I am a 50 something white woman with small hands and short fingers. I have at least an inch of soft fat hanging off my upper arms which flaps and jiggles when I play and I’m missing a front tooth. I’ve come by my current bata playing skills by a long and deep patience born of tears, desperation and fury.
In contrast, my master and one of his cuban bata playing friends have long boned, sinewy arms and fingers with silky smooth, dark brown skin. Their veins and muscles ripple across their backs and upper arms as they play and move. They have striking power, stamina, speed and leverage that goes with their rangy bodies. The love of their culture’s music shines through their singing and playing.
Watching them I can’t help but think of the generations of africans brought to cuba in chains who survived the cruelty and hard labor and mixed their blood with native cubans and other african tribes. Evolution has shaped the hard beauty of these men much as a blacksmith forges a work of iron.
My cuban master is about to go back to cuba to pick up his son and bring him back to America. He is going to be gone for a month, and there will be no bata lessons. This turn of events has energized the bata lesson. Our teacher, happy to have another male playing who is also cuban and a musician besides us two gringo women, has upped the intensity of the class. We are suddenly playing at a new level which translates into faster and more. Usually we just work on playing the rhythms but now our teacher and his friend are singing the orisha songs for some of the rhythms, which is more challenge for me and my other woman drumming compadre. We wade through it all with our usual grit and humor, occasionally rolling our eyes at eachother.
Playing bata is a constant process of learning how to listen, concentrate and focus in different ways at different times. It can be hellish at times, but multiple visits to hell pay off eventually with the heaven of being able to play it right and feel the harmonic perfection at the same time. I remember how hard the lessons used to be, how often I used to consider walking away and never coming back.
Last night, the other woman student made a thoughtlessly judgmental remark about something I happened to share about my guy and food. This was based on limited information and most obviously a poor impression she has of my guy, me and our relationship.
I woke up this morning feeling a bit resentful about it and rehearsing various attempts to educate her as to how I feel about what she said and what I think, etc. And I recalled how I tend to make anything anyone says which doesn’t suit me into a big deal which never works if I try talking about it. This time my pointless irritation over this minor remark led me to a positive idea I will tackle in a different post.