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.