Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Street Cred

When I first told my brother that I was taking up African Drumming, he chuckled. All he could imagine was a bunch of middle aged white women getting together to get 'spiritual' at some kind of drum circle.

Even after he met my teacher, he really didn't understand. He knew I was serious, but I think he had a hard time taking my playing seriously until he actually saw me play with Sidy. One night, Sidy and I sat down and played Dansa together. From that point on, Jake knew that this wasn't some American middle class dumbed down version of African drumming. It was the real deal.

I have come to face the fact that I will probably always have to prove myself as a drummer, not just because I am American, but because I am a woman, I am white and I am over 40. I have, in other words, no real credibility EXCEPT my skills. I did not grow up hearing this stuff at every wedding. I have no innate sense of rhythm. I have no cultural connection to this music. The only thing I have is dedication, hard work and the willingness to practice every day. Play every day. Take lessons 2 or 3 times a week. Eat, dream, sleep, wake up in the middle of the night working through a rhythm, every day. The only thing I have going for me is my love for this instrument, the culture it came from, and my amazing teacher.

I know there are people out there who don't think I deserve to play a djembe. There was a whole series of articles, recently, at Culture Central exploring this very issue.

Part of me is very sad about this. Part of me is angry. I feel compassionate, too, because I think I understand where it all comes from. But mostly I feel that the only way to prove that I deserve to play this instrument is to be the best player I can possibly be.

At the end of the day, there is really only one thing that matters. My teacher thinks I deserve to play. For me, that is the most important thing.


Spinning said...

Rachel, I think... you have to take people where they are, and vice versa. Like I said on the forum, we all take ourselves wherever we go, and a lot of the things that some are upset about have less to do with race per se than with other issues.

As a fellow Christian, I find myself having to try to put myself in the other person's shoes. it's not always easy, but ... we have a few commands about that, no? As a fellow white woman over a certain age, well... the thing with *any* kind of music (or any other area of the performing arts) is that someone, somewhere, is going to be closed-minded about something simply because... they are. (i.e., they're human and all of us humans have our individual prejudices and blind spots).

My thought is that you be you, follow Christ, play music. Your heart's in the right place, and people will see and hear that. I don't think anyone gains automatic acceptance based on skin color, or... any number of other factors.

If you let this whole quandry keep stewing, your feelings about it could keep you from getting to know others who share the same passion. (I say this because I'm struggling with it myself!) Best to just go ahead, learn, play, and treat others as you would like to be treated...

I hope these thoughts are helpful, and not me just rambling. ;-)

Spinning said...

Oops - "quandary," not "quandry."

Spinning said...

One last thing: this article (I think) helps show that there are difficulties that every drummer - and dancer - faces in class and out of it. though the article is about dance, you could apply it to the music as well...

Rachel said...

Hey Spinning,

I am surprised that you got a sense that I was 'stewing' about this from this post. I am not stewing at all! I am all the more determined to work hard, study hard, practice hard. The only way I will ever be able to offer an answer on this issue is with my hands on a goat skin, LOL.

As to your comment about taking people as they are, where they are, I agree, certainly. I pray for everyone involved to have compassion for each other.

Spinning said...

Oh man, i'm sorry that I misread you - which I really did do. Text-only communication can be so hard sometimes! (and this whole subject is so fraught, as you've seen from my responses...)

And I think you're entirely right about the only response you (we) can offer, too.

Rachel said...

No worries!

This is a difficult issue, for sure. As I said over on Djembefola... and will say here, I think that talking about it is a very good thing. Opening the lines of communication, listening with open minds and open hearts, is really important.

My basic point in the post is that I am going to have to prove myself as a musician over and over again... which means I have to work hard to be good enough to do that.

At the end of the day, I hope that we, all of us, will be agents of healing.

Spinning said...

"Amen" to everything you're saying, Rachel!