Making the drums talk

—Congo Nya Cultural Foundation keeping the skill of drumming alive

 DPI, Guyana, Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Drums are symbolic of the rhythm of life and just like the heart is essential for human survival, so is the drum during the celebration of Emancipation.

Involved in making music with the drums for many years, Ras-lij James, President of the sought-after group  ‘Congo Nya Cultural Foundation’ describes it as “a marvellous experience when fingers are connected with the head of the drum.”


The youth arm of the Congo Nya Cultural Foundation. (from left) Lijanna James, Meshack James, Ras-lij James, Little Lehanna James, John Barclay and Ras-lij James Jr.

The amalgamation of the melody, dynamics and rhythm produce a fantastic atmosphere and can heal any distressing situation James posited.

“Different beats would speak to you differently. When we are on tour persons respond to the rhythms differently.”

James firmly believes that the drums promote unity. “Some people think that drums are just to hit and make noise, but it connects, and like a chain, it keeps a tightly knitted linkage with your brothers and sisters.”

While his group initiates its own “Guyanese rhythms,” the well-established drummer explained that the original beats created by the ancestors are still upheld and respected.

Listing a few of those tunes, James identified the areas on the drums which provide amazing effects. “We have the base, tribal and the edge or the cutting.” A more satisfying sound can be heard when the beat is accompanied by the “shak-shak, cowbell, tambourine and the little triangle are added,” he explained.

Founded in 1980 and officially registered in 1985 the Congo Nya Cultural Foundation has approximately 30-members; four of whom are James’ children. He accepted the musical baton in 2012 after his father the famous drumming icon Ivelaw James retired from the art.

The group of drummers based in Region Six has graced many stages and performed alongside several international artistes in Suriname and Brazil, among other countries.

James encourages all those inspired by the sound of the drums to contact him if they wish to learn the skill of making the drums talk.

As Emancipation Day approaches, James and his musical family call on all African Guyanese to “embrace your culture” and support any drummer they may see during and after the Emancipation celebrations.