Sunday, February 22, 2009

Blood kin

The other day I was playing with my teacher.

We were playing hard. The adrenaline was pumping. I was in the groove.

Suddenly he stopped.

"Let me see your hands" he said.

I reached over and showed him my palm. The tip of my finger had split and I was bleeding. I looked at the drum and saw that there was a red blotch in the middle of the skin.

"Tape it" Sidy said.

So I wound sport tape around my bleeding finger and started to play again. It wasn't until later, when I was alone, that I could feel any pain.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

No Words

I am a verbal person. Part of how I perceive the world is through language. I see and respond and describe. It is how I am in the world.

When I first started studying with Sidy, I loved it best when he would tell us things. He'd talk about the meaning of a song, where it fit into his culture, when it was played. I hung on every word. He could show me a part over and over, but what I would remember, later, at home, was his voice telling me

"Tone tone, slap slap slap."

In my mind, I would hear his words, his voice, his accent, while I grappled with a new part. I knew that the traditional way to teach did not involve telling... but was happy that Sidy adjusted his teaching for us.

In Mali, something changed.

I worked with a teacher who didn't use language to teach the drum. He taught by showing. No words at all. No facial expressions, even. Just the drum itself... and his hands. He'd play a part until I got it, then move on to the next piece. It was a rhythm unbroken by the appelle, seemlessly flowing from solo phrase to solo phrase, one into another. He'd announce the transition by emphasizing his hand position so I knew it was time to change. No words. At the end of the first day, I felt drunk with excitement. I really had no idea how my teacher felt... but I knew that something had clicked for me, in just that hour.

Yesterday, Sidy came to my lesson and we hardly talked at all. He said the name of the rhythm... but really, I would have known just by the break. We played, working over the pieces I have been learning. Then, a new one. No words, just showing me... first at regular speed, then slowly. Then bit by bit because I needed it broken down.

Then, I could play it.

No words. Just the drum. What joy.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mazé's drum

I came back from Mali with a drum that belonged to one of my teachers.

I hadn't intended to buy a djembe. When I went to Mali, I thought I'd pick up a sangban or kenkeni. But after playing on cowskin a couple of times, it seemed to make sense to get another djembe to reskin with cowhide.

So given the choice of all the djembes in Mali, Sidy asked which I wanted and I selected Mazé's. No problem. I paid a reasonable price, Mazé got a brandy new one and I brought home a well loved, well played beauty with a dusty old goatskin and green ropes.

Yesterday the head popped. I was sitting in my office. The drum was in a bag next to my desk. Suddenly I heard a popping sound and panicked for just a moment wondering which drum it was. (I absolutely adore the skin on my goatskin djembe and it will be a sad day when that one breaks.)

But no. Luck was with me and it was the djembe I was intending to reskin anyway.

I spent the morning taking the drum apart. At first I was planning to keep all the ropes, but as I stripped the drum, I decided it would be lovely to really take it down to the bare rings and start from scratch. This is my own drum. It is a beautiful, heavy, round Malian djembe... and it will be great fun to rebuild it. The top of the bowl has a few cracks, so those will be repaired. The outside of the bowl is scratched from years of tunings, so I am going to lightly sand the exterior and oil it.

The rings are brutishly thick rebar which seems to be in great shape, so I will wrap them in fabric and make a new rope harness, at least on the top ring. Then I am going to get some new green rope to string the verticals. I have a cowskin coming from Mali later this month, which Sidy will help me mount.

I am excited because, while I have rebuilt drums before, I have never done one of my own. And the fact that this drum holds some of the spirit of one of my teachers makes it all the more of a joy to work on.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

New Rhythms

In Mali I worked on Suku, Dansa and Maraka.

Today I started learning Koreduga. The timing on it is kicking my sorry ass.

I can also play the accompaniments and some solo phrases from Mendiani, Madan, Sounou, Sidiyasa, and Wassolonka.