Soul of the Drum
On September 29, 1947, Dizzy Gillespie and legendary Cuban drummer Chano Pozo unveiled Afro-Cuban jazz at Carnegie Hall by premiering George Russell’s Cubana Be, Cubana Bop. On that date, Chano’s conga drums and Abakuá chants were first combined with Gillespie’s griot trumpet and his band’s bebop sounds. The integration of jazz and Afro-Cuban music demanded virtuoso accommodations from all performers. But in a shining corner of the universe, the ancient sounds of Africa—heretofore fragmented in diaspora—were reunited again. Chano and Dizzy had bridged two separate and distinct ontologies.
Dizzy Gillespie did not speak Spanish, and Chano Pozo could not speak English, but according to Chano, they both spoke “African.” Gillespie understood that Chano was referring to the language of the drums, a practical form of communication between African tribes in the Americas that had existed from time immemorial. The drum was a sacred ritual means and an instrument of rebellion. European colonial powers banned African slaves from the practice of playing drums and dancing to their beat.
It would have been much to ask for the drums to have sounded live at a countryside wedding in New Jersey. Yet their sounds still came to us—with less vital, but still powerful effect—through the assembled technology of a contemporary DJ.
The insistence of the drums blended all modern music together in one continuous torrent of sound. The sacred batá drums of Cuban santeros mingled with the sounds of Bollywood; the operatic voice of Celia Cruz—Queen of Latin music—introduced the rhythms of Beyoncé; the Buena Vista Social Club became interchangeable with Dominican merengue groups; Don Omar’s reggaeton fueled the songs of the Spice Girls and the Backstreet Boys.
My own passage into this vortex (never a melting pot) of sound came when the soulful trombones of Willie Colón announced La murga, and the clarion voice of Héctor Lavoe, el cantante, was heard again as in old times.
Pulse of the Dance
The soul of the drums brought together, in a splendid salsa dance number, a Spanish-speaking Bengali gentleman—uncle of the bride—who works with refugees and a Puerto Rican judge about to retire to her native island, who danced as she danced when the world was young.
The drums spoke and a New World was born.
This millennial generation, addicted to smart phones and consumers of a quantity of aural and visual information that is unimaginable to previous generations, does not dance strictly in isolated couples as we used to. They rush the dance floor like frenzied bacchantes, in a choric group that does away with former strictures and delineations. They dance to all songs (which are actually one persistent song) as if possessed by Yoruba deities—like Voodoo dancers when their gods descend upon them.
They have regressed, or more accurately have moved forward, to a modern version of the choric dithyramb—the early dance from which, according to Aristotle, all Greek theater developed: under the spell of wine, 50 revelers danced together and sang songs in honor of the god Dionysus.
In the frolics of these young people, I saw the end of the Trump apocalypse. For them, cultural divisions — 19th-century-ordained national origins — do not exist. The great technological advances of our time with regard to information have created greater distance between the young and the old than that which exists between racial and ethnic groupings.
These young men and women do not belong to my culture or yours, but rather to a culture of their own. Perhaps all younger generations do so, and think like Stephen Dedalus: “I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church…. And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake and perhaps as long as eternity too.” (James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)
They speak the language of a fierce meritocracy, respect no ancient hatreds or fossilized ideas, and ignore all boundaries based on gender. They are brilliant, informed and accomplished—a working class generation of attorneys, police officers, business people, firefighters, teachers—and they know (oh, how well they know!) that they will live a thousand years.
What is left except to hail in silence the passage of the Bride and Groom? Those of us who brought the world to its present, frightful state should not have leave to speak. Let them walk their own path as we walked ours, in their own way, towards a New Life.
And yet we may be allowed a brief prayer and a blessing—our best wishes softly spoken. At the end of Craig Johnson’s As the Crow Flies, Sheriff Walt Longmire is giving away his daughter in marriage. In the heavens above he sees two crows circling in a cloudless sky. Longmire chooses to interpret the flight of the birds as a good omen:
It’s hopes like this that you cling to at major turning points in your life and, more important, the lives of your children. You keep going, and you hope for the best, and sometimes, maybe not very often, your hopes come true.
May the young walk in beauty! May the old ones consent, and bless them on their way!
 Ned Sublette, Cuba and its Music (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2004), 537-542.
 Dizzy Gillespie with Al Fraser, to BE, or not… to BOP (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1979), 318.
 Craig Johnson, As the Crow Flies (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), 308.