Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Back with, well, a bang

I was in Nova Scotia for a week with the family. I brought a drum for practicing, but since we were in a tiny cabin, wedged in next to other tiny cabins, I couldn't really practice much. Only once, when the weather was dry, was I able to take the drum to the beach and find a rock to sit on and play for awhile.

It is amazing how much I was jonesing. I don't think I realized how much playing has become part of my life.

When I got back, I jumped back into class with great enthusiasm. I felt like I was playing better than I had for a long time. Maybe the time off was good.

Yesterday I went to see my teacher and his uncle, Issa Coulibaly, play at a park in Providence. They played with a couple of his uncle's students. It was really interesting. I had never actually seen my teacher perform with another Malian player before. They obviously play together pretty frequently because they are very tight together. Issa was on the dun duns and Sidy was playing solo djembe. The two students were playing accompaniment.

Issa soloed quite a bit on the dun duns. Clearly he is an excellent player. It was fun to hear how he worked the rhythm, holding the main rhythm for the rest of the players while simultaneously moving around within it.

I learned something from watching the students, too. One of them seemed to be struggling a little bit. Frankly, I couldn't hear any big errors, but he had a bit of a 'deer in the headlights' look about him that betrayed his nervousness. I realized that I probably look exactly like that when I play with Sidy, LOL. It suddenly became clear what Sidy is talking about when he says he would rather have me make mistakes than be nervous. I need to learn to relax and have a good time, even when I am making mistakes. And for God's sake, I have to remember to smile even if I am bombing!

And of course, watching Sidy play was amazing. I especially liked it when he stood up and played with the dancer. They faced off and had a great time together. He was speeding up and she was matching his pace. They seemed to move back and forth in a beautiful give and take. It was wonderful to watch.

What a treat to come home to!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Last weekend I asked my teacher if I could play the accompaniment parts for class, rather than work on the solos. I did this for a couple of reasons. First, it seems that the accompaniment is always the part that gives me the most trouble, especially if I am having a hard time hearing how it meshes with the dun duns. Second, I wanted to take a step back and just work on listening to whole rhythm working together. And finally, I always play accompaniment when I go to gigs with Sidy, so I wanted to work on them a bit.

What a great experience. It was awesome hearing all the parts layered together, and wonderful to be a part of the rhythm section with my friend Lisa. I found myself sliding off the beat a couple of times, but was able to find my way back to her. I loved being able to speed up and slow down, too.

At Monday's class we did the same thing. I accompaniment for awhile before getting back to the solo parts. I left feeling much better.

Back to basics. Good stuff.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

genuine gross me out

I worked on a drum today.

The ring had broken, so first off, I sent the ring off to the welder for repair. Unfortunately, it was the rope harness ring, so I had to remove all the rope and then replace it once the ring came back. Twice, because I measured wrong and ended up with too few loops.

Then I got the skin out of its bath and noticed it didn't smell good.

But I am game, so I started working on the stinking skin and getting it on the drum. I re-roped the uprights. And, oh God the thing reeked.

Shaving it was perhaps the most disgusting thing I have ever done. The hair was just falling off it in clumps. And stink. Oh, stink.

Finally I was done with the shaving and decided to pull it a little bit before it was too dry. So on it's side, I pulled the verticals, holding my breath and gritting my teeth.

I lift up the drum and.... CRAP.

There was a huge gaping hole in the middle of the stinkiest skin in the Universe.

I couldn't stand undoing the whole thing while it was wet, so I just stuck it in the garage and hoped there were no vultures hanging around.

I think the moral of the story is that a really stinky skin must indicate that it has rotted at some point. Which means it isn't good drum material. Next time I will just toss it and start with a new one.

AfroSonic in the New York Times today

The NY Times had an online piece about Providence that featured the AfroSonic Collective at Black Rep. The article had a great picture of Sidy.

Dance crazy

Drumming and dancing go hand in hand.

On Fridays, I have been going to AfroSonic at Black Rep to listen to my teacher and friends play drums to the amazing deep house played by the DJs. Often, during the first set, I am the only one dancing. Tonight I was having a hard time hearing the drums, so I just waltzed out to the middle of the dance floor, closed my eyes and let go. I was completely alone out there and I didn't give a shit.

I don't care if I look like a goofball. When I close my eyes and listen, really listen, to the rhythm, I am transported to another world. My body responds to the beat of the drums and the thud of the DJs. I feel the music in my bones, in my soul, in my body and just let go.

I try and listen for the subtle underlying beats, I sing along with the rhythm, I mouth drum accompaniments and feel it all flow through.

I think, as a drummer, it is good to dance to music.