Growing up in Trinidad, Glen Noel was surrounded by the sound of the drum. It had him hooked from the beginning.
“You start, and it’s calm and cool,” said Glen, pictured at right. “And then, next thing you know, it capture your inner self.”
He stopped drumming for a little while when he moved from the islands to Boston. Then came the craving to start again. That’s when he made it his life. He founded The Jah Jah Drummers, a group that performs across the city and promotes “the mother of all instruments.” This June, the group will be 20 years old.
Here, in Glen’s own words, is how it happened:
“From a very young age, from the time I was able to speak, I was surrounded by drums. And it got me interested to find out more about the sound.
It was partly my elder brothers. They was into folklore dancing. They had folk groups, which will contain drummers, and from following them around, and seeing that, I wanted to get into that, too. So I ended up doing drumming for different dance troupes throughout Trinidad and Tobago.
When I first came here, you know, come from the Islands, I didn’t come here with any drums. I came here with a suitcase of records because I was a DJ. And then one day it hit me that I was missing something: my drum. And I used to beg my younger brothers (in Trinidad): Oh my God, I need a drum. Please, somebody, get me a drum.
I play a regular bass drum. It’s a avocado tree, you dug out the inside, and you put the goat skin over it, to get that sound. They have other kinds, but mine’s just one of them old time, regular drums. And finally, one of them brought up a drum for me.
When I get that drum, I started knocking, knocking that drum. And then I feel I was missing something, and I say: wait. Boston don’t have what I visualize as a drumming group. So I get together with one of my friends, and he’s a craftsman—he do leatherwork, he do arts, crafts, oh, he’s a jack of all trades, he make shoes, he make belts—Glenn Marshall. Me and Glenn started that, right on Monroe, off of Hyde Park Ave, right up on that second floor, we started that.
We started to tell all the other guys from Trinidad: Yeah, we started this drumming group thing, you know? And, you know, we had doubters. Our friends used to be laughing, telling us we will get nowhere. We start practicing, and we start forming and start tightening, and it reached a stage where I was exhausted. When I say exhausted, it was like I couldn’t take the group no further, and then God sent this young man along, to take us a up a level. So he was a blessing to the group now. Next year, we will be celebrating 20 years.
I find people don’t take the drum seriously. But without the drum, there ain’t no beat, there ain’t no rhythm. The drum is the mother of all instruments.”
Listen to Glen talk about the feeling of drumming here:
“It’s such a good feeling. Drumming is like when you get into a car, and you start that car, and you’re on the expressway, and you don’t start out fast, you know? You get into it and then when you reach a certain time you sort of up, and you start looking for the Staties (state troopers), because you know you’re going above the speed limit, right? Drumming to me is like in that pattern.
You start, and it’s calm and cool. And then, next thing you know, it capture your inner self. And if you’re not too careful, you could get lost within the very same rhythm that you’re playing. Because it will take you. It’s like a musical journey. And it’s so, like, soothing, and make you feel happy, you know what I mean? It’s therapy.”
Learn more about the Jah Jah Drummers, a group whose mission is to promote drumming as an instrument, along with dancing, singing and poetry.
Glen was photographed and interviewed by George Powell. The interview was then transcribed and edited by length, clarity and flow by Cara Solomon, founder of Everyday Boston, in partnership with George. Cara wrote the intro text.