I don’t get much opportunity to play the Itotele bata drum. When I go to my bata lesson with my friend and teacher, I play the Okonkulo. But when my drumming friend is out of town, I bug her to borrow the Itotele, and I sneak in a little goofing around time on it.
What I’ve discovered, despite my much smaller hands, is that I know some of the basic, most often repeated Itotele rhythms because I have to in order to fit my Okonkulo parts correctly to them. My friend who plays the Itotele has good sized hands for a woman, she is very fit and a physical therapist, so she’s got some power and juice. My teacher, who’s strong and skilled hands are roughly twice the acreage of mine, has power, precision and juice to spare.
I have to rely more on cultivating good technique and use my itsy-bitsy hands efficiently. I have to avoid hurting my left index finger, which has a severed nerve in the tip, so my strikes have to be clean. That doesn’t mean I know exactly what I’m doing, but I’m grateful that the long hours of witnessing my drumming friend struggle for her itotele left hand have borne fruit in me having some kind of left hand at all that I can do without thinking and enjoy, fool around with. This means I can experiment when the teacher is not around and follow him him when he is, those few times I get to play the itotele. It’s all good.