Sunday, May 20, 2012

artist, try being a drummer

Turned 60, been on a find myself mission since my first breath. Now I am tired of all the trying as prescribed by others. We've all been duped by the American dream. I open the garage and stare, big hole in the roof, pile of leaves beneath it, junk from previous owner and my busted car. I bought another one, have to park it in the driveway. From the gaping auto cavern I view the house, needs repair in many places. I'm not a lazy person just financially challenged, that puts a damper on things. I resigned inside from keeping up most appearances, don't wash my car or feed my lawn so I don't have to cut it every other day.

I tried to discover my African culture in college. I had no understanding, neither did my cohorts. We acquired conga drums, played and danced. Our minds were oblivious to our real condition but ponder we did, like little children. I look for my drums today, they're gone. In my mind I would pat it's skin a little each day sitting before the gaping auto cavern filled with junk and leaves. Caring not for the neighbors who make their own intrusive noises, yet mindful of the grade school on the other side. No one watching, everyone's listening, something new in the ambient noise. Pit patter pop, pit patter bop.

I just play to myself, play to the trees, to the air around me. There is a space that widens, soon the beats merge with the neighborhood sounds. I start to visualize. I meet my ego in dreams of greatness, my fear and wonder if some will complain about the noise. I think about the curious who are drawn to listen for an entertaining thrill and wonder if I am putting out enough for them, glory days. I wonder if my arms will tire or I will become bored with this whole thing. It all fades away, the beats go on for every reason and for no reason. The few on lookers walk away, he's not band quality, not showing off his skills, not speaking to us. They are right, I am trying to remember. My hands sore and warm start to remember. I can feel all the parts of rhythm, the heart, the breath, the meter, see the dancers glide and pound, the dust kicked up, the smell of stirred energy, even though it's just a squirrel and some blackbirds. I remembered my first extended play, so long we played. I peed blood afterward, thought I was hospital bound.

Drumming shakes the earth, rattles the wind and vibes the fiber in a man. It is about the wholeness, not just the flesh, that is just what you see. Dance is not a vehicle for flesh lusting, it is about a soul expressing itself the only way it can, through the body it is apart of. Drums vibe and the soul extends and animates the flesh, gives space to share a story where words are not adequate. Drumming is a great responsibility, takes training. We had to sit under a leader who assigned our parts. He was strict but compassionate with us. We had to face our egos before we could bridle them. No explaining just doing. We showed off our skill like young lions ready to lead. Skill but no endurance, no wisdom. We made the noise but had no voice.

We would have to play our part without elaboration, embellishment or passion. Play the form then listen to the playback. What is that little strange sound in the background? That's me! Once the pattern is engraved into my muscle memory then a small space is given to embellish a little then come back. If your part is to keep the time, you keep the time, if to wail away and roll, you wail and roll. You are a part, in your place, of the whole. Without you nothing is said, with you the whole is said. You play the part given until called to speak. You emerge and then submerge, in context, not straying away.

With us going through the process with no real commitment, that is we were practicing for entertainment and learning, we did poorly. Our egos were never really tamed. Our cohesive energy did merge a little, it was entertaining but far far short of being real drumming, a most serious thing. Drumming in Africa was/is an integral part of many social constructs. Tonal languages could be uttered by the drums and distant signaling for warnings and events of every sort. Drums brought people together for worship and praise and to heal and celebrate. 

The encroaching world of New World enslavement, education, religion and finance has no need of drumming except for entertainment. Their re-civilization effort to remake us in their own image in order to include us according to their understanding required us to forget our drums. They failed, it's in our soul, I remember as a young person hearing older white persons saying “black folks got natural rhythm”, many many times. This is why our keeping the beat is used against us, the infectious rhythms permeate everything in popular culture but has no substance for sustaining healthy black culture. The beats are there, the words twisted and distorted. Our serious stuff marginalized to be aired when everybody is asleep, or in night spots where people go to self-indulge. Such it has been with jazz. Rock drumming kings portrayed as wild men who still manage to keep time. In my drum troop that wild-man ego would perish, still the beat would go on. Only one complex drummer is the modern way, a multiplicity of simple drummers are African. Each playing the pattern with the potential of speaking out when needed. If all of Africa's drummers would drum on one day, the world would shake.

I don't own a dashiki or wear beads, more often than not am pressed to wear the Euro culture clothes from the local store with a sigh. Doesn't really matter, the African within is being realized. History can't lie forever about my story that was a myth-story er a mystery to me. The outer has no need to change, the inner must change. It can't be the well reading of many books or watching videos and documentaries. It can't be degrees in education though I do appreciate ones who appropriate the tools to research and tell all of us. I need to pick up my drum and play to remember. Who ponders anymore? Most fill their brain bandwidth with media voices, drugs and sleep. Using waking moments to meditate and ponder and I will add, to pat the drum, pip patter bip, pit patter bop, and remember.

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