African drums, for centuries a means of communicating a birth to a nearby
village, celebrating a wedding or part of the grieving ritual at funerals,
have found a new role - corporate training.
Find out if you can
multi-task, deal with change or whether you are a leader or follower by
drumming with colleagues.
Sound surprising? Well, Doug
Manuel, who set up "Sewa Beats" in Lausanne, Switzerland in 2000, said
traditional African drumming was an effective tool for 21st century
"I think one of the reasons
why it's so powerful is that drumming is very primal so it brings people
back to themselves," the 34-year-old Briton said.
"It shifts energy very, very
quickly in a way that other art forms in business are not going to do."
Corporations have long sent
their employees on outdoor pursuits but African drumming is another way to
encourage team building and leadership training, Manuel said ahead of a
pre-dinner session for 65 executives at a restaurant on the outskirts of
Seated in a semi-circle with
their suit jackets hung on the backs of their chairs, the employees of IBM
and BMC Software seemed excited though unsure what to expect.
Three "animators" kicked off
the workshop with a lively warm-up, before getting them into the swing of
synchronised rhythm, together stepping side-to-side with "call and response"
Then began the drumming,
undisciplined and unmusical at first, participants were encouraged to bang
as hard as they could - and they did - before beginning to tap in slow
Soon they were jigging in
their seats, having mastered a rhythmic beat with the whole room bouncing to
the contagious deep thud of 60-odd African drums, picking up the tempo.
"As you play, don't forget to
breathe!" Manuel reminded them as they responded to his instructions with
gusto, picking up the pace and playing more complicated sequences.
Drumming sessions have lasted
from 18 minutes to four hours, and up to 1,000 people can take part in the
workshops. Programmes are tailor-made for clients who tend to be business
schools and companies. Sometimes they just want an "ice breaker" for a
But often a company will say,
for example, that they have three different departments that do not work
well together although they work alright alone, Manuel said.
"In that instance what we do
is we split them into three groups, we would teach each group a different
thing that doesn't really make any sense on its own," he said.
"It's only when all three
groups come together, and there's a moment of discovery," he added.
A participant can discover a
lot about his or her leadership skills, or lack of them, from standing in
the middle of the drummers and leading the music, Manuel said, adding:
"Sometimes they panic and clearly get very nervous."
Corinne Chabris, who was
instrumental in arranging the session for BMC Software and IBM, said it was
not the first time they had tried African drumming.
"They learnt to play
together, to get to know each other and at the end of the day to agree.
That's the benefit of this activity - it's not an individual game but a
group one," she said.
The drums, made in Burkina
Faso, are the traditional instruments with a wood shell, rope, metal rings
and a goat skin cover, and were shipped over from the West African country.
A former BBC production
manager, Manuel gave up his job to follow his passion for drumming to West
Africa and on his return six months later began running African drumming
classes for refugee children and inmates at a high-security prison.
But it wasn't until doing
sessions for student music therapists that he realised the training
potential in drumming, so he re-mortgaged his home, took coaching courses
and initially bought 30 drums. He now owns about 900.
Marie-Odile Crinon, who heads
a team of about 300 people at IBM, said after the session that it
underscored basic management principles of teaching everyone to work towards
the same objective and vision.
BMC Software Account Manager Francois Volpoet also enjoyed the drumming.
"That can show that when
there are discordant sounds, you manage to do something by listening to each
other," he said afterwards.
"Sewa Beats" - Sewa means
'Joy' in Malinke, the native language of the region in West Africa where the
inspiration for the drumming originates - also has offices in London, Madrid
and Copenhagen and has run drumming sessions for business professionals
throughout Europe and in Dubai.
Costs depend on the mandate
but Manuel said one session could cost anything from just over E1,000 to