In The Netherlands is quite unusual to sing together or even move and dance at a funeral. Thanks to all migrants in The Netherlands, people are realizing that there are more ways to say goodbye to the deceased, to give them their last honor.
To be or not to be….seldom it was more applicable in my life. One minute he was there, the other he was gone … my father … passed away.
As youngest son I was also supposed to say a few words at the funeral. Usually I have no trouble with it but now I couldn´t. No really, not with words, not with a steady voice.
But I could do something with a steady hand. My stepmother had told me that my dad was so proud on me as a drum facilitator, teacher and musician. He would enjoyed it a lot if I played something at his funeral.
My brother thought quite the opposite of that. ´That doesn’t fit at all. You always make a party of everything´. He knew my drumsession, amongst others, at his own wedding in Barcelona.
Swinging riffs, encouraging cries, singing and rhythmic pounding crowds, barking dogs, a burst of laughter and joy of life; that always rocked!. He imagined situations as a funeral scene from the Benny Hill Show or Monty Python … brrr ….
At the funeral center I signed the condolences book and greeted my fellow musicians, the Africans Ndingo and Oscar, Wil, Simone, Peter and Koen. My two internships from highschool were there to make some recordings of the event. Afterwards it turned out that they found it very inappropriate to mingle in a mourning crowd taking snapshots of their grieve. Well, I guess they have a point but I had love to show your guys a little of the things we played and how the attendees responded.
In the Auditorium stands the coffin with my late father. The first people speak, others listen or crying gently. Man…..I am also getting emotional.
Fortunately our part starts soon. I leave the auditorium with the musicians and go to the hallway next to it. The instruments are there already. Small shakers, a big thumb piano, a little cowbell. No djembe´s or Doundouns, no loud and large sounds, no big stage stuff needed. Easy going rhythmic instruments, body beats and soft singing are much more in place here.
Silently we wait in the small hall. Standing face to face staring at the ground. Carefully moving to make no unwanted sounds with the instruments.
My mind is wandering around and thoughts of other sessions that we have done on funerals pop up in my mind. We granted the last wish of a deceased, a lover of Africa. The widow was very grateful to us for our “Burial Beats”. A long procession of about 200 people walked by while we were playing. On a musical level it was not a highlight but it was of great importance for everybody. It had a huge emotional value for the widow and for the musicians.
The other time it was far more intimate and very emotional while playing a little at the grave of one of my students who died of cancer. But now it is my own father…
Showtime, the side door opens and the funeral attendant beckons us. Pfhhh, there we go…here comes my speech!
We slowly start drumming and stepping into the room to stop in front of the coffin, Ndingo stands in upfront in the middle and the rest of us left and right behind him. I dare not to look to my family, relatives and friends and stare to the floor. The small drums set up a beat, the bells and thumb piano´s come in and Ndingo asks the people gently to clap their hands. I´m very glad that Ndingo and Oscar are here to lead and support this funeral ceremony. Their eyes are full of compassion for the grief around them, but with their open attitude and big smiles they determine to a large extent the atmosphere of this intimate happening. The people like it. They clap their hands and are rocking rhythmically back and forth. They even smile at times and let their tears run freely when they do body beats and gestures from the heart. This is a very nice. This is a fine ritual, literally a nice gesture for my father and for all of us here.
A quick sidestep. When you strip social and cultural differences away, you will find that virtually every religion considers that the soul can be touched and guided through the vibration of sounds and voice. The deceased can be aware of vibes from intentions and feelings from your heart. We do that right now . I see the room full of quiet but moved people. I hear the sounds, feel the vibes and are under the strong impression that at least for a brief moment our consciousness melts together to celebrate the transition of my father.
A celebration…..so …. a party after all? No, definitely not a party in the usual sense, but a worthy and valuable rite the passage.
My brother had worried for nothing. After the funeral he immediately gave his compliments to us.
The rhythm slows down, the last sounds whirl in the auditorium, they cease and quietly we leave the stage and look for a last time at the coffin.
No applause for us this time but from within I applaud for ourselves, for all musicians, for all those present. I feel very grateful that we have done this.
As for me these Burial Beats deserve a prominent place in Drum Cafe´s repertoire.
I hope I´m able to play them often before I myself perceive the vibes from another dimension:-).