When the Drum Master came to town

When the Congolese Master Drumming and Dancer teacher began to come to our area to teach, it was  like the Pope dropping in to do Sunday mass at a small  neighborhood church.   I was well acquainted with the difference between djembe west african rhythms and congolese drumming and dancing, having been to several drumming workshops with the late, great Malonga Casquelourd. For years I had heard about the yearly Congolese Drum camps in California where you eat, drink, sleep, drum and dance  for anywhere from several days to two weeks.

Congolese drumming is not for the faint of heart; it’s fast, it’s strong and a completely different energy than west african. If you have no technique, it’s nearly impossible to even attempt keeping up.  I had no conga drums, but a really good friend of mine did and generously loaned me hers. I showed up for the first Sunday morning class in a daze, barely able to believe he was coming and would keep on coming.   Our local dance teacher had brought us many different teachers for lessons but there had never been enough attendance to warrant them continuing after a few classes.

I’ll never forget meeting Sandor Diabankouezi. He showed up in a small sports car with a pair of battered congas that had seen better days. He had the air of a rock star and a charisma that was  palpable. Wearing sunglasses, a chic fitted hat, hightops, and an exotic patterned tunic top over athletic warm up pants, Sandor moved with a timeless grace which made his age impossible to guess. He had a deep timbered, resonant voice with a french accent.

Starting from scratch as a drummer is never easy. But with a dedicated master, it happens faster than  seems possible.  Sandor was a wonder from the start because he’d arrive, unload his drums, teach us drumming for an hour and a half plus. Then he’d guide any students staying to drum for the dance class into rhythm and then teach the dance class.  It is absolutely NOT USUAL for beginning drummers to play for dancers under any circumstances.

The opportunity to play for dancers with Sandor every Sunday for almost 3 years has been both a blessing and a curse: A blessing because playing more under any circumstances forges skills faster and more thoroughly; a curse because it’s very  hard going, especially for rank beginners like everyone in the class was, including me. How he endured us for that  first year and a half, I’ll never know. We were a mess of noisy, unfocused, middle-aged, uncoordinated drumming retards.  Our enormous  lack of skill in drum class was one thing; but during the dance class it was magnified tenfold. We were pitiful in our extensive inability, and we used to watch a look of pain cross his face from time to time when he’d turn and discover how off and slow we were and signal us to stop playing.

When Sandor first came, there were other people coming to his classes besides me, but attendance was spotty and I had myself braced for the announcement he’d have to stop coming because of it. But somehow the show went on, and we began to get to know Sandor and spend time with him socializing and eating after class. Then there was the day three of the regs showed up with new sets of conga drums. It was a turning point and a miracle.  And YET there was still no practice happening. I had  tried for some time to arrange practices with other people but it was pointless. People were busy, impossible to coordinate, and would argue about how the rhythms were supposed to be played.  For me, this was still Drumming Nowhereland, but it had 200% more drumming action than before. I kept keeping on despite many frustrations with the group.

 

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About Shirley

I started this blog to expand and explore my rhythm horizons as a hand drummer. That exploration includes touching on the rest of my life and inner world as authentically and truthfully as possible.
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