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West Africa: De-Stressing to the Beat
Put aside the images of sweaty middle-aged men or a sweaty naked Matthew McConaughey and focus on the fact that participating in group drumming has been shown to improve mood and decrease stress (no surprise there—who hasn't wanted to wail on something when frustrated?). Another study suggests it can also strengthen the immune system. If you don't think you'll ever be comfortable dropping in on a drum circle in the park, which may seem like a free-for-all jam session, seek out a more structured African-drumming class in your area. African djembe drums are almost always found beside bongos and congas in modern drum circles, but in West Africa, the djembe drummer is usually a solo storyteller who sets the rhythm and structure for a celebratory dance, says Assane Konte, the artistic director of KanKouran West African Dance Company, in Washington, D.C. Today, even though groups of men and women can switch between drumming and dancing (Konte's classes include instruction in both), the practice is still rooted in West African history, and Konte says the drum remains a symbol of that—and not an extension of you or your id. You'll feel a strong sense of unity while pounding away with the other drummers, an appreciation for a different culture's rhythms and a sharpened concentration while trying to follow the beat.