Monday, April 28, 2008

The Gap

I once was talking with a friend about the gap between where you are and where you want to be in life. We were discussing spiritual growth, but I think the concept works for anything you are trying to develop.

I have been acutely aware of the gap between my playing skills as they are and the skills I want to have.

The other night, for example, I went to a drumming circle in Warren and one of my new Malian friends showed up. For part of the evening I sat next to him so we could play together. It was great fun, but left me realizing just how far I need to go before I am the kind of player I dream of being.

Vouloir, ce pouvoir.

I want to be able to play solos. I want to play stronger, harder, faster, longer, better.

But I also want to enjoy where I am right this minute... and not let the gap frustrate me too much.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Master Drummer Speaks

Abdoulaye Diakite talks about the djembe. LOVE this clip... especially the part about not pulling your ropes on a Friday night.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Learning a new rhythm

I love learning a new rhythm, even when it is so hard I cry.

When, at 3am, I wake up in the night with a rhythm playing in my head. Learning to sing a new rhythm. Using the stretched membranes of my vocal cords as a miniature drum to create the tones and sounds of a complicated pattern. In this I am learning the drum language of my teacher. Not the predictable (but useful) go do pa ta of the Nigerians, but the 'biddy ba, biddy biddy ba' of Mali. Or maybe it is just Sidy's drum language, but it is the one I am learning to speak.

I love driving home from class with a fresh rhythm in my heart, playing it on the steering wheel so I won't forget it before I get home.

Hearing Sidy play a new rhythm. I want to pull close, closer still, as though if I am right there, right there next to him, I will hear it more clearly... it will sink in more completely. I will smell it and feel it and sense it better. Because when he plays it, the sounds dance and sing, his drum's voice teases and cajoles and beckons my drum to follow.

I love the feel of the skin, even when my hands are sore. I close my eyes and feel the goat's backbone skin, thicker and, on my drum, curved, like a meandering path that leads to sonic bliss.

I love when I turn the corner on a rhythm. When it goes from unintelligible movements and sounds to a pattern. When I can spontaneously sit at a drum and just 'remember' the pattern without having to think about it. When it becomes woven into the fabric of my being and suddenly, unexpectedly, it is mine.

I love learning a new rhythm.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Malians

Two of Sidy's friends joined us for class last night and the energy was unbelievable. We played the Mendiani parts harder and faster than we ever had before. Lisa was slamming on the dun duns. I was slamming on the djembe. I think the Malian drummers were impressed at how good we were. And you could tell that Sidy was having a ball. Maybe he was even a little proud of us.

It was funny, but lots of the other djembe students don't have the parts yet, so the sound was a little cacophonis...but I hung onto Lisa's dun duns for dear life and it kept me on track with the rhythm, which is exactly what the duns are supposed to do. She later told me that she was listening to me, too. It is a little like mountain climbers who rope themselves together for safety. In the midst of the multitude of drum voices, we are listening only to each other and to Sidy and are able to cling to the side of the mountain without falling into the abyss. And when one of us did fall, the other was there to help pull her to safety.

Let me tell you, the view from the summit was spectacular.

It was great fun playing with Malian drummers. I can't wait to do it again.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Shea butter is my friend

My hands feel rough, so today I am putting a ton of shea butter on them.

Now my keyboard and mouse are greasy!

Or not

I felt so high after the drumming circle last night. The big boy djembe players came and played fast and furious and I kept up with them pretty well.

For me, the highlight of the night was when I started playing the Sounou accompaniment and got 30 drummers to find the groove. One guy in particular actually figured out the handing and was playing away next to me. Then, when it was well established, I started playing the solo riffs. It was AWESOME! Playing solo to 30 back up drums was such a gas. And I think Sidy would have been proud that I even improvised on the phrase. And I was playing in the rhythm.

So how strange that today at my lesson I was having such a hard time with the third solo voice of Mendiani. I just could not get it. I couldn't even hear how I wasn't getting it. I just knew I didn't have it. At one point, I actually felt myself tearing up. The funny thing is I don't know exactly why I wanted to cry. I wasn't mad or frustrated. Just kind of sad.

Later I called my teacher and asked him to sing the part to me over the phone one more time so I could try and figure it out. But I am still not sure if I have it.

Up the mountain and then crash.

Maybe I am fighting a cold.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Jesus and drumming

My friend Swandive dropped by and commented that the drumming seems to be a vehicle for transformation. I couldn't agree more. My friend Lucia and I are always talking about the parallels between being a Christian and being a drumming student.

The big one, of course, is humility. I am learning that true humility is possible when you are fearless. Or maybe it is that you can be fearless when you are humble. Doesn't that seem oxymoronic? (Or maybe just moronic, LOL!)

But really, when my teacher says I am not ready to do a certain thing, like play out with him at a gig, instead of feeling sad or disappointed, I feel great joy that the implication is that someday I will be ready. And I feel safe in his assessment of my skills... like he won't set me up to bomb. He will take care of me and give me just what I can handle... or maybe a little bit more so that in my mistakes I can grow.

God pushes me that way, too.

An another thing- I am learning to accept the fact that I may never be a great drummer. Maybe I will be just ok. But THAT is ok, too. Because I am the best drummer I can be. As a Christian, I can't possibly hope to be 'great'. That isn't the nature of a spiritual walk. I am just the best I can be and that is enough.

And sometimes I stumble. I falter on a beat. I get tired and have to stop. I lose a rhythm and can't find it again. Or, as a Christian, I act like an asshole despite my best intentions. I screw up. Yet even in those mistakes, there is the Grace of being able to learn and improve and sometimes deepen my understanding of the relationship because I am humble enough to be


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Too much is never enough


Eat. Sleep. Play. Work. Rehead.

A djembe, that is. Today I am stringing the uprights on one of Sidy's drums. It is my first go at it and I am fully aware that I might have to take the whole thing apart again if I do a bad job. When I formed the loops on the bottom ring of the drum, I had to take it out and redo it three times to get it right. But when Sidy asked if I wanted to give the drum back and let him finish it, I asked if I could keep it for awhile longer.

I love drums.

Monday, April 14, 2008


I am not sure what is going on, lately, but I am noticing that I am sounding a little feisty in my posts about drumming. Is my swagger keeping pace with my callouses? Am I feeling too big for my britches? Am I discovering my inner djembefola and she's one tough cookie?

I am not sure!

Over at the Big Dunk, I almost never get feisty in my posts. I am mostly writing about the awe and joy of my relationship with the Big Guy. But here, it's like I have discovered I have a dual nature. A drumming Jekyll and Hyde.

Do I need to tone it down a bit do you think?


Sunday, April 13, 2008

And now for something completely different

Today I drove to Worcester to take a Bodhran workshop with Mance Grady. Bodhran is an Irish frame drum. You play it with a single stick called a tipper. The drum I borrowed from my friend Tom was actually made by Mance, who is a well known player, drum-maker and teacher here in New England.

I know one workshop isn't enough to really understand an instrument, but I found myself missing the complex, heady brew of African rhythms I am used to.

We played a couple of pieces during the workshop. A reel, a jig and even a polka. Tappety tappety tappety tappety.

I got back to Grace church this afternoon, just in time to sit down with Lucia and practice the new Mendiani parts for an hour before class time tonight.

For whiskey, I might pick Ireland. But for drumming, I'll take Mali!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Banga Banga Bang Bang

I must respectfully disagree with an acquaintance's assessment that drumming should be slow and steady, 4/4 rhythm, meditative, trance inducing... you get the idea.

What about energizing? What about getting you out of your chair and dancing for hours because you can't possibly sit down while the sound waves are scrambling every molecule in your body. What about communicating the complexities of life in a rhythm with so many layers you can not possibly begin to tease them apart? What about ecstatic, crazy, bouncing in your seat, smashing your fingers to a pulp because you can't feel them anymore, energy?

No, drum circle friend. That might be true at circles. But that is not how drumming 'should' be all the time.

I tell you, all of Africa can't be wrong about this.

Naked drums and the whirling dervish

The naked drum:

Regular readers (as if I actually had such an animal) might remember that several months ago, while tuning his cowskinned djembe, Sidy broke the bottom ring. Well, fast forward through a trip to Mali, a bunch of new drums and a busy schedule and it might not surprise you that the drum was, as of a week ago, still sitting in a corner of Sidy's apartment, forlornly waiting to be repaired.

Enter Nguyen, my husband. Or more precisely, his friend Dave, who graciously welded the ring, gratis. I facilitated this by stripping the ropes from the drum. So, yesterday, while attending my lesson, I spied the naked drum sitting in the kitchen. I asked Sidy if I could try to restring it, knowing full well that my handiwork might stink and need to be redone. But how much fun! The top ring still has it's loops... all 31 of them. So, this morning, my challenge was to try and fit 31 loops on the bottom ring without running out of rope. (Trying to use the original rope is proving QUITE difficult.) I'll keep you posted on my progress.

The Whirling Dervish:
Last night I went to Black Rep for Afro-Sonic to play with Sidy and Lisa. It was fantastic. There were several other drummers. I tuned my djembe down a bit so I would be able to play more softly in the crowd. It sounded good. Unfortunately, after the second set, I made the mistake of offering my drum to a guy from Ghana. He never gave it back! So, rather than interrupt him to get my drum back, I just stood in front of the players and danced like a madwoman for over an hour. Note to self: Do NOT wear clogs for dancing, you dingbat.

I got home at three am and was so wired I couldn't sleep.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Mendiani ass-kicking


Learned the accompaniment and first two solo parts to Mendiani tonight and all I can say is, well, wow.

I recorded them, but truthfully, I am not too sure I am going to be able to make heads nor tails of the recordings. I'll have to ask my teacher to give me the hand positions so I can write them down.

We made a little agreement in class that if we learn the parts really well, he will demonstrate the dance for us. You can bet we'll all be practicing! Ha!

In other news, one of Sidy's drum heads split as he was tuning it and I offered to unstring the ropes for him so he can replace the head. So tonight after class, I sat and watched cheesy tv while undoing impossibly tight diamonds made with incredibly scratchy rope. I had to use a flathead screw driver to pry the ropes apart, but even so my hands are sore. The incongruity of sitting in front of the tube doing something that has been done for millennia was not lost on me.

Next I want to learn to string it back up again.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

THIS is what I am talking about

Check it out:

Sidy Maiga, my teacher, jams on the djembe.