Killing Culture

ISIS destroying drums in Libya 3
Today’s post is a little off the beaten path (no pun intended). I strive to keep this blog apolitical for a number of reasons but every once in a while something comes across the news ticker that is relevant to the drums. This is one of those instances…

I read the other day that members of the terrorist group ISIS were destroying piles of musical instruments (mostly drums) in the name of their religion. Now with all of the innocent deaths and destruction attributed to terrorist attacks around the world this incident may seem miniscule and it is. However it begs our attention to acknowledge that this organization is robbing the lands in which they occupy of the gift of music. Much like their destruction of priceless monuments and museums, ISIS is destroying the heartbeat of an entire culture.

Think of the great loss of musicians and the music they could and would create if not for this awful intrusion. Some of the most interesting drum parts over the last few decades have come from these faraway lands. These unique styles featuring tribal beats and odd time signatures have inspired compositions by drummers from Ginger Baker to Stewart Copeland. I can’t help but think of the drumming that has been silenced in the name of this radical faction of religion.

It seems that nothing escapes their wrath. According to the reports: “ISIS in Libya has released pictures of armed fighters burning musical instruments as the extremist group continues its propaganda assault in the North African country. Pictures of the heavily armed masked militants watching while a pile of drums burnt in the Libyan desert were released earlier today – purportedly by the ‘media wing’ of the local group. It is understood the brightly colored instruments had been confiscated by the religious police, and were destroyed near the port city of Derna, in eastern Libya.” A message released with the pictures explains: ‘Hesbah seized these un-Islamic musical instruments in the state of Warqa (we call it the city of Derna). It adds they were ‘burnt in accordance with Islamic law’.”

Drumming is an integral part of the Middle Eastern culture. In many Muslim towns and villages around the world, drummers march through the streets to wake up residents for a meal before sunrise. Some neighborhoods have competitions so that only the best drummers can play. We can only hope that musicians in these areas are able to rise above their situation and continue to create music in order to maintain a part of their culture that begs remembrance.

Here is a great article on the history and practice of Muslim drummers: http://matthewbrunwasser.com/index.php/2010/09/muslim-drummers-silenced/

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