Nicole Inglis: Mastering a rhythm
March 23, 2012
I came away from my first African drumming class with rhythms reeling in my mind. By the time I got home, I could remember maybe half of them.
Lasting longer than the actual beats was the feeling that my fingers still were vibrating — and aching — from an hour and a half of nonstop drumming with Malian master drummer Abdoul Doumbia.
The lessons held fast, too.
"Whatever you do, you can be a master of," Doumbia had told the class just before we started. "Everything I teach you, you already have."
I didn't walk away a master of African drumming by any means, but what I mastered was the invaluable skill of feeling comfortable with not being that good at something.
This all started when my parents bought me a custom djembe — a large, versatile African drum — as a present in December. Until this week, my roommate politely would wonder aloud when I was actually going to learn how to play a beat.
So on Thursday, I found myself sitting in circle of folding chairs in the Depot Art Center for a workshop with Doumbia presented by the local African Drum & Dance Ensemble. Sitting in the circle with me were drummers who spanned probably five decades in age. Some of them were local drum teachers or drummers for the African dance group.
Others take lessons here in town just for fun, and one woman said she was from out of town and had never drummed before.
Doumbia leaned over his drum and playfully cocked his head to the side as he offered us words of advice. Then he showed us a rhythm, and as we played, he banged out solos, danced around the room and shouted with joy.
After a while, I began to close my eyes. It wasn't as if it helped my playing, but it felt better. I felt my fingers vibrating continuously, even between the beats. I may have smiled even while I was messing up.
After I got home and sufficiently impressed my roommate with the one beat I had retained, I thought about the other two instruments sitting in my closet: a travel-sized guitar I bought at a gun show in Craig and a shiny black concertina that makes the most beautiful sound I think I've ever heard.
They're in my closet because I was never comfortable with being terrible at playing either of them. But perhaps I don't have to be a prodigy to be able to close my eyes and enjoy the way my fingers feel while simply making sounds.
If Doumbia is right, maybe I could be a master, in my own way, of any instrument.