The second year I went to the all woman Born To Drum camp I saw a listing on the schedule for a a djembe drumming class under the name “Edwina Tyler”. I had never heard that name before and knew nothing about her. But I really needed something to get me back into playing djembe, and after a bit of casual asking around, I got the impression someone thought she was good, and so I got my djembe and showed up for her class.
I have to say I wasn’t sure I was in the right room because the woman who came in and began the class looked like somebody’s grandmother from church. How could this sweet little old lady be a djembe player? Within minutes I got over that limited impression. She had a resonant, compelling voice and had us following her on the djembe in a clear yet exuberant manner. Her class was I exactly what I needed: A way to re-connect with the power of drumming djembe. I left that class feeling reborn and full of juice!
Later, during the teacher performances, I got to see and hear Edwina telling her story on her djembe. She was blunt, hilarious, vulnerable and absolutely terrific on the djembe. There was no doubt she’s the equal of any male drumming master or djembefola. The next year I didn’t see her at camp and it was a couple of years later than I once again saw her on the schedule at Born To Drum camp.
This time the class she was teaching was about how to drum in a group. I decided to give it a try after doing some other fairly demanding classes on technique. When I showed up for the class I saw a pretty good sized bunch of people waiting to take it. I was a little taken aback, considered going somewhere else, but Edwina got all 50+ of us sitting in a circle with our drums and began. First she got us all singing together with a softly sung simple line whose exact form I don’t remember……..She had us repeat this for a while, and then added a base rhythm. She said that love is the best way for people to connect.
Then she taught us the subtle art of rhythm conversation- where less is more and no one is tred upon by someone else. This went on for a while, and I found myself weeping for no particular reason. She had told us we might be having some feelings coming up and given us permission to have them and continue. There was something deeply poignant and loving about her; and the energy she was sharing with us. The class went on, it was good and I left feeling blessed by my second experience with the divinely spicy Edwina Tyler.
A later day was the last day of camp, and when everything was done people were milling around and preparing to leave. I went up to the place where they sell the camp T-shirts to get mine and I looked across the room and there was Edwina. I felt a little weird after crying in her class, wondering how should I behave. She caught my eye, came over and gave me a hug. This spontaneous demonstration of compassion floored me and I hugged her back noticing for the first time that I was at least one foot taller than her and I had to bend a little to meet her hug. I felt like a skyscraper towering over her and marveled at how inconsequential her actual height is to her impact on life. She’s a titan in a small package and her ministry on earth is the expression of both fierce truth and gentle love.
I have small hands and short fingers and I have often felt like a pudgy little dwarf playing drums, an uncoordinated girl with never enough power in my hands or fingers. Edwina is rampant and conclusive proof that physical stature is not what makes a great drummer. It’s commitment to learning the craft of rhythm , determination and heart. Nor is gender. She’s blown the myth of women being too weak to drum to pieces, personally defied the edict that says women cannot and should not drum. It took years of hard work she says “to drum like the boys”, And “it was worth it”. Whenever I fell whipped drumming, I think of Edwina in Harlem pissing all the guys off and becoming the indisputably joyful force she is today.