The healing power of Haitian drumming

Rick Bausman brings a communal music experience to the Vineyard to promote positivity following the pandemic.


Rick Bausman is using the healing power of Haitian Vodoun drumming to bring joy and togetherness to Martha’s Vineyard after a period where people were held back from communal ceremonies and performances for so long.

On Monday, June 21, from 4 to 6 pm, an outdoor concert at Native Earth Teaching Farm in Chilmark will transform the space into one big group healing session, with Vodoun drumming leading the way, alongside some of the Island’s favorite musical acts.

Over this past year, Bausman, an Island musician known for his hand drumming, has been working hard on an ambitious initiative called the Milokan Project, which seeks to construct cultural centers in Haiti so that people can go there to learn about the vast culture and history that has been so severely misrepresented in America.

Through his benevolent drumming organization, Rhythm of Life, Bausman will host “Danse Milokan,” and welcome friends Mike Benjamin, Hudson Bausman, Paul Thurlow, and Rob Loyot to Native Earth Teaching Farm. Seth Cooperider will be in charge of sound and tech for the event.

“I was trying to think of what Rhythm of Life and I could do to help our community sort of heal from being so wrapped up in the pandemic,” Bausman told The Times. “I know how beneficial drum circles are, so I figured maybe we could use that idea to bring our community some joy.”

When he was cooped up in his home studio during the pandemic, Bausman said, he drew from his inspirations in Haiti, and was writing music when he had the idea to combine the rhythmic ceremonial drumming with some funky guitar and bass parts that act almost like accompanying drums.

“Each part that is played is fairly simple, but when that sound locks in with about eight other sounds that are all working together, it makes the music sound very complex,” Bausman said. “The key is to really treat the guitar and bass parts like you would a drum in a ceremonial ensemble.”

According to Bausman, some psychologists and sociologists have referred to Haitian ceremonial drumming as communal therapy, and he wanted to provide an authentic experience for people on-Island, with a little new age flair added in with the guitar and bass parts.

Not only will folks be able to bring blankets, food, and drinks to enjoy as they listen to the music — artists can paint, sculptures can sculpt, dancers can dance. Bausman said the drumming experience is all about individual expression and interpretation, and he welcomes people to enjoy whatever creative medium they want during the show.

Although the show is free, donations are accepted, and funds raised will go to bringing Haitian drummers (whom Rick works with on the Milokan Project) to the Island this summer for more performances.

“We are going to be doing it all — drumming, dancing, art, cooking, metalworking,” Bausman said, and stressed that the more word of the shows spreads in America and in Haiti, the greater the bond between the two Island communities will become.

The Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation is providing a partial grant to Rhythm of Life for the Danse Milokan concerts, and Bausman hopes they will be successful, so he can continue to bring Haitian drummers to the Island and grow the circle of connection.

“We all miss that kind of closeness, and that feeling of being together and having a shared experience that each person maybe gets something different from,” Bausman said. “Everyone looks at art a different way, but everyone can take something away from it.”

With 10 massive satellite speakers surrounding the concert venue, Bausman calls the entire experience a “vortex of sound energy” that will draw people together: “It’s really going to be one big party with all sorts of creativity and emotion flying around.”

By creating a vast landscape of rhythmic and meditative sounds and cadences, Danse Milokan encourages folks to be inspired by the music, and create their own art.

“I am hoping to do a bunch of these concerts. The Chappy Community Center already wants me to do it, Alex’s Place is interested in having us go there, so people really want to be a part of this,” Bausman said. “It’s time for us to come together to heal our community and allow the community to heal us. This is the whole idea of the music. I want to invite people to bring their painting supplies so they can paint the music, they can make crafts, and I am going to put a piece of plywood out with a whole bunch of chalk and paint and just let people express themselves.”

According to Bausman, the Haitian musical culture has provided him with endless inspiration and knowledge, and he wouldn’t be the same artist without those influences. “I wouldn’t be able to offer what I offer to the Island community if it weren’t for my friends and my connections in Haiti, and the amazing music,” Bausman said.

“We have really benefited so much musically from Haiti, so I think it’s appropriate to celebrate that connection, and make it even stronger,” Bausman said.

The Vineyard Transit Authority is making buses available to shuttle people to and from Danse Milokan for free. Parking will be available at the event location, with signs and parking lot attendants.