Sunday, June 28, 2009

Oh my aching head

After 18 wonderful months, my beautiful spotted goatskin is finally coming undone. Today as I pulled it from my bag, I noticed that it has begun to split right at the bearing edge. It is now a matter of time before it pops.

So I am going to rehead this one with goatskin. I am thinking thicker rather than thinner. And it is such a swell drum I know it will still sound fantastic when I am done. I can only hope I get another 18 months out of the new skin.

It has been such a joy to play this goat. I am sad to see her go.

Monday, June 15, 2009


This weekend I had the opportunity to attend a drumming workshop taught by Mamady Kourouma, aka Wadaba.

Wadaba is from a village in Guinea and it was great fun to be able to get a different perspective on the djembe.

We started on Friday evening with a song called Sotemabandani. Since Friday was only a couple of hours, we didn't learn the dun dun parts, just three accompaniments and some solo phrases. I liked how he structured the class. At one point he divided us into three sections and we swapped the accompaniments so we each got to try all three. What a sound! We had three folks on the dun duns..... Alan Tauber was on the dununba, and two other teachers from the Drum Connection were on the Sangban and Kenkeni.

For the solo phrases, Wadaba just played and we mimicked. For this song, I found it pretty straight forward and was easily able to copy what he was playing. That lulled me into a false sense of security because the next day I got my ass kicked, LOL.

Saturday's workshop was a full day, starting at noon and running until 5 pm. That gave us plenty of time to dig into another song, Subamasoli.

This time we started on the bass drums. I had no problem learning the Sangban and Kenkeni parts because the bell patterns corresponded to the drum strokes in a very straightforward way. On the dununba pattern, however, I was completely flumoxed. I never did get the whole thing together and wound up just ignoring the bell and playing the drum. (It's that whole walk and chew gum issue, LOL. It is a very painstaking process for me to get to the point of doing two things at once with my hands.)

Again, we split into three groups and we got to play each of the bass parts in turn. What a blast!

Next, the djembe. This time, Wadaba showed us just one simple accompaniment pattern, but even that got tricky because he had half of us playing it on the up beat and the other half on the down beat. The resulting rhythm was incredibly complex, especially when laid over the three bass drums.

Things got REALLY challenging when we moved on to the solo phrases. I managed to hang on pretty well for a few of them, but then he pulled out a series of very complex rhythms in a single phrase and for the life of me I couldn't play them. He was going full steam ahead and I was hanging on for dear life. Fortunately, the players around me had better luck with the parts and managed to hold us up pretty well.

At the end of the class, we learned the lyrics to the song and did call and response with each other. For a brief time we even played accompaniment while we sang. (Another walk and chew gum moment for me, sigh.)

All in all, it was a great experience to study with a Guinea Master. I learned a lot even in a short time. And the funniest part was the next day at my regular drum class, I felt much more confident in my skills, even though I had messed up so much at the Wadaba workshop.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I haven't had to tune my drum in over a year. It is at the exact right place for me... and one interesting thing about leaving it the hell alone is that it changes a bit depending on the weather, where I am playing, indoors or out, big cavernous space or cramped sunporch.

This drum has a thousand voices and moods. But always, always, she sounds just perfect. I think we have found her sweet spot, somewhere between solo high and middle accompaniment. Super responsive to my hands. Gorgeous, throaty voice that can be shrill if need be.

She's my drum.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


This week, the weight of the loss of my friend has been hanging heavy around my heart. It is hard to explain to my friends and family why this has been so hard, particularly since they never knew him. They never met him. And they aren't drummers, either, so the intensity of the connection is lost on them.

But you are are a drummer. I suspect that maybe you understand.

Mazé was a Griot. For him, sharing his knowledge wasn't just about teaching a class. With no words, with no words, he invited me to join him on a journey to the dawn of his people's culture. In one rhythm, I caught glimpses of his soul.... and the soul of his people. He was wide open. He invited me in and welcomed me with open arms and calloused fingers.

When I came back from Mali with his drum, I brought a tiny sliver of his essence with me. When the head broke, I spend awhile taking the drum apart. It had big thick green ropes for the verticals. Diamond by diamond, years of tuning undone. The dust of a Bamako courtyard drifted off the ropes into my living room. The smell of the old skin. Stray goat hairs wafting in the afternoon light.

Off came the rings. Off came the knots on the bottom ring. There was no fabric wrapping, just brute steel. This is not a woman's drum. But it is now.

I gently sanded the wood, while it was naked. Savoring the fragrance of the hardwood as I leaned in to work on a detail. Then the tung oil, hand rubbed.

New rope. New cowskin. A little of my own soul, maybe. Mazé took a bit of it with him when he died, too.

I know how blessed I am to have been his student, his friend.

But God. God.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Ha. My last post was LOUD. This one is Quiet. As in, I have been pretty quiet lately.

But I wanted to check in and say that I am very busy with my drumming. I am still taking 2 classes and one private lesson each week. I go to at least 2 or 3 drum circles a month and this month played at a service at my church one morning with a couple of other drummers. I have another church gig in a couple of weeks.

I think I am making some major strides in my playing these days. I notice that I can often remember a new rhythm, and play it correctly, after only one class. Part of that is because I am starting to learn the elements that make up the rhythms. I can see how they are put together, like a kids lego toy. So things are more familiar to me, even if it is something totally new.

I am also starting to do a better job with keeping tempo... at least some of the time, LOL. The other day I played the djeli dun dun for a class for the first time and realized, shockingly, that I was able to follow my teacher even when he was soloing. That blew my mind. I also figured out how to get back in when I screwed up. Considering I have never played the dun dun with djembes before, that seemed like an extraordinary accomplishment.

So, why so quiet?

Maybe I got sick of navel gazing, LOL.

Also, I had some terrible news in the last few weeks. One of my dear teachers in Mali died unexpectedly. I took Mazé's death very hard. Today at church I was still crying about him.

Mon amour, tu me manques. Mon coeur est brisé.