There are many styles and ways to play hand drums originating from West Africa. Be it traditional drumming, Afro Cuban, Haitian, Brazilian, South American, Trinidadian, (or others) it does not matter as it all comes or originates from the same tree. Even rock music and drum circles have their links, fundamental rhyhtms or branches from the same tree.
If we understand this simple concept, that our hand drumming originates from Africa we can understand we are all working and playing together as one big drum family.
No matter who you are or where you are from if you want to play or learn drumming you can. Drumming is indeed for everybody. And it does not matter how good or bad you are. It is not about that.
For me it is about community participation. Teamwork and “the village” concept. No one is more or less important in a drummers scenario, we are all links in the chain.
I heard someone tell someone else “I am not a good player” tonight at a session I was at. I told them, “don’t ever say that”! It sparked a discussion.
They felt they were not good enough. I understand this feeling. But if we are trying and studying and doing the best we can, then we are indeed “good enough”. We are all where we are at.
You don’t have to be great in order to succeed. Succeed, to me… means to have fun and excel as an artist or musician. To connect and share with others. To feel the unity of the drum. To have fun and enjoy and to be all you can be on your musical instrument. Drumming is about give and take, surrender and also putting it out there.
Although it may seem like hand drumming is about soloing or about the (best) individual it is not really that. It is about people coming and playing together in a unified manner. You don’t have to be great but you do need to learn to play your instrument. Because the drum is indeed an instrument with a lot to it. It has a language of sound, or orchestration of meaning and intention as well. All we have to do is take a little time to study and we can see how deep it can go.
To learn to drum you just have to love what you are doing and stick with it. If you practice your art form or play your instrument everyday you will improve regardless of your age or experience. If you seek out information and stay positive it will come to you. You just have to believe!
Stay positive about your work, don’t buy into negative thinking and other peoples judgements. Above all, don’t say or tell yourself, “I’m not good enough”.
I am here to tell you you are indeed good enough. We can always get better, we can always improve. And with diligence we will. But, you are also fine where you are at.
I have a friend who technically is not a great painter. When he first started out his work was only fair. He stopped his job and dedicated his life to painting. It is his passion. He rented a shop to sell his paintings. He improved to the point where he could sell his work. He painted local scenarios, the town he grew up in and the place he loved. That love came through his work and he became successful. People can feel the love. Technically he has improved as well. But the main thing is he developed his own style. And now it’s something.
There are many amazing players out there in the drum world today. And most of us will never reach their level of technical greatness this lifetime. We can not be them. They can inspire us and teach us. But, we can not be them.
However, we still have something to offer the world. Our spirit, our feel our efforts. Our love of what we do, our playing from the heart. Our creativity. Our own unique style.
Don’t try to be someone or something you are not. Enjoy your process learning on whatever level you play or are at. Continue to practice, to study to learn and enjoy the process doing so. Take your time and don’t rush to get on a stage. Simply love what you are doing.
People, audiences and viewers will feel that love when they see your art or hear you play. It does not have to be about who is the fastest playing, who can do the secret hand technique, who knows more or who is the best artist. I admittedly am a “traditionalist”. I love the folkloric traditions, culture and ways. Especially the village styles and techniques. I am not from there but I play the music from there. Why? Because I love it. Play what you love and enjoy it!
When I was living in Mali (two times) and Guinea West Africa what surprised me the most on my initial visit was how everyone in the large compound I was studying at, the grande master, the master, the professionals..everyone…played the djembe drum with a different slap technique! I was expecting one way and only one way. But that was my rigid thinking.
People often ask me why do you do it this way or why do you hit the drum that way? I use what works for me and you must also find the techniques and styles that work best for you.
In Mali, with in the same compound of drummers and dancers the older people played a different style musically speaking. It was so different that I decided to make a recording and it became a CD of the younger players (called Young Guns on earthcds.com) and of the older players (Old Masters).
This is to acknowledge both styles of playing and also to show the difference of different players, even those living, working and performing together. There is no “one way” only! It is beautiful and amazing how differently we can develop.
If this concept is difficult for you to grasp, think of a Beatles song and how many different ways you can play it if you were in a band.
You could play it with the “traditional” feel, you could do it as punk song or even as a mambo. Its the same root but different branches coming out of the tree. And we too are one of those branches!
When I was in Cuba, I had a teacher, a master who did everything, who played everything completely opposite what I had been taught as “proper technique”. Some people might call it “wrong”. It was not beautiful to watch his hands.
Yet he played as fast, clear, articulate and as interesting as anyone else I have ever seen, played with or met. And he had the feel. Fantastic sound! He had his own way, his own style he had developed.
Keep in mind there are many different ways to play, to hit.. and to drum. There is no one right way and therefore no one wrong way. If one style does not work for you find the one that does.
I am not saying not to study technique, traditional rhythms or folkloric art and culture. On the contrary. Study it until you drop. And…when you have the form, the technique and the skills… experiment, explore and develop your own style if you feel the calling. However you can get the job done.
Try new techniques or old ones. See what works for you. Experiment and enjoy.
I am tired of hearing people say “this or that technique is wrong, your are supposed to do it like this”..simply because that is how everyone else is doing it now. That is the current style and everyone is copying each other. Sometimes people do not look past what someone else is doing. But where did the first person start who everyone else is copying? He (or she) started with creativity, trying something new or differently.
I had a teacher who many years ago was playing and composing experimental, open rumba. At the time, no one was doing this. The local drummers thought he was crazy, because he was doing something outside of the norm.
He was simply way ahead of his time. Fast forward several years, and those same players now are playing this same form of expression, but they had to wait for others to do it, for it to become the norm first.
When you see a great player play, are you impressed.. or does it make you feel happy inside? Or both? Many players impress me greatly, but I don’t feel the love and and many “lesser” players make me feel happy. Bolokada Conde makes me feel both. Simply being in his beginners class makes me feel good.
My point? To me it’s about playing, being and expressing from the heart. I don’t care how good you are. If you are not playing from the heart, with love you don’t have anything. At least nothing I am interested in. Everyone is good enough and feel good where you are at. A beginner can make you feel great, even better then a pro. Sometimes children’s art work is more interesting, fun and genuine then an accomplished artists.
We can all sometimes get caught in “the wow” factor. We see someone playing in person or on YouTube drumming at incredible speeds, or perhaps super loud and we get mesmerized.
We think, “this is it” or “I wish I could do that”! But don’t get too caught up in the show! That is, (or can be) gymnastics.
You do not have to be the fastest player in the world to enjoy hand drumming. Concentrate on the feel and basic rhythms. It always boils down to basics.
And even the most complicated sounding phrases or rhythm structures can always, 100% of the time be broken down to simple structures based on rhythmic fundamentals. If you learn your basic rhythm fundamentals and principles you are on your way to understanding anything complex as well.
Watch the old masters play instead and check out how you feel. You will feel happy and you will feel good. You will also feel the funk! You will feel the love.
And how about the wow factor and love together? Now thats really something!
We, our ego’s can get caught up and obsessed with being “the best”. This makes us competitive and we can loose the spirit trying to “be good”.
Instead of trying to be good, be yourself, express who you are. Instead of chopping the other persons head, saying bad things, say something positive. Find the good things in their expression, what they are playing or doing right and support that.
Make the choice to be positive, to act positive and to be supportive. Go in to any drumming situation with this attitude. Thank the other drummers, thank the owners that be. Give and show thanks! Stay humble and take it all with “a grain of salt”.
As master drummer and drum pioneer Abdoulye Diakate say’s, “Djembe Bara, unity of the drum”. I don’t care how old or how young you are, if you are male or female or what culture you are from. Or how much experience you have had or not. We are all students and..your expression is valid!
Put your soul, your love and your feel into it 100%. That is truly being, “good enough”!