Seven years on: how drumming healed an Indigenous artist’s soul

Seven years ago, Jennifer Allison sat down to a drum circle. The experience of being part of a space where she found her voice and purpose healed her, enabled her to stop being in pain, and gained her the confidence to try to open herself up to different experiences.

Before, Allison had struggled with anxiety, depression, self-harm, and had become estranged from her family and friends. She had escaped from the predicament by pursuing an unfulfilling dream of becoming a musician and pursuing a lifestyle dominated by drugs and alcohol.

Drumming, explains Allison, opened her heart and soul. It helped her find a new self. “I felt I understood myself,” she says. “I felt whole again, and I felt whole for the first time in a long time. I was reconnected with the loves and the lost lives and lost relationships that I had been estranged from, and I could feel my creativity come alive again. It opened my eyes to the possibility of making something of myself again.”

Then, Allison began to form real friendships and made a concerted effort to express herself creatively, with music being her first outlet, “borrowing and putting with other cultures”. She painted and wrote, and once decided to take up another art form.

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“I decided to make a painting,” she says. “I discovered that my wheel was that kind of a machine. My work did not just have to be finished. It had to be placed in a kind of nest, a tepee or a doghouse, and then played and taken care of. It had to be turned over and around and even shaped. When I went to use it in making my painting, the machine was built-in. It stayed there for four years.”

“I would take it home with me and use it in any way, shape, or form I saw fit. I placed it on a river, placed it on a mountain, placed it in a puddle of iced water, placed it on my bed, placed it on my floor. Whatever way I could put it there. I tried to keep it clean. And my sister and I had fun playing with it.”

Allison began to embrace the idea of creating a road for her art: “You know what they say,” she explains. “the best way to get to where you want to go is to put your toe in the water first, but don’t let that first foot put you in the water. So I chose a seat and I put my foot in it and I started letting myself in.

“It became quite a nice thing. I was able to express myself in all types of ways. It was quite the journey.”

The journey still hasn’t ended for Allison, who still finds herself facing relentless barriers in a culture she’s completely unfamiliar with. “As I’ve gotten into this other part of my life I want to bring my thoughts to a whole other group,” she says. “I want to use their cultural artwork to help people express themselves and be empowered.”

In this context, I’m told, her work – and the work of other young Indigenous artists like her – is exciting.

“We’re coming up with new things every day and that’s the exciting part. I want to reach out to other Indigenous people and let them know that this is an outlet they can share with everyone.”

Drumming can offer an incredible opportunity to us all to learn and connect, and this month, the TED Talk (a 35-minute highlight of an hour-long session) focuses on that very opportunity.


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