January 8, 2013

Phil Moore is currently travelling through the Americas on a Permaculture tour meeting all kinds of people, projects and places that work to restore the natural world and unite people. Here he writes about a project and its inspiring leader that he came across in Belize.

“What’s jumping down?” greets Emmeth Young, master drummer and leader behind the project Drums Not Guns.

A wide easy smile, Emmeth’s demeanour is unhurried. His large hands calloused and hardened by years of playing and making drums. As he begins to play, the broad grin changes into a more serious but still friendly expression. His dreads weave through the air as he rolls his head. Watching him it’s as if the meandering rhythm has invoked a spirit only he can see.  The beat is the seat of his very being.

Born in Gales Point, Emmeth (pronounced Emm-et) was one half of the reason people from around the world travelled to an otherwise sleepy seaside village in the middle of Belize. The other reason is the galumphing manatees. The beautifully ugly sea-cows chomping on sea grass as they amble the shallows for all to see.

Sadly things soured for Emmeth and his family after he was attacked one evening walking home with his daughter and a tourist who was staying at the hostel he and his wife ran. They recently decided to relocate in the southern town of Punta Gorda where Emmeth continues his drumming school and is currently pursuing the Drums Not Guns project.

His drumming school in Gales Point had 40 kids at its height. An educational project aimed at training and encouraging kids it also had a positive economic impact. “Music is a means of income for many who don’t have an opportunity” explains Emmeth.  In a country with high unemployment and plenty of bored young men, an invitation by Emmeth to join him for one of his many performances was an experience not to be missed – and a way to make an easy buck or two.

Alongside drumming for the Queen and being asked to attend various cultural events, Emmeth’s passion is clearly investing in “the youths ‘dem.”

The idea of Drums Not Guns arose from a conversation that was had in the village. Within the space of a month six youths had been gunned down. Evening wakes followed funerals in the days where friends of gang members would shoot off their guns.

“I was sick in the stomach. Disturbed. Not a way to honour your friends. I decided to play the drum to target the youth.”

What else would a master drummer do? Emmeth’s recognition that the youth had no direction or focus was answered by the beat of the drum that could help “teach them discipline and give a sense of purpose.”

“Drums have an effect. It keeps you focused. Helps you concentrate.”

The project is all off Emmeth’s own back and good will. It is aims at those between 8 and 16. The idea to target this age range before gang life entices them.

“I got to go from what I know. In Belize, not a lot of tings to do. It’s all short-term.”

Tackling gang culture through drumming is just an entry point. What Emmeth’s clear sense of patience and building trust results in, is an intrinsic sense of value. Providing the materials for a student to build their own drum, they learn what it means to create but also the importance of valuing something.

The independence with which Emmeth approaches his work is reflected in his weariness of NGOs and charities ostensibly out to do good. “They talk, but don’t walk the walk.”

Drums are just the foundation. For Emmeth it’s a means by which to find out what kids are good at. “It’s about sustainability – I must find them work and help them to help they self to get on.” Over the years working with youths he’s had teachers and parents comment on how his drumming lessons have helped their children concentrate in school, do better at maths, communicate more.

“Everything you do revolves around rhythm. We walk, speak, even eat in rhythm.”

Drums Not Guns recognises “drumming as a communion”. As an approach to non-violence it speaks powerfully to an otherwise listless and culturally directionless youth. By building resilience and keeping a direct line to Creole history – the lineage and style of Emmeth’s drumming – and culture, roots are grown. “It (drumming) keeps you grounded. But what I do, for me it’s a movement.”

The the drum speaks. The locals of Punta Gorda are already beginning to see that Emmeth’s kindness is echoing on the wings of his powerful rhythms as he continues his work with the youth ‘dem.

To find out more visit the facebook page of the Maroon Creole Drum School.

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