Drums

My son Adrian and I arrived in Gambia, where we met Lamin at the aiport. I sized up my new partner in this new venture. Lamin drove us to Brikama, where we did like the first time: money exchange (euros for mounds of dalasi), bottled water, cell phone SIMs. Lamin took us to the exact same places in the Brikama market as Abdoulay’s drive had taken us. This time we also bought a foam mattress and mosquito net — I had told Lamin I wanted to stay somewhere right in town. We drove on to town and he set us up in his family’s compound, with all the town’s children pressing in on us to check out the new toubaps (white people).

That evening, we had the town meeting: I was pooped from the trip. I mumbled stuff. Lamin translated my mumbling, and everybody clapped. I kept mumbling stuff, saying I’m paying crap to the teachers, and people will have to work hard or I hit the road. Lamin translated it to who knows what, and everybody clapped. Then the Imam spoke a while. Then the women danced. This, apparently, is what they do to give a show every time a toubap comes to town. How much they are genuinely enjoying themselves and how much is for show I can’t know. What I do know is they had great rhythms, even though they just had a plastic container to beat on for a drum.

A story: In 1994, I decided to stop computer programming and start a drum school / community school in ViƱales, Cuba where Americans would come and we’d all pound entrancing rhythms in the moonlight. I soon decided that this plan required that I raise money, so I would work for a bit more to raise money. This is what led me to a job in Spain, met my wife and plans shifted. You can’t get to mystery point C, until you make the decision to get to point B.

Anyway, my ancient vision stirred my soul once again, and I asked Lamin where we can buy some real drums. Next day, we bought 3 drums and had the words “Jakoi Bintang” cut into the sides. The next night, the drums saw action — wow! 3 young women from town were rocking out on those drums with incredible skill. Had they ever even played on real drums before?

Drumming is the essence of Africa. Can it be that Africans no longer have money to buy drums or time to make drums?

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