The New Today


When is a Drum not a musical instrument?

A protester was taken into custody by police for playing the drum during the protest in Kingstown, St Vincent.

Although they said he was playing a musical instrument, the opposition lawyers argued with the police it was not a musical instrument and was not being used as a musical instrument. But the police had their orders from someone to do what they did, and they did it.

When a drum or a set of drums are part of a musical band, group, or orchestra, they are classed as a percussion instrument, and provide the rhythm and timing. While the other instruments, produce the music and melody.

But a drum on its own is not a musical instrument; a single drum cannot produce varying musical notes; it cannot create or produce a melody. So, therefore, while used alone, it is quite simply a percussion instrument, not a musical instrument.

For instance, a gearbox is part of a car. So, if you were caught running at 50 mph in a 30 mph speed limit, without a car but carrying a gearbox, are you guilty of driving a vehicle at more than the speed limit? Of course not, that is rather silly you would say, anyone would say.

It is the same with a single drum played with drumsticks. It does not and cannot play a tune. If it were a trumpet, or a piano, or a guitar, yes, on their own, they are musical instruments. Because they play musical notes, produce recognisable music to which you can sing. But you cannot recognise a tune from a single drum struck by drumsticks, nor can you sing along to it.

What we should ask ourselves is, when the drum was being beaten in Kingstown, did anyone recognise it playing a tune that they knew. Did anyone out of thousands of people sing along to the beat of the drum? Did anyone hum or whistle along with it?

What the police should answer, and should be part of the defence, what are the names of the songs or tunes the drum allegedly played? If they cannot produce the tune, theme, music, and song, they do not have the evidence to say it was being played as a musical instrument.

The drum used during a march or protest is used as a sign of defiance or to produce a marching beat that keeps the listeners moving to the beat of the drum. It is not and was not played for entertainment.

Single drums and drumsticks can produce a sound to some, which can be annoying. That is why uncle gave your little boy a drum to annoy you with. But you do not take the drum away and beat the child up, which is likely to happen in Saint Vincent when the police are confronted with a marching drum, beaten by a single man, without a band or even a singer.

During the slave ships passage from West Africa to the Caribbean, slaves were encouraged to beat the drum. The hope was that beating the drum would keep their morale as high as possible, and more would survive the journey. But upon arrival in the Americas, beating the drum was forbidden for slaves.

The drum is traditionally African, and it originated in Africa. The white Europeans banned the slaves in the Caribbean from having drums. They banned them from being used and from being owned by slaves. So, this no drum in Kingstown is originally a white thing and antiblack thing. It would be interesting to know who the instruction to arrest and charge the drummer who struck his drum in Kingstown came from.

Just a question that I heard in a rum shop in bottom town. Because if that is what the people think, I would like an answer to that straightforward question.

Black people not being allowed to play the drums may still be a racial thing. So perhaps we should start a new movement, ‘Black Drummers Matter’. I am sure you all see the point. Using the drum for people of African descent is in their blood; it is an inherited right. It is not a musical instrument; it is a symbol of our heritage. It is what we did and still do to protest. It was and still is a sign of defiance to tell the white masters to let our ancestors go; they hated it and perhaps still do.

Could this be classed as yet again, malicious prosecution, we must wait and see, let’s hope not.

Nathan J Green