The Djun Djun Mamas have been performing throughout Santa Barbara County for the past six years, and they seriously know how to rock the house. Led by Lisa Beck, the troupe — which combines West African drumming and dance — creates clear, commanding rhythms accompanied by soulful, energetic songs and movement that produce a powerful experience and provoke a sense of womanhood in the community.
Originally from Minnesota, Beck fell in love with Santa Barbara as a child, spending vacations here visiting her grandparents; her grandfather was an ER doctor at Cottage Hospital. Beck finally moved to town in 1999 and since then has made her career as a dancer, musician, and teacher. The Santa Barbara Independent recently caught up with Beck and found it pleasantly difficult to be unaffected by her sincere mission to help others feel “radiant, energized, and alive.”
What sparked your inspiration for West African drumming and dance? My partner, Budhi Harlow, [is] a teacher and performer of West African (djembe) drumming and dance. As I fell in love with him, I also fell in love with drum and dance. It’s brought so much joy and purpose to my life — it’s energizing, passionate, dynamic, electrifying, and so much fun.
When did you begin directing Women’s Drumming? My Women’s Drumming programs started over six years ago. During the fall of 2008, I offered a three-week drumming workshop for women only. We performed that December for our Second Annual Winter Solstice party, and the audience loved us. Since then, I’ve worked with hundreds of women from all backgrounds and walks of life. I find women are waking up more and more to their feminine strength and seeking out ways to express and connect more to that power. The drum and dance creates that connection.
Tell me about your Djun Djun Mamas. The women in this community are extremely supportive, encouraging, nurturing, and loving to one another. They are accountants, massage therapists, teachers, healers, business owners, mothers, wives, grandmothers, sisters, and friends. … About 85 percent of the pieces we perform are original compositions and choreographies, heavily influenced by West African rhythms. Other pieces are djembe rhythms and choreographies I have learned from my teachers. We play djun djun drums in the “ballet” style, meaning with the head of the drum facing up with sticks. My Women’s Drumming workshops also include hand drumming with djembes, as well as percussion training with bells, shakers, and other instruments accompanied by dance and singing.
Where did you get the name? The djun djuns or dun dun drums are the bass drums played in the djembe tradition coming from Mali and Guinea, West Africa. I decided on Djun Djun Mamas as the name to represent the drums we play and love, and the fact that we are a bunch of hot mamas!
Considering the enormous amount of fast-paced movement involved in djembe, what are some of the challenges you face when choreographing this style of dance? The style can be very intimidating to outsiders; it takes a certain fire and desire within to commit to learning djembe and other styles of dance from West Africa. It’s extremely physical, and you need a lot of energy to perform.
Do you have a favorite piece to perform? I don’t have a favorite piece — I love them all — but I will say that when I teach and perform drum rhythms along with singing and dancing, I am most happy. When we use the voice, body, and drums to transmit the power and joy of this art form, we seem to have the most profound and powerful effect, not only on the audience but also on ourselves.
Lisa Beck teaches regular Women’s Drumming Playshops in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. Her Summer Women’s Drumming Class Series takes place throughout July and August. Find out more at lisabeckliving.com.