I’ve been attending a latin percussion class for about a month in Oakland with Jesus Diaz, and it’s been a unique and marvelous experience for me. It’s appealing right off the bat to go to this class because it’s in an upstairs apartment of a woman artist and loaded with big, colorful paintings, many with African themes and vintage teapots. I don’t have to bring a conga and haul the darn thing up steps because there are already a bunch of them there with chairs in a circle.
There’s an affable, relaxed atmosphere which comes from the other students and Mr. Diaz himself. He doesn’t do a lot of gabbing about what to do. The class is all about playing and singing, immersion style. He sets things up, assigns parts, clues his mostly advanced students, and off we go.
If I don’t plug in and find my footing in whatever I’m assigned, he notes this quickly, either gives me something more simple, or comes over and teaches it to me by putting his hands on my drum and making sure I get it.
He often will expertly sing or recite the specific rhythm he’s assigning, much like you or I would sing a few bars of “3 Blind Mice” or “Pop Goes the Weasel” to remind someone who had forgotten them. Being new, I’m not familiar with any of the names of what we play, including “bembe”, but it matters not at all because I can get in and stay with a part, look at other’s hands, and even switch parts if I grok them while we are playing. I love it, because I learn and retain by doing until what I call my inner jukebox absorbs how it feels and sounds and plays it back to me.
The last time I went to class, we did a “bembe” which went on for quite a while at a good clip, and he sang a progression of orisha songs with perfect concentration. I could see other students singing with him in the choruses and now and then catch snatches of orisha songs I’m familiar with, thanks to a couple of cd’s my last teacher gave me that have orisha songs with bata on them. Yet I know I don’t have the concentration to sing and play at the same time yet, so I don’t strain to sing.
Mostly I can’t clearly hear the songs over the percussion, and even if I could, I have to get the playing down first. Every now and then I fall out of the rhythm I am playing and I stop for a moment. I’ve learned to be patient and not stress over building stamina and focus.
I am so grateful I have the aptitude and experience to be able to attend a class like this and partake of the passion and rhythmic bliss that occurs when the group is playing together. So different from the painful and frustrated floundering I did for too many years before in other classes. I was a percussion student who did not know how to listen, focus and learn.
There is playfulness and clear affection among the regs and Mr. Diaz, and I guess I’ve passed muster for the time being. What is so compelling about this class and Mr. Diaz is the opportunity to practice entering into a FLOW state. It’s awesome.