Durga: Goddess of the Drum
Drummer Liz Broscoe beats out a fast, infectious rhythm on a ngoma, a tall Congolese drum that looks a little like its descendant, the conga. Four women in comfy yoga pants and bare feet dance in a constellation that morphs energetically from circle to line to face-to-face greeting, taking up most of the square footage of a small dance studio in South Lake Tahoe. They make celebratory, percussive clicks by tapping long, wooden sticks on the floor.
This weekend, they’ll trade the yoga pants for the sarongs, button-down shirts and doo-rags of the working African women they’re emulating and join a few other groups of dancers in the premiere of Durga: Goddess of the Drum, a performance that premieres at the Brewery Arts Center in Carson City.
Durga is a history of women in drumming—part documentary, part dance, part multimedia drum performance. Broscoe, a rock ‘n’ roll drummer since she was a kid and a long-time West African hand drummer, plays the title character, a drum goddess who journeys across cultures, through time and into various musical styles.
“I borrowed her, and I hope I’m not offending any Hindu folks,” Broscoe says of her character. “She’s a popular Hindu goddess. There’re a lot of stories written about her. The one I chose to go with is that she drummed the Earth into being.”
In Hindu mythology, Durga has a more ruthless reputation. She’s known for killing a powerful demon. Broscoe, who teaches workshops in schools and promotes drumming as a path to unity, says she wanted to draw from the goddess’ less angry side.
“I want kids to get into this character,” she says. “I wanted Durga to be a lovely, humorous goddess. She’s seen and done everything. She’s confident in her ability to play drums of any kind, anywhere, but she’s a nice goddess. She’s not cocky at all.”
Durga’s journey starts in Egypt, with the early history of drumming. In some cultures, women did not have access to drums, so they resorted to other percussive devices.
“Women created rhythm so they could joyfully pass the time while they were working,” Broscoe says. In Africa, they’d splash their hands rhythmically on the surface of water while washing or incorporate a beat into laborious chores, such as processing food in a mortar pot.
Durga follows drumming through various Middle Eastern iterations to Afro-Cuban sounds to American blues.
“Then we move to modern, and I go to drum sets,” Broscoe says. “We have a medley that goes from jazz to blues to Afro-Cuban to reggae to funk to samba to rock ‘n’ roll.
“I learned a few new drums for this show.”
The performance also fuses different styles of dance, including Middle Eastern and African forms. “It’s like a collage of four different West African dances, two of which are celebratory dances and two of which are more courtship dances,” says dancer Christine Wood, who choreographed the number the four women were practicing in the studio.
Drumming and dancing, Wood says, are “ways of communicating that go beyond the spoken.”
That, says Broscoe, is what she’s trying to draw her audience’s attention to. “Drums have been used throughout time to unite people and celebrate people. That’s what I talk about in schools, so I wanted to bring that message into the show.”