Rhythm of Community

On 16th November 2015, I was fortunate to spend time at the South African Asset Based Community Development Festival in Port Elizabeth, hosted by Ikhala Trust. This is part of a series of blogs capturing my experience of ABCD in South Africa at the festival and beyond.


After an inspiring introduction and welcome to the festival, we began with an ice-breaker and community building exercise which, to my dismay, involved a pile of musical instruments. This was the cue for everyone in the room to grab something and start a jamming session.


Now I must explain –  this sits amongst my worst nightmares. My first and only experience of trying to learn an instrument was destroyed by a rather unfriendly music teacher at school. You know the type? I don’t think I made it beyond playing the triangle. I can assure you, I LACK RHYTHM.


So at the festival, when the musical instruments were produced, I hovered at the back of the room until, thankfully, all the instruments had been taken.



So like a rather awkward and rhythmless sore thumb, I nervously prowled the perimeter of the circle – partly envious and partly intimidated. The music was chaotic but the sound and energy were incredible, they definitely sounded rehearsed. So when someone shouted “swap instruments with someone who hasn’t been involved”, my heart sank. I took one step forward and was greeted by a friendly face of encouragement from the group followed by a one stop shop in African drums.


As the jamming session recommenced, I nervously followed suit, keeping a watchful eye to my left and right to keep the beat. To my surprise, and despite my own inability, we actually sounded quite good! It was then I realised that while my contribution was important and valued, I didn’t need to be amazing to be part of the sound.




So my first introduction to playing African music reminded me of some truths that transpose into community life.


  1. It doesn’t feel good to be on the outside of the circle. It creates mixed feelings and emotions.
  2. With some encouragement (a catalyst) and a friendly smile from within the circle (a welcome) it’s much easier to get involved.
  3. Community life can be full of chaos – but it is the energy and feeling it creates that’s important.
  4. There are people around us that are on our left and right that can guide us if we allow them.
  5. Participation is crucial, not ability – the collective create the rhythm of a community!


I see community like this jamming session; messy and chaotic but with welcoming faces and a small catalyst to push you forward, it’s even possible to get a rhythmless Scotsman playing the drums!

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1 Comment
  • Tom Dewar

    This is a great blog, Shaun and music is an apt metaphor for community, especially jazz. The group is the vehicle and the journey, we are better together. Improvisation is the name of the game, and adapting to others the way the song emerges but most of all it’s the listening to one another that makes it all work. Mistakes? Sure, why not. It’s how we learn going forward. Your blog reminded me of the following, Herbie Hancock on Miles Davis.


    April 22, 2016 at 5:02 am

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