My left index finger has a numb area on the inside ridge of the fingertip pad. Long ago I severed a tiny nerve there in an accident with a dull kitchen knife. I find it interesting that my current bata drumming requires the use of my left hand a lot, and if my drum strokes hit that area in a certain way, it hurts. Despite this, I am beginning to gain some skill after over a year of hard work and struggle.
My cuban bata teacher has hands that look ordinary but when you touch them the skin is leathery and his fingers feel like petrified wood. When he plays the quality and clarity of sound from his strikes and the silken economy of movement is mesmerizing and intimidating at the same time. For some time now he has exhorted us at times to use “MORE SING”. This refers to us doing strokes on the bata head with closed fingertips, creating a sharp reverberating tone, rather than an open or closed palm strike.
We did not learn until recently that what he’s been trying to say in english was “THIN”. What is clear is how the SING/THIN is supposed to sound. The Okonkolo drum is the highest pitched of the three, and much of what I’m playing are SING parts. It’s great to be able to do it, particularly with a maimed finger. The price of this accomplishment was sitting for hours in my barely suppressed fury over the teacher’s insane expectation that we learn any such thing while learning everything else about bata drumming from the ground up. This has been saturation at it’s most volcanic on both sides.
And yet the man is very consistent in his fanaticism and now we are used to being expected to do the impossible. This does not mean we always comply quietly. The language barrier has worked in our favor when we whine, deny, complain, glare, and make seditious comments about whatever he is demanding from us. What we two students have is sheer grit and heart, if not the temperament or skill of great bata players.
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