In perhaps the most noisy cultural exchange ever seen in Belfast drummers from the Lion dance and Lambeg traditions met for a ‘drum in’. This cultural fusion was a first and gave expert drummers from these different traditions an opportunity to learn from one another and play together. The Lambeg drum know locally as the ‘Big Drum’ was matched by the Chinese Drum as they went ‘head to head’.

Both Chinese and Lambeg drums are iconic and influential in the musical traditions and folklore of their own communities. Both drums find their origins in military music, and their role on the battlefield to communicate messages and motivate troops. They then both grew in size and volume becoming unique cultural icons with accompanying music and even dance formed to complement their percussive presence. 

Each drum had given birth to a proud heritage often passed from generation to generation as time is take to ‘master’ these giant instruments. Those who play them have a certain privileged position above other musicians and often begin their lifelong passion at a young age. 

In each case the beat happened out is the lead for other artists. In the case of the drums used in the Lion and Dragon dances they control the movements of the dancers as they bring these costume creatures to life. 

Drums (gu) are a very important part of Chinese culture. A Chinese character representing “drum” was first inscribed on bones and shells about 3000 years ago. The earliest known drums in China date back nearly four thousand years ago, around the time of the Shang Dynasty (c.1600 – c.1100 BCE). The lambeg drum can only traces its history back to the late 1600s AD !

To be very successful in the dance, the head of the Dragon must be able to coordinate with the body movement to match the timing of the drum. The Lion whose head is capable of different movements and expressions is likewise led by the drum beats. 

In the Ulster Scots tradition the beat of the lambeg is set to tunes which can be fifed or piped to and often dancers follow the beat for their intricate steps. 

Given our shared heritage of drumming on a giant scale one of the most exciting and innovative features of the Chinese New Year Fusion Festival was a ‘Drum Off’. We invited expert drummers to learn from each other and bring together their two traditions. From drumming each others drums they also tried their own beats on these very different drums to see what it would sound like. 

The whole exciting experiment was captured for Radio Ulster and was the highlight of the visit.