There is something magical about rhythm, the driving pulse that connects us to ourselves and our collective heartbeat. I’ve always loved percussion instruments and a few years ago I had my friend Three Trees build me a djembe out of cherry and mahogany wood. It had a beautiful henna tattoo on the top and I used to spend hours late into the night drumming, sweating, laughing, jamming with friends. But when the drumhead split down the middle one night it became a side table. I threw a cloth and a lamp on top of it and told myself that one day I would get it fixed. 5 years went by…
Last week, I went in to Motherland Music in Inglewood, CA. When we walked into the workshop we found hundreds of beautifully crafted African drums lining the walls: djembes, djun djuns, congas, ashikos, shakers, sabars, talking drums, kpangolos, melinas, and so many more. I was impressed by the care that was going into repairing and restoring these instruments, and was looking forward to seeing what they had done with my beloved djembe and balangi (or “balafon“). The balangi’s gourds had cracked in transit on the way home from Sierra Leone last year and a few of the keys had become muted.
While owner Dan Rice and his staff finished up the final touches, Cienna and I went into the showroom/drum circle space to check out the store. Each drum occupied it’s own small space on the shelves, waiting patiently for someone to pick it out of the bunch, place palms to goat skin, and start playing.
I was expecting Cienna to get a kick out of playing the drums. I was so excited to see her reaction to the experience of banging on a well-made goat hide and hearing the bold echo it produces. And she did like it, she spent a little time here and there banging and rubbing her hands on the drum head. But she actually spent most of her time just listening. She listened to the sound of rope rubbing against itself as they retied my djembe. She listened to the scratching of the razor as it shaved the last bit of hair off the hide. She spun around and watched over my shoulder when my husband struck the balangi, and she listened to the warm ring of its hollow gourds. She got a kick out of the shakers, and noticed that each one produces a different sound; some sharp, some soft; some long, some short.
We had such a great time. Motherland Music takes great care of the instruments, are super friendly, and run a beautiful shop. They repaired both of my beloved instruments and now they sound better than they ever have!
When I was 3 I told my parents I wanted to be “a doctor, a drummer and a mommy”. The doctor dream went out the window when I saw my roommate’s organic chemistry book in college, the mommy dream has finally come true, and now that they fixed my drum I can finally get going on the drummer dream!
Here is my djembe getting its head shaved and strings tightened…
A few of our favorite instruments: