- Category: Story
- Written by Kondwani Kamiyala
The play has just been introduced. The audience, hooked onto the edges of seats, waits with patient expectation to digest it with better appetite. Then, the throbbing of drums from backstage makes the heart race faster.
As the drumming heightens, a character makes his way into the centre stage. A few moments before he makes the first move, the drumming ceases. The audience sinks into the play.
That is a feel of the power of the drum in drama and Malawian dramatists are drumming home a new message: Theatre with no drum is empty.
One drummer, who has carved out a name for himself as a drumming force, Noah Bulambo, who trades with Nanzikambe Arts, apart from appearances with Edgar ndi Davis, believes a drum is the heart of drama.
“The drum represents our culture and theatre without the drums is void. I feel so good every time I am on stage pulsating the drum. It makes the play more interesting,” said Bulambo.
Not only has Bulambo brought drumming effects to stage plays. He recalls his early days in the arts industry when the late Fred Muphuwa picked him to drum life into Story Workshop radio plays. At the time, Bulambo was a choreographer for Ben Mankhamba and the Zigzaggers.
“I used to spice up the radio plays with drums. As director of the plays, Muphuwa could tell me to bring in gulewamkulu, vimbuza, chioda or malipenga drum effects. This was done to set the mood or convey some message. Sometimes, the drums were used as transitions from one scene to another,” said Bulambo.
Bulambo has beaten the drum in many plays, especially for Nanzikambe. These include Breaking the Pot, Come Freedom Come, Accidental Death of Democracy and The Aid Machinery. It is a career that has seen him in countries like Norway, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Germany.
Hussein Gopole, another Nanzikambe drummer, who formerly worked for Dyson Gonthi’s Dygo Cultural Troupe before forming his own Village Cultural Troupe, agrees the drum represents Africanness in theatre, music and dance.
“The drum by nature is a crowd puller. We hear of drums being used to invite villagers to meetings. In the same way, a drum in a play pulls people to be part of it,” said Gopole, who has been to Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, the United Kingdom and Mozambique on a drumming ticket.
For Nanzikambe executive director Chris Nditani, drums heighten the story in a play.
“The songs that go with the drums help tell our story. Drums give dramatic effects to the play. Imagine how much life is drawn into a poetry recital with drums in the background. It completes the theatrical product,” said Nditani.
Deputy head of the Department of Fine and Performing Arts at Chancellor College, Smith Likongwe, sees the drum as a mighty tool in drama to create the mood of the story, attract attention and show a play in motion.
“The drum tells the mood of the story. It attracts attention. No voice can sound louder than a drum and nowadays, we no longer use the curtain as was the case in theatres longtime ago. These days, the drum does the trick in showing transition,” said Likongwe, who has directed a number of plays.
But the playwright has a word of caution: “Drummers should be careful to use appropriate modes and rhythms to make it enjoyable. Using drums just for the sake of it yields adverse results.”
The play has reached its climax. As the actors take their final bow, the hearts throb, as the drummers show the set is done. The audience is giving the actors, sound engineers, director, and, the drummers a standing ovation.