Tam Tams Drumming Sessions
Every Sunday (depending on weather)
George-Étienne Cartier Monument at Mount Royal Park
Montréal, Québec, Canada
Living in Montréal means that I often act as hostess to various friends and family visiting the city. My guests usually know what they want to do while they’re here — visit cool bars, go to the Old Port, and eat poutine at 4 am. Often, however, they have never heard about the Tam Tam sessions in Mont Royal so if we have a lazy Sunday in the works we’ll make our way over to the mountain after brunch. It’s hard to explain, though, what the Tam Tams are about and really, even, why we should go and see this event. Hippies drumming and free-flow dancing in a circle? I admit, it’s not for everyone but it’s a big part of this city and it’s a different part of Montréal living that I like to expose my guests to if they’re open to alternative cultures.
The word tam tams is apparently derived from the French word for hand drums that many of the participants bring to the event: bongo drums, djembe, and even what looks like custom-made steel drums are often brought along to arouse the city from its Sunday slumber. It’s not just drummers, however, as about an equal number of dancers jump in with about three times as many viewers rounding up the circle. The event is not a formal one; you’ll never see any flyers or ads around the city (and the Internet) for the event as people here just know. The drummers starts tickling in around mid-morning, but the circle gets really riled up by early afternoon. Marijuana smoke will flutter in the area as soon as the gathering gets started and culminates into a thick smoke by the time the event is in full force. So if you’re not the biggest fan of accidental inhalation, best to avoid the park on a Sunday and I warn this to runners in the area as well — you may end up chasing more than a runner’s high if you are in the mountain on a Sunday.
The Montréal police force patrol the mountain on horseback but they ignore the open use of the drug, reflecting the relaxed stance on marijuana in the city. This general attitude is shared by the rest of Canada in general though I would argue Montréal is way more liberal on this topic than most cities in the country, minus parts in British Columbia. I’ve brought friends to the Tam Tams who were, um, appalled that children were dancing in the circle amid the heavy smoke. Let’s just say that the French Canadians are very much like Parisians whom are notorious for smoking around bébé — stunning for many North Americans, but a shrug to many of the French and Québecois population.
In addition to the drummers, dancers, and curious onlookers, you’ll also find that the event attracts so many characters from the city. There are also hoola hoopers, vendors selling hacky sacks, as well as food and drinks. If it’s a beautiful day, Montréalers will converge into the area, bringing a towel to lay upon, and bask in the sun and background beats. People in the city actually use parks here, so much more than what I remember when I lived in Toronto. A friend once explained to me that this was because Montréal city living often meant that people did not have a backyard. Hence, the parks were used as extensions of their homes and I find this very true. Montréal has a lot of beautiful parks, and they are all very well maintained. In the summer, my neighbourhood park brims with so many users who picnic, play sports, lounge around, or exercise. These people often stay into the night depending on the park’s opening hours and share a bottle of wine (or two). Open liquor consumption in parks is legal in the city, though only if you bring food to accompany alcohol, and there are also limits on the number and types of liquor permitted.
There aren’t a lot of people picnicking around the Tam Tams which I find a bit of a curious affair. I would think that after all that smoking and exercise the need for munchies would prevail, but I will note that there are often a few food trucks lined up along Parc Avenue. On a hot day, there are a lot of ice cream vendors bicycling around the area, and nothing satisfies a bright day in the park than an icicle melting in your mouth. However, as the end of September nears the Tam Tams are operating on their last legs as once the rain, snow, or freezing temperatures possess the city the drummers are outta there. The success of a Tam Tam event is really weather-dependent, so there won’t be much to see if you try to catch the event on a dreadful Sunday.
One more thing that I want to mention about the Tam Tams is how I love how various kinds of people of the city come together one day a week for this event. Yes, the Tam Tams are very much rooted in counterculture of the hippie sort, but Montréalers generally welcome the event as an important part of the city’s identity. The Sunday Tam Tams attracts some of the most curious city dwellers, some that you can assume that live at the margins of Montréal, but every participant is welcome. Families bring their babies, students bring their cameras, and the hard-core Tam Tam players come sprouting with feathers or laminated in metallic. And all around, everyone is smiling.
Parc du Mont-Royal, Montréal