Friday, June 18, 2010

Mazé's drum

It was love at first sight, really. Against the backdrop of newly painted walls and pristine tile floors, Mazé's drum was showing it's age. An ancient goatskin. Dust-caked green ropes. A few cracks in the base, repaired with wood glue and sawdust. And yet, even among the lovely new drums, this one stood out. It had a gorgeous round bowl and was made of some incredibly dense hardwood that weighed a ton. And when Mazé Kouyaté picked it up to play, the sound was so sweet and full and rich it carried me away.

I couldn't believe my luck when I asked if I could buy it and Mazé said yes. I wrapped it in towels and stuffed it with clothes and carefully fitted it into a duffel bag for the long trip back to the United States.

Within a week the head popped. I was sitting at my desk and suddenly heard the sickening sound of a skin giving way. No matter, I thought. I wanted to put on a cowskin anyway.

So I ordered new rope for it, and wrapped the rope ring in pale green fabric before looping the black alpine rope around it. I began to look for a cowskin, but my teacher said he would get one. Weeks dragged by. Then months.

Then one day, in class, my teacher got a phone call. I could tell something was wrong, but he wouldn't say what it was. He told me to call him when I got home. Half and hour later I called him and heard the devastating news. My sweet friend in Mali was dead. I was grief stricken. I cried for weeks.

And the drum sat.

A year went by. A year filled with busy, change and challenge. New job, growing children, a flood that nearly destroyed my husband's business.

Then finally, one day in class, my teacher handed me the keys to his car and said there was something for me on the back seat. It was the drum. Skinned. Tuned. Beautiful.

This is a djembefola's drum. This is a solo screeching loud bad-ass drum. It is a man's drum, for sure. Big and wide and heavy, with a callous raising cowskin head and rope strong enough to climb mountains with. And it is my drum. And Mazé's drum. And when I play it, I play better than I really am.

Next time I rehead it, I am wrapping the ring in yellow. The color of the shirt Mazé wore the last time I saw him. The color of his last drum. The color of the bright Mali sun.

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