Every September 6th, my cuban master drumming teacher has a little party with singing, dancing and drumming at his home to honor Yemaya, the mother orisha of the ocean. Oschun, the river goddess and Yoruban Venus, is also honored. There is cake frosted in a honey yellow and ocean blue, the colors for Oschun and Yemaya, along with plenty of food.
During last week’s bata lesson, which is on Thurday night, we practiced our bata playing and our Cuban teacher sang the orisha songs. I played the Okonkulo, the smallest bata, with crisp yet solid strokes. I allowed myself to experience how seasoned and skilled I am in contrast to the long and hard first couple of years of learning to play were. I used to tear up my hands, hit too hard, make them swell, fume, cry and struggle. I used to hate my instructor for his unending and implacable insistence we play the impossible, that we attain in our playing “The Perfection”.
“The Perfection”, which sounds like “Perfession” when he says it, is the rock upon which he stands in his teaching and playing. Me and the other woman who are his students invariably fall short in ways too numerable to mention, and we endure his sometimes volcanic wrath much as a sword being forged endures the hammer of the blacksmith. He has taken us far in a very, very short time.
I now can actually play some of the basic Iya riffs which lead and cue the other 2 bata drums. It’s not easy. Sometimes my left hand wears out and I can’t hold the energy of the slaps. I forget the exact timing. He has to repeat, go back to the basics, reduce, break it down, slow it down endlessly for us. We are infants he has to re-feed what he knows so well over and over again. And yet now and then we are able to shine. Friday night was one of those times.
Our teacher was singing, playing and smiling, his face joyful. Some of it had to do with the fact that he is about to go to pick up his son in Cuba and bring him to live in America. He kept our playing sets mercifully brief and well contained, singing several verses of songs to Elegua, Yemaya and Chango. There were 2 other cuban men to sing with him. It was good.
I ate a large piece of cake despite the fact I am allergic to wheat, dairy and too much sugar. It was chocolate cake with whipped cream, strawberries and frosting, absolutely delicious. I paid for it with throbbing fingers and body throughout the night. My body is now telling me I have to change or suffer the heart and blood vessel problems I watched my father suffer through and finally die from.
The next day I had more capacity to make OK green smoothies, drink them and nibble on young spinach leaves and hemp hearts in the evening when I felt emotional cravings. Yemaya’s gift to me for playing for her was an inner message saying: You have closed your heart. There is a wall there you must undo. And I must undo the high cholestrol and fat deposited in my veins from my too acidic blood and inflammation in my nerves from over eating and stress.
Since them the throbbing has gotten less and I’ve slept better. The Green Smoothie Revolution will continue.