Macworld|iWorld Drum Circle Brings the Tribe Together

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Throughout last week’s Macworld|iWorld event in San Francisco, there was something that tickling the back of my mind. I wrote a little bit about it on Thursday with an editorial titled, “Day One of Macworld|iWorld: It’s Not CES,” but it didn’t really crystallize for me until the final moments of the show on Saturday.

It was 3:00 PM, meaning there was just one hour left of the show. People were still streaming in for their last chance to look at all the cool stuff and buy some last minute deals, and the vendors all had visions of not having to stand in their booths dancing in their eyes.

Jeff Gamet and I were walking over to say goodbye to a couple of those vendors when we heard a thump booming down from the second level of Moscone West, a thump that then escalated into the drawn out booming of drums being played. Jeff and I looked at each other and decided we could say goodbye to our friends after we figured out what in the heck was going on.

So we took the escalator up to the second level and were amazed by booming and thumping, by the beats that were echoing throughout the building—there was shouting, too. Someone was yelling at all these drummers—is this some kind of Brazilian drum group performing?

As the escalator brought us up and the sounds got louder and louder, we could feel the energy in the area rising palpably. Something cool was happening and we couldn’t wait to find out what it was.

Imagine our surprise when got up onto the second level of the building and looking out across the wide expanse of the foyer we saw, not a bunch of bronze skinned and half naked Brazilians or even a martial drum corps of some sort, but rather a huge circle of Macworld attendees (and vendors playing hooky) gathered around one crazy looking dude. And they were all banging away on a variety of drums and other percussion instruments.

Drum Circle

The drum circle from above
(All photos by Jeff Gamet)

It was a drum circle! But rather than the scents of patchouli and pot wafting towards us from a park or a camp site, this one was taking place in the second level of Moscone West in the middle of a tech festival and it was being manned by a bunch of techies. It was a huge crowd—some 500 people as it swelled to overflow the circle of chairs that had been put there for the event, and they were being led by this crazy dude in the photo below.

Drum Circle Leader

Here’s the awesomely crazy guy leading the drum circle

It turns out his name is Arthur Hull of Village Music Circles. He is a sort of professional drum circle guy hired by IDG to lead this event. The crowd also included about 30 members of his own drum circle strategically placed throughout the circle to help keep things on track. The drums were provided by Remo (they make drum heads), and there were people walking around shoving them into the hands of those few who weren’t taking part in the fun.

People were banging away enthusiastically—sometimes even spastically—and there was so much energy in the air that the floor was literally bouncing and shaking in time to the music. It was awesome.

I can’t tell you how much fun it was and how many huge smiles we saw on people’s faces, though the photo below will give you a tiny taste of that. I also can’t tell you how incredible the leader was. He was able to direct this crowd of strangers—the vast majority of whom had never touched a drum, let alone taken part in a drum circle—and was keeping them together, adding in specific rhythms, and generally bringing the tribe together.

Smile!

Some of the smiles in the crowd

That’s when it hit me. This could never have happened at the old Macworld Expo, especially the one Apple was a part of. It could DEFINITELY not happen at CES. It couldn’t even happen at SxSW simply because there are too many musicians at that event, and musicians are typically way too cool to let loose with a bunch of non-musicians there to make it all sloppy, which this most certainly was.

No, this was an expression of tribe—a primeval expression at that—and that tribe is the Mac community. Oh sure, there were iOS users there, too, but I think it’s the Mac community that has the strongest feeling of tribe, and it was being manifested directly in front of me.

The drum circle went on for more than an hour, and it was still going strong after the Macworld|iWorld show floor closed at 4:00 PM. The crowds continued to swell as people left the show floor and wandered up to the second level just like Jeff and I had done, and it was totally fantastic.

Dave Hamilton & Paul Kent

The Mac Observer’s own Dave Hamilton and IDG’s Paul Kent - two musicians not too cool to have fun!

The whole thing was wonderful in a way that is hard to convey, and I’ve tried to do so several times in the two days since. Everyone that was there understood what I tried so hard to say, and hopefully I got enough practice on those other folks that I did a better job in this piece.

The bottom line, though, is that Macworld|iWorld is all about the community—the tribe—and that’s something no other show or gathering can claim. CES has its place, and great regional shows like MCE and the developer-oriented conferences being put on by MacTech magazine are great for what they do. Apple’s own WWDC is indispensable to developers, too, though it needs to be bigger or more frequent.

But none of those shows can take the place of Macworld|iWorld for the Mac and iOS tribes, for those of us who have found that we love using Apple products, and IDG found the this literal expression of why and how that’s the case with this drum circle.

The company told me in the middle of it that they had no idea how big a deal the drum circle would be. For me, the fact that IDG was willing to experiment with something so potentially chaotic, something that had so much potential for FAIL, sums up why I love the new direction Macworld|iWorld has taken.

It’s a show for us, for the community of users and vendors alike who don’t own a fleet of retail stores where we can meet up once a year to see what’s going on.

Now, pass the patchouli oil. I want to get ready for the drum circle of Macworld 2013.

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25 Comments Leave Your Own

Shawn King

“This could never have happened at the old Macworld Expo, especially the one Apple was a part of.”

Why not? The same people put the show on, the same people cover the show, the same people attend…There’s no reason why it couldn’t have occurred in the past.

Or are you intimating Apple wouldn’t have allowed such a drum circle to occur?

Bryan Chaffin

Maybe I should write a column explaining my thoughts, Shawn. Oh, wait. I did…

Shawn King

Maybe I should write a column explaining my thoughts, Shawn. Oh, wait. I did?

Cool. Can’t wait to read it. Let me know when you’ve posted it.

Oh…sorry…that was (pointless, unnecessary) sarcasm. You’re saying *this* article explains/answers my question….

Yeah…you only think it does but it really doesn’t. Where in your article does it explain how a drum circle could not have happened at an Expo Apple attended? Where in the article does it explain how this particular expo is different from the previous ones Apple didn’t attend, different in such a way that the drum circle happened this year and not last or the year before.

The simple explanation is that no one at IDG thought of it before this year.

Bryan Chaffin

Rightio, Shawn.

Shawn King

Rightio, Shawn.

Ah…got it…you’d rather not answer any questions about your column. Fair enough. Confusing though. It was an honest question but you’d rather be sarcastic than answer them.

Moeskido

Oh, Shawn. Didn’t you see? He said “this was an expression of tribe… and that tribe is the Mac community.”

See? It’s the Tribe, man. The Mac community.

Neither of which ever existed at the old Macworld, right?

Wait, what?

Bryan Chaffin

No, Shawn, I just don’t want to further reward your Quixotic quest for pointless and artificial drama. Tilt away.

Shawn King

Tilt away.

I honestly have no idea what you are talking about. I’m simply asking why you believe a drum circle couldn’t have happened at previous Expos. Your sarcasm is misplaced and ridiculous, given the question.

Dave Hamilton

I think Bryan’s communicating something in a way that’s not entirely clear to you, Shawn (and perhaps others), but I think I can help. Certainly a drum circle—or any of these individual elements—could have happened at any previous Macworld Expo. But until Apple left, IDG was (by assumption or by assertion) limited to running a pretty typical “expo.” Since Apple left, IDG has felt a great freedom to run anything they want ... that process has been happening for a few years now, and this year it culminated in what I see as the change from this show being limited as just an “Expo” to being a “festival” that contains an expo, but also contains many OTHER elements, too. And you’re right—prior to this year I’m sure no one at IDG thought to have a drum circle, but that’s because up until this year that would have been out of place at the show. This year, it made *total* sense because the vibe was markedly different.

This all hit me on Thursday afternoon (the first day of the show proper). I had given a solo session that morning, done some (traditional) show-floor perusing (but the floor had a very different, festival-type vibe), had also just seen “moe” interviewed and then perform on a stage right there in Moscone West. I was heading from moe to the rapid-fire session that night and as I took a break it hit me: “I had *fun* today, in completely unexpected ways.” That’s when I realized that this show WAS different, and I then forced myself to break out of my “here’s what I do at Macworld Expo” mode and changed things up for the remainder of the week. And it worked. There were so many different things happening that it made sense to apply a different mindset to things. Of course, IDG internally already had this mindset, but that didn’t translate to any of us until we were on-site experiencing it.

And to have a drum circle at the end made total sense.

JQ PUBLIC

I don’t do drugs, I don’t do MacWorld (any more), and I don’t do drum circles (not even as a kid).  Now I know I will not be attending another MacWorld.  Thanks for helping me decide never to attend again, thank you drum circle.

Dave Hamilton

Indeed, JQ, it’s not for everyone. That’s the beauty of it!

cb50dc

The main thing I thought of as I read the story, was, “How fun! MAN! I wish I’d been there!” I did also think of how different this story feels from all the others—precisely because it’s NOT tech. And that delighted me. I was grinning and nodding throughout.

When I read the “couldn’t have happened before” statement, I thought simply, “It was a new, fresh vibe. Cool.” So it completely confounded me when the majority of the responses evidently missed the main focus of the story—and merely pounced on that one statement. Meh.

Bryan, I think you did a great job conveying the exuberance and joyfulness of the happening. THANK YOU for sharing this.

looper

I think Bryan?s communicating something in a way that?s not entirely clear to you, Shawn (and perhaps others), but I think I can help.

THANK you, Dave!  Yes, while I surely enjoyed the article, I didn’t quite “get” why Bryan felt this Expo was so different from previous ones that a drum circle would have been inconceivable before this year (probably because I’ve never had the time or money to go to San Francisco to attend one).  Not to go all Barney on you, but “I think I can help” is a whole lot more, well, helpful than firing off clips of sarcastic comments at each other.

Shawn King

I think Bryan?s communicating something in a way that?s not entirely clear to you, Shawn

Agreed. That’s why I was asking for clarification of Bryan’s statement. I appreciate you stepping in and giving your perspective.

Nancy With Bifocals

To those of us who were there the change in the atmosphere was obvious and palpable.

Susan Gehr

The Mac community is a perfectly awesome community, and I’ve been a part of it for nearly twenty years.

The Mac community is not my tribe and I am not happy with it being described as a tribe. 

I have a problem with an aspect of the closing drum circle and with this article - specifically the literature, signage and descriptions of the gathering as a “tribal gathering” or a “tribal drum circle.” 

Whatever was intended or not intended by the use of those terms, I need to tell you that in general, I find New Age misappropriations and romanticizations of Native American or African tribal culture very upsetting.  I didn’t feel a sense of community when I saw the sign that read “A Tribal Gathering.”

Instead, this use of tribal metaphors bring up in me feelings of resentment and loss.

I start thinking about how my Karuk grandmother was taken off to boarding school when she was just a kid. I start thinking about my Ohlone friends (the people indigenous to the San Francisco Bay area) that have been struggling for federal recognition for more than twenty years and just had their petition rejected - again.

I don’t think that was the effect that IDG and the people at the drum circle were going for, which is why I am taking the time to write this.

It would not even occurred to me to be bothered if the signage said things like “community drum gathering” “community drum circle” or anything that didn’t try to make it sound tribal. I might have even brought my five year old son.  He’s been taking drum lessons and might have really enjoyed himself. 

The Mac community is a perfectly awesome community without wandering towards the awkward territory of playing “tribe.”

Susan Gehr

P.S. - I like John F. Braun’s idea of a cowbell circle.  smile

Bryan Chaffin

Hi Susan,

I appreciate the sentiment behind your post, but I think that your definition of “tribe” is narrower than the word’s actual meanings.

A quick check of dictionary.com’s definition of the word finds five definitions:

1. any aggregate of people united by ties of descent from a common ancestor, community of customs and traditions, adherence to the same leaders, etc.
2. a local division of an aboriginal people.
3. a division of some other people.
4. a class or type of animals, plants, articles, or the like.
5. Animal Husbandry . a group of animals, especially cattle, descended through the female line from a common female ancestor.

Part of #1 and all of #3 apply to both the way IDG was using it and the way I personally took it (your mileage may certainly vary).

If I read your post correctly, you seem to be taking offense based solely on a transgression of the #2 definition of the word. IMO, the word “tribe” is bigger than that.

Bryan Chaffin

P.S. - I like John F. Braun?s idea of a cowbell circle.?

The din heard ‘round the world? :D

Susan Gehr

I appreciate the sentiment behind your post,

Thank you.

but I think that your definition of ?tribe? is narrower than the word?s actual meanings.

A quick check of dictionary.com?s definition of the word finds five definitions:

1. any aggregate of people united by ties of descent from a common ancestor, community of customs and traditions, adherence to the same leaders, etc.
2. a local division of an aboriginal people.
3. a division of some other people.
...

You are technically correct.  My response to IDG’s use of the word “tribe” is based primarily on the second usage of the word. 

Even if IDG’s dictionary usage could technically justify its use of the whole tribal metaphor by insisting that it doesn’t claim to be based on the second usage of the word, the appearance of cultural misappropriation is still there.  My problems with “tribal drum circles” have not changed.  I still find the use of the word tribal to be regrettable.

There are so many other good words for community that don’t carry the same baggage as the word “tribe.” I consulted the thesaurus at merriam-webster.com
and found all sorts of other good words, including society, clan, family, circle, community, coven, pack (the Mac pack! could be fun), fellowship, squad, commune, alliance and so on.  Yes, tribe is there too. Again, technically accurate in some usages, but with problems.

If by the limitation to senses 1 and 3, you mean to suggest that you think IDG never intended to claim to be an aboriginal people and go full-on wannabe Native American, then I will take take that as a step in the right direction.  I would not want to see the Mac community end up looking like these tribal guys in a few years!

wab95

Inspiring article, Bryan.

And yes, it is difficult to convey nuanced emotion to people who were/are not present to witness what one witnesses, let alone have the same emotional response to it.

Looking forward to those podcasts, with or without Shawn King as a special guest.

You are technically correct.? My response to IDG?s use of the word ?tribe? is based primarily on the second usage of the word.?

Susan, I appreciate your point, and applaud your willingness to see the broader definitions of ‘tribe’.

When I was a boy, I was adopted by an African tribe that lived in the environs of our home. The adoption was further solemnified one night with the bestowal of discreet ‘tribal markings’ in a not-so-obvious location on my person, markings that I succeeded in hiding from a vigilant mum for almost all of the following morning. Despite the fact that I came from a different culture, and do not look remotely Ugandan (any tribe), I have always understood that gesture to be a broad and inclusive one that sought to expand their tribal experience to others, rather than to restrict it to those born to it by blood.

I share the concern over endangered cultures and languages, and the need to protect them, but also believe that those who not only share an experience, but are bound together by it in custom and practice, constitute a tribe of sorts.

I would argue that this can be applied to the Mac community.

Susan Gehr

Susan, I appreciate your point, and applaud your willingness to see the broader definitions of ?tribe?.

Then you either misunderstood me or are stretching the significance of my acknowledgement of the existence of the other senses of the word. I still find “tribal drum circles” problematic instances of cultural appropriation.

When I was a boy, I was adopted by an African tribe that lived in the environs of our home. The adoption was further solemnified one night with the bestowal of discreet ?tribal markings? in a not-so-obvious location on my person, markings that I succeeded in hiding from a vigilant mum for almost all of the following morning. Despite the fact that I came from a different culture, and do not look remotely Ugandan (any tribe), I have always understood that gesture to be a broad and inclusive one that sought to expand their tribal experience to others, rather than to restrict it to those born to it by blood.

Yes, and thus experiencing all of the feel-good, uplifting aspects of the culture while being able to sidestep the consequences and the disadvantages of being a member of the culture when it becomes too troublesome.

I share the concern over endangered cultures and languages, and the need to protect them, but also believe that those who not only share an experience, but are bound together by it in custom and practice, constitute a tribe of sorts.

I would argue that this can be applied to the Mac community.

In this era where river rafters still come up to Karuk territory and deliberately raft through sections of the river closed through ceremonies specifically to mock, and where the Wappo people seem to feel it necessary to allow a Catholic school to make a mascot of a ceremonial dancer in order to make connections to people trying to have a say in their bid for federal recognition, I’m saying I would strongly prefer that the Mac community find some other term for its awesome community.

I do not wish to play tribe, in any sense of the word, with the Mac community of which I am otherwise happy to be part.

Dave Hamilton

I do not wish to play tribe, in any sense of the word, with the Mac community of which I am otherwise happy to be part.

Susan, I really respect you, and respect all that you have done, and it’s out of that respect that I initially refrained from commenting and now have decided to comment.

For me, in my life, one of the things I endeavor not to do is to limit my involvement in something simply because of some preconceived notion. And it always pains me to see someone else do the same thing.

In a nutshell, it seems like you’re letting IDG’s use of an English word—one that has a possible definition that is sensitive to you—keep you from enjoying that which you would otherwise do, despite the fact that it was not IDGs intention (before or after) for that word to be used in the manner in which you find it sensitive.

I’ll be the first to admit that this country has done more horrible things for the Native Americans than good. My grandfather was great friends with Korcazak Ziolkowski and his family, a family that has dedicated their lives to the memory of Native Americans and has shunned and continually declined the help of the US Government to do so. This is one example, but it’s one that I was raised with, and runs deep in my psyche. It drives me crazy when our country co-opts that which belonged to the people who were here before us.

However, that above paragraph is all but irrelevant to this discussion (indeed, it’s only relevant because you brought it in here). “Tribe” is an English word, with Romance beginnings—by definition very much NOT American Indian in origin—that dates back to the 1200’s, I believe. If anything, its origins are religious and perhaps specifically Hebrew, and it wasn’t used to describe ethnic groups or clans until many hundreds of years later. Yes, today’s usage definitely includes that of ethnic groups, specifically American Indians, but that was not IDGs intended use, nor was it the interpretation of (m)any of us that were there (I can’t speak for everyone simply because I didn’t ask them). It was very much about community… a community with soul… and for that “tribe” is very much a valid term to use.

Plus… drumming has a very deep connection to all of us (myself perhaps even moreso). By playing drums with all those people (500+!) in that way, we were having a group conversation much deeper than can be expressed by the word “community.” Perhaps even “tribe” doesn’t go deep enough, but it’s certainly much closer than any of the others I’ve seen suggested here.

This circle was truly a magical moment. A celebration, not just of that week, but of the many weeks that came before it over the past few decades… and perhaps even of certain people who were a part of it all. And I’m sad that you (especially you) weren’t able to bring yourself to take part.

Moeskido

As the mostly-European-descended colonists’ children here continue to attempt to tell a Native American how her definition of the word “tribe” lacks both the spirit of inclusion and relevant historical context, I can only be personally thankful that MW|IW didn’t call this event a “minyan.”

Susan Gehr

(I tried to reply a few weeks ago, but I wasn’t allowed to post for some reason.)

Dave,

I’m thinking that you and I could both make the case that the other might be cherry-picking the dictionary in order to make our respective points.  I’m seeing that it comes down to we have had very different experiences in life.  I have an experience of the word tribe that probably 99 percent of the people at Macworld do not. I’m basing that number on the statistic that Native American people make up 1% of the population of the state of California.

But all that sidesteps the fact that nothing is ever going to make *me* comfortable with the use of the word tribe in the context of the Mac community. I can’t even stand it when Survivor comes on. I want to throw bricks at the television when the ads play for that show. That show does not mean tribe to me, it means yet another instance of people playing stereotypical tribe out of historical context.

The Mac community is not my tribe, and suggesting that I’ve misread the dictionary has not changed my mind in that regard. The use of the word in a drum circle context continues to ring an off-note with me.

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