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Rainbow People       Moon Daughter

Balakulania      Sorcesenea

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As a group, Inanna members have studied percussion with Karamo Sabally of Gambia, West Africa; John McDowell of the Afro-jazz fusion group “Mamma Tongue”; Yaya Diallo, master drummer from Mali and the author of The Healing Drum; Layne Redmond, author of When the Drummers Were Women; and Famoudou Konaté, one of the world’s best known and recognized djembe players.

Inanna takes their name from an ancient Sumerian goddess, who held reign more than 4,000 years ago during a period when it is believed that drummers and dancers were predominantly women. The ensemble chose the name of this ancient goddess to express their ties with earlier traditions. The members of the group are Andrea Antognoni, Annegret Baier, Elizabeth Direcktor, Shirsten Lundblad, Tori Morrill, and Judy Nielsen

Click on thumbnail images for performance photos by Mark Shain.

The Goddess and the Drum

© 2002 Stuart Vail

The culture of the drum goes back about 6500 years to the Neolithic period, in which the settlement called Çatal Hüyük (Turkey) is best known. Religion was primarily female, with the fertile Mother Earth goddess reigning supreme. Women were the primary force in the arts and religion, and great drumming ceremonies were conducted to worship deities represented by the snake, the bird, the bull. Archaeologist Marija Gimbutas (who wrote The Language of the Goddess, Harper and Row, 1989) speculates that the small clay drums and bowls found in the Çatal Hüyük site represent the actual instruments used in the worship of the bird goddess, the goddess of music.

Pecussionist Layne Redmond states in her book, When the Drummers Were Women:

In every ancient Mediterranean civilization, it was a goddess who transmitted to humans the gift of making music. In Sumer it was Inanna; in Egypt, Hathor; in Greece, the nine-fold goddess called the Muses, and so on. Ancient Sumerian texts describe many deities, both female and male, but one goddess was revered above all others for thousands of years. This is Inanna, the Great Goddess worshipped from the beginning of Sumerian culture. As Inanna, the divine female is represented as the beautiful, aristocratic young goddess of erotic love and fertility, and later of war. Inanna is also a rain goddess, and her power in this respect is shamanistic. She can bring or withhold rain. She controls the thunder. “I step onto the heavens, and the rain rains down; I step onto the earth, and grass and herbs sprout up,” she sings. Clouds were called the “breasts of the sky.” Thunderstorms were manifestations of Inanna’s wrath, loud with the roars of her animal allies, the lion and the bull—power animals associated with the goddess at Çatal Hüyük. Traditionally, the frame drum was used to invoke rain by mimicking thunder. Like the Hindu goddess Sarasvati, Inanna is credited with endowing humankind with civilization—a reflection of women’s primary role in creating culture. Her gift is called the me, or mother-wisdom. These are the principles that control and set in motion cultural patterns that give rise to civilization.

In Mesopotamia, the development of agriculture and an understanding of the life cycles of plants reinforced the goddess connection to the earth. The concept of “seasons” was developed in conjunction with the growing of crops and, around 3000 B.C., attention slowly began to shift to the sun, moon, and the heavens. Male sky gods replaced the earth-bound goddesses and, as Mickey Hart states in Drumming at the Edge of Magic, the Sumerians “...responded by converting [their] most sacred symbols—the snake, the bull, the naked female body—into their most feared ones.” By the actions of United States Attorney General John Ashcroft, who covered up the bare breast of a statue in the Hall of Justice, we can see that not a lot has changed in 5000 years.

The frame drum appeared in about 2200 B.C. and survives today in many cultures around the world. It consists of a simple hoop of wood with a skin stretched over it. In Ireland a version of it is known as the bodhrán; in India as the duff; in the Arab world as the tãr (not to be confused with the Iranian tar, the long-necked lute with 2-3 strings); and in Russia, Korea, Asia, and North America as a shaman’s drum. Other names for it are: adufe, allun, barinung, bendir, caja, caja chocoana, caja vallenata, chauyak, chos-rnga, daäduä, daff, faira, dä’ira, daire, dajre, dal, damphu, dap’, daria, def, deff, doira, gaval, gavaldas genjring, ghaval, glawng dün, kaco, kanjrï, khets, malinga, mazhar, ncomane, orunsa, phyed-rnga, qilain, rabana, ramana lum dut, rapa’i, rebana, rebana anak, rebana besar, redap, riqq, rnga, sakara, sekuyak, tabret, tagnza, tambourine, tappu, tarra, terbang, timbrel, tof, toph, tupîm, tympanon, uchiwa-daiko, zilli def, zörgösdob.

The frame drum of 2200 B.C. was frequently played by women (and is to this day in the Middle East and in Morocco). Mickey Hart’s research discovered one such woman who was “...the granddaughter of the Sumerian king. She lived in Ur in 2280 B.C., and played the balag-di in the temple of the moon, one of the mother goddess’ strongest symbols.”

Another example of the frame drum in antiquity is in the Christian Bible, Genesis 31:27, which states “I would have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tupîm (tambourine) and lyre.” Tupîm is the plural of toph, which corresponds to the modern Arabic daff and Persian duff, the English translations being tabret or timbrel. Perhaps the most famous biblical reference is
in the Exodus story of Moses crossing the Red Sea. After escaping from Pharoah’s army and reaching the other side, Aaron’s sister Miriam and the other women danced for joy and played timbrels along the shore.

The drum was present in China (double-headed frame drums containing rice grains are mentioned in early Chinese writings), Egypt, Greece, Rome, Assyria, Persia, and India, but back at the Fertile Crescent, once the male sky gods took over, it was replaced by the trumpet, lyre, and harp. The thirteenth-century crusades introduced the drum to Europe where it was used as an instrument of war (read “male”), and then the eighteenth century finally saw its use in orchestras (male). However, it wasn’t until the last twenty years that so many women have “returned” to the drum. Drumming circles the world over have become popular, appealing to people from all walks of life. Inanna is an example of the many organized drumming groups that regularly connect on a very primordial level, the pulse of life. In connecting to this pulse, they celebrate life, the heartbeat. The drum is no longer an instrument of war, but of worship. So, rejoice—the Goddess is back!

For more information about upcoming performances, workshops,
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More Percussion Links
Excerpt from When the Drummers Were Women
© 1997 Layne Redmond, Harmony Books.

Excerpt from Drumming at the Edge of Magic
©1990 Mickey Hart, Harper Collins Publishers.

The photo of the author © 2000 Joanne Warfield.
The Arabic inscription, painted by Stuart Vail, reads:
"Abu Bakr, the Righteous. May Allah be pleased with him."

Photo credits on previous page:
B&W photos by Jane Page-Conway
Video stills by Jonne Trees

For more reading on rhythm and drumming, go to
Living in Rhythm” (October 2001 editorial)

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