It’s been over a month now since my Cuban drumming master has been gone. He had to leave the living situation he had, and, though I know he is still in the area where I live, it’s as though he, along with the life I had being his student, doesn’t exist anymore.
Right about the time he had to leave, I was at a point of wanting to depart as his student. I had learned a great deal from him but was feeling trapped and stifled by lack of opportunity to play more and grow as a bata player.
I investigated a group of women bata players in the big city who I know play for folkloric hotshot dance classes. They were excellent, but the one who was teaching bata told me she was pretty much tied up in performing and teaching a few clients, having recently moved from the East Coast to the West. I realized pursuing this path would require I make it the center of my life which I am not presently willing to do. Further, I would have to compete with several other women vying for the limited opportunities of playing in that one group. If I were to play with men, the climate could be more competitive, even hostile and misogynist. My cuban teacher, though he was willing to teach, sometimes did not give us women credit for skill we worked for. He insisted upon an almost unattainable level of perfection. So I let it go.
Now there are literally hundreds of of males who play bata, cuban and otherwise, in the Bay Area where I live. Women players are much rarer. And bata playing cannot take place in a void. There has to be 3 players, committed and regular practice, and people who really know what they are doing. Bata playing works best to enliven and serve people in ritual, song and dance. Without the opportunity to share it, playing bata is empty; almost pointless.
I don’t know if I will ever play again. I have decided not to worry about it, because it made me three times the drummer I was, and it’s already enriched my life in many ways. I have an aptitude for remembering snatches of some of the songs of the Orishas, which are in ancient Yoruban, not Cuban. I used to sing parts of it with the cuban master, which delighted him. I will remember those times and the great fortune of being able to study with him.