My right shoulder is a bit sore today after last night’s bata lesson. This is because my right upper arm and shoulder rotators are not accustomed to being used to repeatedly wind up and help my hand and forearm strike a lateral drum head. I can feel soreness around the tendons of my right elbow and shoulder.
The Iya ( pronounced ee-yah) is the largest bata drum, known in Cuba as the “Mother” drum, is at least 3 feet wider than the Okonkulo(pronounced oh- conk-oh-loh), or smallest bata drum that I’m accustomed to playing. It juts out quite a ways from my lap on the right side and I have to use a lot more of my body to play it.
I’m starting to get better now at playing “choppas” ( crisp slaps) with my left hand on the narrow or more high pitched left drum head of the Iya. I now don’t think a whole lot about absurd my small, short fingered little handsies must look on the Iya drum heads. Efficient technique wins out over size and my master has proven that to me over and over again.
The other bata student was there and I was able to appreciate her ability to squarely and solidly whack the itotele( pronounced ee-to-ta-lay). The paradox about the bata is that there is great satisfaction, once you have the skill, the control and the exact tempo in relation to the other drums down, in slamming it with just the right force in rhythm. However, it takes a lot of intensive patience, a master teacher, and work to get to that point.
My comrade has difficulty with not speeding up and starting to erode the spaces in the rhythm pattern phrase. It’s a common mistake, often what I struggle with also. The good news is that playing the Iya is going to make me get a whole lot better at NOT doing that, because the Iya rhythm has to be steady as a rock or it doesn’t work at all.
During our lesson, the teacher had me switch from the Iya to the Okonkulo twice. I had quite a rush feeling immensely more skilled and powerful on the okonkulo than I’d ever been. I remember when playing the okonkulo was such an uphill battle that I felt I would never be able to play it because my hands hurt, my strikes were wobbly, and I was terribly confused and frustrated. Overcoming that seemed to take an eternity and I used to cry out of fury and despair. It’s good to know staying the course and going through all of that repeatedly for about two years is paying off now.