Beat it and be happy

Expressive, empowering and regarded as good for health, drumming is considered to tap the primal rhythms of life inside all of us. To embrace the spirit of percussion and its benefits, a monthly event is being held to help Hongkongers relieve the stress of everyday life.

The Drum Jam session, at the Fringe Club, is run by Kumi Masunaga, a professional percussionist and tutor. Masunaga has sought to teach and develop the benefits of communal drumming through a series of programmes, including the Rhythm of Life drum workshops and the Kidz Jam.

'The Drum Jam is a hands-on, interactive, family-friendly event,' Masunaga says ahead of the next session on Tuesday. 'It is also a positive, healthy introduction to world music and musical instruments for people who've never played music before.'

During jams, Masunaga places her collection of drums and percussion instruments - more than 100 pieces including African djembes, Brazilian sambas, Cuban congas and even dragon-boat drums - in a large circle. People are free to choose an instrument to play.

'Some people bring their

own drums and percussion instruments and some just their dancing feet,' says Masunaga. 'Often the effect is almost immediate. People begin to play and create a nice rhythm together. My role as a facilitator is to read the circle's energy and lead it to a level where they can enjoy their rhythmic potential comfortably - and to create a rhythmical dialogue.

'I use body language and simple rhythm games. I let people howl out loud together. After an hour or two of jamming on the drums, everyone is smiling, relaxed and having fun together in an intimate circle.'

Masunaga says there is scientific evidence to explain how a good bash on the drums can put a smile on people's faces. 'Group drumming is a great de-stresser,' she says. 'Scientific studies have found that after 30 minutes of sustained drumming, brainwaves are reduced to an 'alpha' state in which deep relaxation is experienced, and the left and right sides of the brain are balanced - as in meditation.

'Endorphins are also released into the bloodstream, relieving stress and flooding the body with a feeling of well-being, similar to a runner's high.'

Drum Jam has been running in Hong Kong for 3? years and has attracted a wide range of people, including children, the elderly, corporate groups, yoga teachers, artists, police officers, school teachers and even professional musicians.

'Rhythm cuts through all the boundaries that otherwise separate us,' says Masunaga.

Its popularity can be explained by the positive benefits of the activity, she says. 'Drumming is active entertainment rather than passive, and has a powerful and primal sound which awakens strong feelings in the individual. It touches our core in a special way.

'Drumming allows individuals to express themselves musically without much skill or technique, and lets them become a part of a group song. Some proponents say group drumming is a form of non-verbal communication.

'Drumming ... makes you happy,' she says.

Drum Jam, Tue, 8pm, Fringe Club, 2 Lower Albert Rd, Central, free. Inquiries: 2521 7251