Monday, March 31, 2008

Freaking HUGE

blisters on my ring fingers and pinkies tonight. I mean, big, fat, full of liquid blisters.

I think I will have to tape them up to practice this week, so they don't burst all over my djembe.

Oh, yeah, baby. Badges of honor.

I wonder if I will ever get past feeling happy when my hands get trashed while playing?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sore fingers

We had a great class tonight. We met at the church and left the front door open, so periodically, folks would step in off the street and listen for awhile. One guy, who I think was drunk, sat in with us until he got too disruptive and we had to take his drum away. Too bad.

But oh, I just can't believe what a joy it is to play a djembe. Lisa, our dun dun player, is taking lessons and has been getting really good really fast. Sometimes I am grooving to her beat so much I just want to drop my drum and dance with her. But it is even more fun to play the djembe part against the duns and hear how the rhythms play against one another.

I couldn't stop singing the new part we learned... all the way home: TTSTTSSS... I didn't want to eat dinner, just play. Didn't want to talk to my brother, who was over. Just play. I'd be playing right now if it wasn't so late.

Lord, God. Thank you for my drum. My teacher. My fellow players. Thank you.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Splitting head ache- part 2

Not toilet paper, as James suggested in his comment. But yes, super glue. Who'da thought?

First Sidy took a flexible double edged razor blade and scraped across the skin to create some dust. I joked that he was mostly getting dried sweat, but no matter.

He made a little pile of the dust on the split at the edge and then impregnated it with super glue and let it dry.

That's it. It will hold for as long as it holds and I am fully reconciled that at some point my beautiful goatskin will have to retire. In the mean time, I am going to order some kevlar rope so that when it does break, I can be ready, as some of the rope on my drum is a bit frayed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Big Mali Adventure

North America? Check
Europe? Check
Asia? Check
Africa? Bring it on, baby!

I think this might actually happen. Sidy is planning a 2 week workshop in Bamako in January, 2009 and I am thinking that unless some kind of disaster strikes, I am going!

He is going to arrange for a house for us to stay in and we'll take drumming and dance classes every day, then go to social events and parties in the evenings and on weekends. Want to come? Check his website for updates as the details start to come together. You can email me, too, to get on a mailing list for information.

Bamako 2K9.

Oh yeah.

Playing with kids and a goodbye of sorts

Last night Sidy was sick, so he asked me if I would teach the kid's class.

Uh, Yeah! It was great fun. I asked the kids to teach me the rhythms they have been working on and they did. At one point we were floundering a bit, so Sidy came over and showed us the proper way to play it, but after that we were on our own. It was good fun.

Later, for the adult class, we were working on Wassolonka. We got a new part to it, which I like a lot, even though it is very simple. But Sidy told us that next week is our last week playing Wassolonka before we move on to a new piece. It has been three months now. Time to say goodbye to it.

I am excited about what is next.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A splitting head-ache

There I was, happily playing away this afternoon, when I noticed a bump on the head of my drum. How very strange, I thought as I leaned over for a closer look.

Then, to my absolute horror, I realize that the bump is in fact a tiny bit of the skin that is splitting on the edge. My heart stopped. My throat clutched. I looked around for a bag to breathe into.

Then I called my teacher to ask if there is a way to prevent the whole thing from splitting apart.

He reassured me that even if it splits, he will put a new head on it for me. He has beautiful new skins from Mali. And I know he loves this drum as much as I do. He will do a great job.

But, I LOVE my drumhead.

I guess as a player, I have to get used to the fact that these things don't last.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Vouloir ce pouvoir

Roughly translated "If you want it, it can happen" Or perhaps it is more of an imperative.... "If you want it, make it possible"

Sidy told me this Malian saying when I told him that I want to be a better drummer.

Today, as I requested, we worked on my repeating edge patterns. First, I have to get better at making distinctive tones and slaps. I need more practice with this.

Next, we started working on some of the subtle rhythms from Wassolonka. I am training my ear to hear how it is supposed to sound. He has me singing the part then playing it. We were working on the 6th voice of the piece, which I learned last week. I realized, finally, that I was over-emphasizing the initial bass and had to put the emphasis on the tone that follows instead. That shifted the sound enough for the rhythm to start to emerge. I can't tell you how cool it is to work on something and then finally get it.

Of course I will probably forget it by Monday's class, but I think now that I have played it correctly, it will be easier to get it right next time.

What joy this is.

Tonight I am going to the drumming circle at the Blackstone River Theater. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Playing my drum to sing

There are a few rhythms that have repetitive edge hits. Dansa has one, Wassolonka has one... Sounou, too.

When Sidy plays them, it is like the drum is singing. It is beautiful. When I play them it sounds like someone slamming a 10 penny nail with a 1 lb. hammer. It is a sad story.

Part of the difference is that Sidy's tones and slaps are very distinctive. Part of it is that he is varying the tempo as he plays to give it texture. In my case, I am neither playing distinctive tones and slaps, nor varying the tempo. I just pound the edge of the drum in time and hope for the best.

So tomorrow, at my lesson, I want to work on the repetitive parts and see if I can get my drum to sing a little, too.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Jones

All weekend I have felt like a cat in a cage. Restless. Yesterday I finally figured out that I wanted to play drums. I looked online to see if there were any drum circles going on. No.

Today I got a tiny tease. We played at my church for the Palm Sunday service, but only for a few minutes. I wanted to play more.

I am restless.

I could practice. In fact, I WILL practice.

But it isn't the same as playing with my peeps.

I have the jones. Bad.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Habib Koite is coming to RI!

I just got word that Habib will be playing Lupos in Providence on May 7th. Tickets are $35 each for adults and $20 for kids and will raise money for the Global Alliance to Immunize against AIDS, a local RI Foundation that does much work in Mali.

Here's the info:

Host: Annie, Sophie, Robert and the GAIA Vaccine Foundation *
Location: Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel
Washington Street, Providence, RI 02903 US
When: Wednesday, May 7, 8:00PM
Phone: 401.453.2068

I'll see you there!

Toughen up

I practiced a lot today and my hands are starting to get their callouses back. Yeah.

This morning I went to the demon-spawn Walmart and bought some cotton webbing to make a djembe strap. I bought 7 yards, but 6, or even 5, would have been enough. The webbing is much thicker than the strap Sidy uses, but I like it. It is more comfortable, especially with my big, heavy drum. I spent some time playing standing up today to get the feel of it.

Also, Sidy and I are starting to talk about the trip to Mali next winter. We are going to set up a 2 week intensive class in Bamako and invite people to come. I am really excited about it. I'll let you know as the details emerge... but it will be a great time. Not only will we play drums every day, but we'll get to go to social events listen to other drummers, take dance classes and generally immerse ourselves in the culture of Mali for a couple of weeks. Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in getting more information.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Readers of my other blog, The Big Dunk, know that this has been a tough week. One of my husband's sisters died over the weekend and it has been a very sad time. Yesterday, the last of the formal rites of passage, the cremation, took place.

So today, when my teacher called to ask if I wanted to get together for a lesson, I said yes.

This was the first time since I got back from Vietnam that we got together and I was amazed at how relaxed I felt. Usually for a private lesson, I get all nervous. I think that too much has happened in the last few weeks for me to get twitchy about drumming at this point. I was just happy to see my teacher and excited to be playing my drum.

He taught me a new part to Wassolonka, which was challenging. Normally, I can't get a new part when I first learn it. I get all flustered, make tons of mistakes, which gets me more flustered, and then have to abandon it until I am alone to work through it. Today, though, I just kept trying until I more or less had the handing and then started to listen for the rhythm. I was excited that I was able to get it the first time out, especially since it is a tricky piece.

My drum sounds fantastic. While I was in Vietnam, I think Sidy tuned it even higher than it was before and I am delighted with how expressive it sounds now. I am really beginning to hear the difference between tones and slaps and am finding that by using the correct one, the rhythm of the piece is easier to grasp.

And yes, when I was listening to my teacher demonstrate the part, I was, again, blown away by how beautiful it sounds when he plays it. I laughed and said I sound like a sledge hammer.

But truly, it was sweet to just pick up a part and play.

Another cool thing: This Sunday, Palm Sunday, at my church, Sidy and my fellow students and I are going to play during the service. I am so excited for my churchy friends to get to hear my drummy friends.

If it wasn't Lent, I would say Hallelujah.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Cham drummers in Vietnam

Aside from the fact that they are beautiful, they were amazing players, too.

The drums are headed with goatskin on one end and buffalo hide on the other. The drummers mirror each other, with their upper hands on the goatskin head and a drumstick in their lower hand beating the buffalo skin.

The rhythms were complex. They were layering 4 different rhythms at a time. It was really amazing!

I am going to try and find out about buying one of the drums and maybe set up a lesson with these guys next time I am in Vietnam.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I'm back, baby

After three weeks in Vietnam, I am home and had my first djembe class last night. What a blast!

First, I got to see my drum again after a long absence. It looked beautiful, but more importantly, sounded great. Sidy had it while I was away and I actually had a nightmare that it broke while I was gone... but nope, it is in fine shape. I had to laugh because my hands got very sore while playing last night. They are way out of shape.

Sidy's new drums came in while I was gone, too. They are just gorgeous. I saw a few of them last night and can't wait to see (and play) the rest of them. One of the kids in the children's class bought one of them and it is about the prettiest skin I have ever seen.

During class, Lisa was playing the dun duns and it was wonderful to be laying the djembe parts over the bass drums. It helped to make us aware of the rhythm and timing. I felt like we were really starting to dig into the intricacies of the piece we are working one. Lisa was using real African drumsticks, too, which are shaped a little like hammers and are made of a very light wood. (Almost as light as balsa, really.) They were very cool indeed and she sounded great with them.

We had a couple of new students, too, who were able to pick up the rhythms very quickly. It was kind of unbelievable, actually, because Wassolonka has such complex rhythms.

So, I am back. I am happy to be playing again.