My Congolese master drumming and dancing teacher Sandor Diabankouezi is the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen move. He’s over 60 years old and he drums and dances with a seeming effortlessness and elegance of movement that comes from a lifetime of being engulfed in cultural rhythm. There is a lightness and grace in every stroke on the drum and motion he makes when he is dancing. He offsets his gorgeousness with humility, patience and kindness, even we goof off drumming students don’t deserve it.
I don’t know how he does it, but I’m so glad to have been his student. What I have wanted the most and worked for, the ability to drum for dancers in his class with enough speed, solidity and accuracy has happened enough for me now to rejoice while I play.
During last Sunday’s class, a young girl was allowed to sit down and use a drumming mallet to bang on Sandor’s weathered set of congas while we were playing. She wasn’t particularly on the beat. I was able to play the base and grounding rhythm to “Kingoli” without being thrown off despite her banging. The proof of my good focus was demonstrated by a congolese guy who was Sandor’s friend moving closer to me to drum the other rhythm that goes along with the base #1 rhythm.
In Sandor’s class there is no room for compliments or praise. Sandor is a master, after all. What is best is when there is no interruption for correction, no pained or exasperated look, and sometimes a smile. Spending the last 4 years in the crucible of learning how to drum has given me so much more than the ability to drum.
Oh god, how I used to suffer physically and emotionally. I did EVERYTHING wrong: playing too hard, going too fast, being uneven, lost, mad, blaming, depressed. Jealous. Not Practicing. Distracted. Hopeless. Shitty technique. Balking. Talking Shit. Yakking, being all revved up. Telling other people how to play unasked. Being withdrawn. Resentful. Bored. Taking other people’s moral inventory. Thinking I was better than. Feeling misunderstood. Wanting to walk. Hating people, feeling helpless.
I still have unresolved stuff going on. But I have persevered and I am glad.