12 Dec 2023

Preparing for the mother of all drum circles

From Three to Seven, 4:00 pm on 12 December 2023
Auckland percussionist Demetrius Savai-inaea

Demetrius Savai-inaea Photo: Jinki Cambronero

Demetrius Savai'inaea is planning to make a lot of noise on Saturday 16 March. In fact, he's hoping to pack out Auckland's Aotea Square with thousands of people doing the same.

The Samoan-born drummer is leading a public drum circle in the square as part of next year's Auckland Arts Festival . He's drumming up support speaking with RNZ Concert host, Bryan Crump.

Nepali New Year celebrations in Aotea Square

How many drummers can you fit inside this square? Photo: RNZ / Rahul Bhattarai

You don't need to bring your own drum kit, Savai'inaea says. Anything that makes a good noise when it's hit will do – plus something to hit it with.

"The whole idea of that particular day is for the whole public to show up with a hand drum, or some kind of percussive instrument, just your hands, or a couple of pens ... and have a whole lot of fun."

He's hoping he can fill Aotea Square with at least five thousand drummers, which is some way off the current world record set in Hong Kong in 2007 but still represents a lot of noise.

Savai'inaea isn't quite sure how he ended up organising the event. One moment he's talking with arts festival management about what a fun idea it would be, and then "they just looked at me and said okay, you're it".

Perhaps it's Savai'inaea's reputation as a youth mentor, having introduced the art of drumming to many young Aucklanders through Sistema Aotearoa.

He even ran DIY drumming sessions during the Covid lockdown.

Drumming came naturally to Savai'inaea, although he didn't know it at the time. He recalls constantly being told off at home for tapping the walls, or anything else within reach, when he was a child.

It wasn't until he was around 14, watching bands at his high school (Tangaroa College in Otara) that it occurred to him perhaps this was something he could play.

But what really set Savai'inaea on a musical course was a serious neck injury sustained playing rugby.

At the age of 18, he had his heart set on becoming a professional player, packing down as a hooker in the front row. 

Scrum training at 'Ikale Tahi practice in Spain.

Initially Savai'inaea wanted to work in the front of one of these. Photo: Tonga Rugby Union

As the rugby season drew to a close, Savai'inaea was troubled by problems with his balance, or his left side going numb, but he didn't think anything of it.

What he didn't realise was that he'd been playing rugby with a broken neck.

Eventually his coach noticed something was up and sent him to the physio, who sent him to the doctor in time to save his life, but not his budding rugby career.

"I cried when they told me what had happened."

Luckily, Savai'inaea had a good music teacher who suggested he could focus on the drums instead.

Rugby's loss became music's gain. 

When not making music for a living, Savai'inaea enjoys showing young Aucklanders how to channel their youthful energy in something constructive – making music with the drums.

What advice does he have for parents and guardians who find themselves with children who want to make a percussion instrument out of most things in the house?

"Don't discourage them from making all that noise. Try and guide them into something that could build their confidence ... not break them down to think that drumming is bad."

But if you are buying your kids a drum kit, Savai'inaea says make it an electronic one, which they can listen to on their headphones. All the adults will hear will be the gentle tapping of the rubber drum pads.

A drum circle

A few potential members of Demetrius' drum circle jamming earlier. Photo: Lucius Beebe Memorial Library

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