Sunday, November 17, 2013

Jembe: My Life Saver (Part 1)

I had just finished teaching my drum making class at Stonewall Jackson Youth Development Center in
Concord, NC for youth offenders. I gave out my last fist bump and responded to my final "See you next class Baba Kojo!" As I sat waiting for staff to let me out of the barrage of doors that open the way to the outside world, I reflected on my first Jembe.  I was blessed to receive my first Jembe from a "Drum Dr." aka a Drum maker.

It was late Autumn in 1993 when it was finally my time to pursue my very own Jembe to play on a daily basis.  I had taken that 4 1/2 hrs drive from Las Vegas to Crenshaw, Cali countless times while finishing my undergrad at UNLV; but this was going to be an unforgettable journey.  LA is well known for its many seasonal disasters, and on this particular day I was welcomed by falling ash, smoke, and FIRE...Everywhere.  People were wearing dust masks so as to not inhale the smoke and ash. I even seen a bush burst into flames on the side of the freeway!   I don't think I even seen that on Hollywood's version of the Ten Commandments.  Anyway, I was neither distracted or discouraged because I needed this drum to lift me up and out of the pit that I had dug myself into.  You see, I had just finished my undergrad and had no job since I decided I was going the entrepreneur route.  I was deep in financial debt, on shaky grounds with my mate, and was still struggling with my new vegetarian diet. I was awakening each day feeling numb and wondering if I was ever going to climb out of that hole.  So that burning bush wasn't going to hold me back. Plus, I experienced a little dose of the benefits from playing a Jembe. I was loaned a small Jembe from Iya Abayomi Goodall, Master Dancer, to get through our early gigs in Las Vegas.  I figured if the vibrations from that little Jembe stirred up my soul, then how would my own Large Jembe resonate with me?

I arrived in Crenshaw at Harold Lot's home and instantly fell in love with the energy of his home.  A variety of drums everywhere. Jembes, Jun Juns, talking drums, bata drums, congas, cajons, and more. He told me that he chopped down trees, and hollowed them out with a machine that he made in his home.  I was thoroughly impressed with his craftsmanship and passion for the drums.  There were skins coming out of corners and closets, drum rings and rope remnants leading trails to more drums in the making.  I was truly feeling like I was in my element. Elder Harold demonstrated so many drums for me and explained the workmanship that went into each. I was in the right place at the right time.  I drifted off into a nice meditation about my entrance into this world of African drumming. I want to be a "Drum Dr." like Dr. Harold.

The thing about a Drum Dr. is that they have to know how to play each drum proficiently for tuning purposes.  You can find a Drum Dr. playing with various troupes and dance classes but not necessarily committed to any one group.  The Drum Dr. will invariably walk away from the class with drum sales or tune up requests after they pull their drum out and play those tones and slaps.  I was feeling this new consciousness over take me until Dr. Harold brought me back to reality by challenging me to a "Jembe dual."  What??  Didn't I JUST arrive here to purchase my FIRST  Jembe?? and I'm being challenged by a Master drummer and drum maker.  WOW!  Well, BRING IT!! I sat down and Dr. Harold brought out two cedar Jembes that he had recently made.  The hair around the edges of the drum heads looked like the goats were still close by.  He gave me a Jembe and then preceded to sit behind his.  He positioned that drum between his legs and adjusted his posture into a strong upright position.  He tilted his head slightly and relaxed his entire face giving the impression that his eyes were now drooping. The Elder had a peculiar smile on his face with his mouth opened a bit as if he was going to whisper a song while playing.  I was witnessing Dr. Harold transitioning into his playing mode.  He nodded at me to begin the rhythm. Thank GOD I remembered the break and one Jembe part to Sunnu.  The Elder kept that grin on his face as he pulled those tones and slaps out of that cedar Jembe.  I was higher than high at this point from the fact that we were in synch and creating this traditional magic. I was caught up in the NOW and those vibrations were resonating in the core of my essence. He hit the final break and we stopped on point as if we had been playing together for years.

I asked Dr. Harold "Why don't you teach this craft to people?" He explained, "I will punch a @#$@& in the face the first time they give me attitude. So I stay away from the teaching thing." I laughed and said, "But you're teaching me?"  He said, "You're a different cat, I can deal with your energy."  I felt honored given the fact that Harold was the choice Drum Dr. for Master Drummers in Cali at the time.
Our "Jembe dual' went on for about another 4 rhythms until it was time for me to pick out my Jembe.  He showed me the Guinea and Senegal Jembes that he had in inventory. They of course were what I was accustomed to seeing, but I had already had a Divine experience with the cedar Jembe.  I went with the cedar and one of his very own Jun Jun drums for bass. The Dr. was so elated that I chose his drums that he offered me a discount on the drums, free drum straps, free tuning lesson, Jembe music, and a copy of a Les Ballet Africain production video. I left Elder Harold as if I had just hit the lottery.

It was time to brave the fiery elements and head back to Las Vegas.  I couldn't stop looking at and touching my Jembe as I started on my journey.  I left Vegas overwhelmed with the challenges of the pit that I had dug myself into and am leaving Crenshaw with a new outlook on life.  That Jembe stimulated  my soul and put me in a Nowtime consciousness. That experience playing with Dr. Harold opened me up to a therapy that was both ancient and new at the same time. I could see that this was going to be the start of a beautiful relationship.  The Jembe was my empowering tool for healing...My Life Saver.

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