If you missed part I of Toni Roberts’ Call to the drums
I have been a student of the drums for several months now. For me it has been the beginning of the real journey to self knowledge. My drum of choice is the djimbe. I’m at the very beginning stages of learning the language of the African drum; of learning how to surrender myself to its voice; of allowing my consciousness—my soul if I may-to journey with the heat of the drum to deep rich worlds hidden below ordinary consciousness. I have found the way of the African shaman- or witch doctor-as the Europeans so misnamed this powerful traveler of the inner realms. And it is my way. It fits. For I am African-American by birth and shaped perhaps by this modern western world but nonetheless African in the essence of my being. And as I continue answering this call to the drums. I am discovering layer upon hidden layer of meaning-within the very concept: African. It appears to transcend race, ethnicity and culture.
Those of you searching for a better way-seeking to reach down to the taproot of your own beingness—might want to explore the path of the African drum. There are wonderful African and Caribbean teachers right here in the Big Apple. I can recommend from personal experience, Ladji Camara (Guinea) and Djoniba.M (Martinique), both of whom teach several classes at various times during the week at Lezly Dance and Skate School. Don’t be thrown by the name. Just follow the sound of the drums right up to the fourth floor at 626-622 Broadway (between Bleecker and Houston), and you’ll swear the elevator has detoured straight into the heart of the African continent Papa Ladji. as be is affectionately and respectfully addressed, teaches advanced drumming_ He is such a master teacher, however, that I was able to follow his hands and reproduce the sound of his drum the very first time I laid hand to skin. He is an encouraging, inspirational and magical human, drummer and teacher-surely one of the ancestors, in the flesh, come to teach us here on this side of the ocean.
Djoniba teaches basic beginning African drumming; essential for learning the proper placement of your hands in order to produce the various notes of the drum and avoid, or at least minimize injury to your hands. You can expect some pain in the beginning and eventual callousing-but as they say-no pain, no gain. And the gain in this instance, is well worth the initial suffering.
Then, of course there is the master of masters, Babatunde Olatunji under whom I had the honor of studying during a weekend workshop here in New York City. Baba, as bis disciples call him, is Nigerian. He teaches and performs throughout the world. Olatunji teaches a written and spoken vocabulary of the drums that enables a beginner to play actual songs and accompany African dancers immediately.
For information on workshops and performances by Babatunde Olatunji. contact Paul Skiff at (212) 580-7737.
Open Lessons at Lezly Dance and Skate School. 626-622 Broadway, NYC, (212) 777-3232.
Also in this issue: Drums At The Tomb
Here is also a pdf version of this issue of Routes, A Guide to Black Entertainment September 2, 1991