative force of the drum.

“Singing is our life and we set out each day to be the best that we can to make the people on the trail feel good. It’s our goal in life to make our Elders and all the people across pow wow country get up out of their chairs and dance. We’d like to say thanks to all the people across the U.S. and Canada for all the support we receive each day, to all of our brothers that sit at their drums attempting to do the same, and special thanks to all the dancers who jam to our music, and most of all to all the people who travel late into the evenings playing our music trying to stay awake. We thank the Creator for keeping us real and humble, always striving to set a good example for the younger generation.”

For thousands of years, indigenous peoples of all cultures have used the drum to alter consciousness and travel into alternate realities to receive answers. The Medicine Man or Shaman would travel to the upper, middle, or lower world, to plant or mineral, to receive these answers. Many scientists and doctors are coming to understand this altered state of the drum, and meditation, to assist in the healing process. I had my own personal experience with the power of the drum at the ASU pow wow in Tempe, Arizona on Easter weekend—it was 92 degrees that day and every time the drums started, a breeze would blow through the stands. Coincidence? Could be, but I prefer to think of it as the magic of the drum.

About the author: Lori Hines is a paranormal mystery author living in Goodyear, Arizona. She is the author of three fiction novels, The Ancient Ones, Caves of the Watchers and Whispers Among the Ruins. Awards include honorable mention in the general fiction category for “Caves of the Watchers” in the 2013 Great Southwest Book Festival. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Desert Sleuths Chapter, the Arizona Archaeological Society, Aqua Fria Chapter, and the Arizona Authors Association.

Lori is also the host of “Under the Surface,” a radio program focused on Native American history and culture. Her show features Native American artists, musicians, actors, activists and politicians as well as shamans and healers, historians, authors and archaeologists. The program is on the ‘History Channel’ on WHVR Digital Broadcasting—whvrdigital.com.

Great youtube videos of YBH:

IICOT 2013

Women’s Fancy Shawl at Sac & Fox Pow Wow 2013

YBH Knocking out a midnight express song in Stillwater, OK

YBH Facebook Page

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