Stick pounding is a traditional form of musical communication created by enslaved people in South Carolina’s Sea Islands. As musician and educator Melanie DeMore explains in the short documentary Stick & Pound, the enslaved were without a common language, making communication between them nearly impossible. Additionally, following a slave uprising, a ban on drums—which had traditionally been used as a form of communication among African people—was enacted. Without drumming, other means of rhythmic communication had to be found.

Stick and pound enabled them to create an entire language, a way to spread news, to reach out to one another, all through the sonic language of feet and sticks pounding on the ground. This tradition has been carried into the present by the Gullah people, the descendants of those original enslaved Africans who still call the islands home. DeMore has been doing her part to expand the art even further, teaching this tradition at workshops across the country. “The energy is immense,” she says of doing the dance in a group. “It’s beyond congregational, it connects us as a human tribe.”

The film was created by the San Francisco film-making team It Donned on Me, who created the film as part of the 2008 International Documentary Challenge, which gives teams five days to make a nonfiction film.

The tradition of stick and pound is part of a DeMore’s larger belief in music as a communal experience. In an interview on her work she talked about music’s ability to bind and connect us. When people make music, she said, “in that moment, they are together.”

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