Ronald K. Mc Kinley
The current Venice Drum Circle is about twenty-two years old. I say current because the VDC has origins before I came to Venice. When I came to Venice there was no circle. The VDC of the 60s and the 70s was finally beat down. I talked with players of the old VDC, seen the Beachhead of the 70s about the assault on the old VDC. This new VDC is under assault.
Twenty-two years ago Randy Banks, Rasta Randy, fathered this new VDC into being. Randy and I and Deon, I can’t remember his last name, played on the boardwalk for money, that was the idea.
Randy would do capoeira, the Brazilian dance of African origin that incorporates martial arts, Deon would play drums, I would play the agogo, a double-coned bell joined at the tip of the cones, played with a small metal rod.
The police had other ideas. We were always stopped. We played from Rose to Windward. We were very good. We loved what we were doing. The complaint was of noise, most times we could not be heard above the din of recorded Muzak on the boardwalk. Randy took us to the hill just we three.
The hill at Breeze became our church. Randy would preach, I just wanted to play. We three would meet every Sunday Randy would start the circle with a prayer. It started with two drums, and a bell, and three black men from different parts of the country. We would form a circle join hands and pray. Alcohol was not permitted We would stop playing until the person left or stopped drinking.
This lasted for years. We asked people not to smoke in the circle. We didn’t stop playing for that.
No stick drumming was allowed. What a difference twenty-two years make. Skin on skin the real drumming. The drumming of birth, death, harvest, marriage, war. The stick drummers just play loud not better.
A friend of mine died while I was playing, 15 years ago, bled to death. I was in the zone playing on the hill. There was a big crowd that day. His throat was cut by a jealous boyfriend. I saw the paramedics when they arrived. I found out the next day.
There are new residents in Venice who move here for peace and quiet. The quirky and colorful that make Venice, Venice, are a problem to them. We can’t be turned off like an iPod or mp3 player. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
There are fissures and factions inside the VDC. Players with very little talent or schooling and loud stick driven drums give the Sunday VDC a rave-like quality. Circle within circles, within circles make the drumming a wall of noise. Egos bumping egos don’t make good drumming.
The police come at sunset and stop us from playing. The drumming on the original spot is stopped at two or three pm. We are told that there are complaints of noise. The music from the businesses overpowers us.
I have in my twenty-two years drumming in VDC met and played, with drummers and dancers from all places on earth that have drummers and dancers. Music brings people together. Dance frees all who dance. Children are the best indicator of the effect of drumming. They sway, hop, jump and whirl about.
In New Orleans, my place of birth, drummers got together in Congo Square, the only place in America that displaced Africans could play drums. On weekends the slaves where allowed to dance, sing, speak their mother tongue. Several different languages were spoken music united them all. Music from the west coast of Africa. Jazz was born from the mixture. Mainland America still thinks the slaves are going to revolt it’s the drums, alas this is not true.
Rasta Randy moved to Hawaii. He bought some land. He finally got his money from the VA and may still be living in a tree house. Deon moved back home I don’t remember where. Yours truly still goes to the VDC. A friend of mine loaned me a drum. The police impounded my car with my drums inside.
I could not get them back. I was house-less and penniless at the time.
I see different factions trying to gain control of the VDC, some want to make it commercial. Some have darker reasons. Most of them can’t play. I go to commune with nature. I don’t go to get laid. If you play well this is a given.
I am so present in my drumming, so in the moment I miss most women. I don’t go to get wasted. No drug can replace playing. I am back in Africa.
Little by little the police are stopping, cutting our actual playing time. The first amendment to the constitution gives us freedom of speech and the right of assembly. The police come blast their sirens. Sometimes the police helicopter flys overhead, met with hundreds of middle fingers raised to the sky. The sand patrol stays until there is no more drumming. A friend of mine once kept playing and was cited. They did not take his drum. They use this as a threat. I always say to the crowd “welcome to America” as we walk through the sand, back to the boardwalk. Is this America?
A couple of years ago they rushed the VDC and ran over a young man. They chased everyone away before most people knew what was happening. The ambulance was parked at Rose. I saw them load the injured man on a board. I still to this day don’t know if he lived. They would not talk to me or to the man’s cousin, whom I talked to. There were 15 police lined up ready for our reaction.
People with money have moved into the red brick building at Breeze and the Boardwalk. They don’t like the drumming. The Highway Patrol once came and stopped us from playing. The police where busy with real crime. The patrol car parked on Breeze. A very large, black patrolman walk over to me and told me that the people in that building pay three thousand dollars a month to stay there. Money trumps rights. It is time for the slaves to revolt.