Night on the drum

People in the community who attend the gathering praise and tune in to the sound of the drums. Together, they enjoy the goodness and peacefulness of life with music.

Nestled downtown between new construction and abandoned buildings sits the rusted 1950’s metal buildings of Water Street Village. The shops that occupy “The Village,” as locals call it, surround a broken pathed, beautifully manicured courtyard. 

This journey begins in the uneven parking lot of The Village. The sounds of waves crashing against the seawall are replaced by the rhythmic thunder of a storm rolling into the Bay. Another thumping sound fills the air acting as a tether to the courtyard at the center of The Village.

The Village is comprised of a hodgepodge of holistic shops, artifacts, Vape Shop and the marijuana lawyer.  Nestled in the back is a small salon owned by a larger than life woman. Most of these inhabitants have worked in The Village over ten years and have hosted an array of events in the courtyard.

In the center of this holistic locale is a tribal affair surrounding a brightly lit bonfire.   As the night is kicking off, there is an unspoken discomfort and the initial rhythm heard from the parking lot fades away. A woman is suddenly bursting into expression with a small paddle drum in her hand, marching around the flames.

Adults, children, teens and elderly people fill the chairs surrounding the bonfire to form circle. Each person holds a drum of a different size and shape. The woman begins to chant, “Wehaheya, wehaheya, wehaheya! I am a strong woman, I am a wise woman.”

Her enthusiasm gradually lifts the group in a crescendo as drums of all forms synchronize a harmonious cadence. As each moment passes, voluntary signals of joy are beginning to rise from the circumference of the circle. The sounds of the drum, darkness of the sky and the flickering firelight invoke feelings of peace throughout the crowd. The swirling bodies dancing through the smoke compliment the nostalgic scent of burning wood entwined with the wind’s turbulence.  The drum circle is formed.

“Drum circles have healing effects that empower and bring a sense of harmony to the mind, body, and soul,” spiritual advisor Elizabeth Pena said.

Events known as “drum circles” are rhythm-based gatherings and more profoundly recognized as celebrations of life. Drum circles are formed by many cultures and in every part of the planet, including South Texas.

Corpus Christi drum circles began over ten years ago and were previously coordinated by Jah Hendo local business owner of Communitea co-op. Although Jah has relocated to Costa , Communitea continues to thrive while hosting drum circles under the facilitation of spiritual advisor Pena.

“CommuniTea keeps it going because the community has requested it. It makes them feel good and they enjoy being involved this way,” Communitea founder Christina O’Donell said.

 “I was born in Corpus Christi and I am part of the spiritual community here.” Pena said. “I am affiliated with Water Street Village where we do drum circles hosted by Communitea co-op. I took over the drum circles last month when Jah Hendo went back to the jungle to continue his spiritual journey.“

There may be a moderator who acts to shape the experience and preserve the connection, such as maintaining a steady beat, helping those who need it, and generally managing the environment to see that everyone is able to participate fully.

No previous musical background or training is needed to make these experiences accessible to virtually all people and because of this, a strong sense of group identity and belonging is created because participants are actively making music as one unit.

Patrick Atkinson, owner of Water Street Oddities, contributes to the event by lending drums from his bohemian shop to participants using their IDs as collateral. Outside his door individuals congregate in a relaxed setting under the moonlit sky and socialize while sipping on the chosen non-alcoholic beverage for the night also provided by Communitea co-op.

Local drum circles plan around weekends closest to the full moon to incorporate a ritualistic influence by the monthly astronomical occurrence.

“We do it during the full moon because that is when the energy is high. People set out their intentions at this time,” Communitea founder Christina O’Donell said.

Another part of the ritual is smudging with white sage.  O’Donell said the circle has different meanings to people, but the smudging is consistent.  It’s a spiritual cleansing which started as a Native American ritual.  Pena lights the white sage creating a white smoke.  People attending the drum circle are invited to walk into the center of the circle while Pena draws the smoke toward the person’s body.  

“It’s intimidating when you first walk into the center of the circle for the smudging,” attendee Elizabeth Bess said. “You walk up, stand in front of this lady and she covers you in a cloud of sage smoke. But then something happens. It’s like the smoke and breeze are taking hold on your soul and carrying away the negative energies around you. There really is no accurate way to describe the experience.” 

 Drum circles offer an opportunity for folks to experience something new and explore a realm outside their comfort zone. They provide an alternative option aside from the club, bar and party scene on the weekends while also containing therapeutic benefits.

 Pena said “My favorite part is everyone coming out of their shyness or self-doubt and begin to dance around the fire, beat on their drums, and sing their hearts out. I enjoy seeing healing take place for everyone and that they leave feeling strong and loved.”

Guest reporter: Alessandria Fernandez

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