Today I went to my usual congolese drum and dance class, a class I have been attending for 5 years plus. Our Congolese Master had not come for 2 whole weeks, because of a marathon and an event in Half Moon Bay which takes place annually called “Dream Machines”. It is a fundraiser for the local senior center and it’s huge and clogs all the roads when it happens every April. The class is not very big, but has somehow lasted, despite many forces to the contrary.
Picture, if you will, a pair of little kitten paw hands. My hands are fine boned and have small, short fingers. My drumming masters have hands with fingers twice as long as mine. I’m 57 lbs overweight, and I’ve got fat hanging off my frame in the stomach area, underarms and the inner part of my knees. And yet, I can play with those little bitsy hands like people twice my size.
Playing today was a joy. I stand to play, use a rack for my conga, and when I am playing, I am clear and strong. My hands fly and float like birds, even when the pace is brisk. I am relaxed, my joints loose. My upper arm flab moves, but it is only part of my wingspan when I drum. I have skill I have earned with years of deliberate work. I have speed, accuracy, clear strokes of base, slap, muff and tone.
The road to this state was a long and wretched one. I wasted years struggling with and chasing what had to come with persistence and determination. I used to be mad at everyone. I used to be affected by what everyone else in the class was doing, their lack of commitment, their personal bullshit, you name it. I WAS ATTACHED to all kinds of unnecessary ideas about how things should be which I have now completely shed. I have trained my hearing and accuracy to the point where how others play no longer is a problem. I hear only what I need to hear to play and enjoy my playing.
My acquired skill does not make me a big deal. I am simply someone who drums and CAN drum for dancers. Congolese drumming is not for the faint of heart. It takes stamina, which I have. I have no doubt I would not impress the big dudes at Congo Camp straddling their N’Goma rocket drums a whit, but I could technically keep up with them for an hour and a half if it was called for. I can remember the long years of yearning to get there, the despair and confusion over many years, and the pain of wondering if I should quit many, many times. But I didn’t, and here I am.