Drumming that speaks


He flung his hands up against the dark sky. His ivory bracelet pressed for space between the stars, the moon settled in the arch of his arms. He held the momentum for a beat, and then released his fists. He thrust his palms down to his stomach, awakening a fog of dust from the drum that hung from his shoulders.

The beat impregnated the atmosphere. Like thunder, it shook everyone. The next drum was struck, and then the next, until the entire ensemble was about its own beat. The notes seduced the women, guiding them off their seats, until they too pressed against the orange flames. The light curiously peered onto the golden stripes on their clothes, and the flames elegantly slithered around the drummers, as did the women.

And the drummerstheir dark fingers scurried about their drums. You could see the light rise with them, as if to empower their hands by illuminating them, before they struck their instruments. Their Fìlàs fell, and their Agbádás floated about the beats as they drummed.Yoruba_drummers_21-1024x738.jpg

The women bounced their heads about, their scalps shining between their iru didi braids. My eyes followed a braid, as it comes up, and folded back into its cocoon. Akọrin ọkurin’s (male choir master/singer) course voice intoxicated the environment.

I saw their hips graciously float back and forth, their shoulders break with such finesse, their backs bend so effortlessly. The drumming overwhelmed them, and arched them forward as if to reset their steps, and continue about their business with the beat. The younger ones didn’t stop dancing. Their skin was like the glints of light about them. Their feet jiggled with ivory anklets, their arms with red beads, their hair embedded in beads, some in feathers, others in cowries, and their bodies with the vibrancy of the Batá drums.

The drumming struck them even harder, and they beat the clay soil beneath them into a thick fog around themselves. I watched as the fog danced around the fire, its own companion.

And the men—they stared in helpless awe, with the stringent sense of desire planted on their helpless faces. None resolved to dance—except for one drummer.

He had a great dancer in front of him. She moved in perfect synchrony with the beat of his drum. Before he changed the course of his drumming, she would nod. Sometimes, she would show him the dance she wanted to perform, for him to match his drumming to this. He would speak, and she would bow her head to keep everyone from seeing her blush, while he would advance, with roaring laughter that radiated a certain vibrancy. She would shake it off, and keep on dancing.

The red beads on her hair vibrated in tune with the beat of the drum, on her ṣùkú ẹléwo. She turned around, and his drumming brought him to his knees. With his right hand conversing with one end of his drum, and his stick with the other, he influenced her every move.

And somewhere in the background, in her mother’s hut, on her brown eni (mat) lay the six-month-old Adeṣẹwa. She was intoxicated. She breathed in the rhythm, and exhaled a series of unintelligible utterances. Yes, she inhaled the dust from the drums, and welcomed it as it settled into her young lungs. She closed her 6-month-old eyes, and pressed her fat cheeks against the crack of light that had settled on them.

And Ọduntan—he lay beside her. His young eyes pierced deep into her soul, where he found a vacant drum, hidden behind a fog of dust. With his tiny fingers and a truckload of skepticism, he beat it. And Ẹwa danced. Yes, he beat the drum until Adesewa’s soul itself hurled into that space in her heart, and danced. And Ọduntan’s soul took over the childish player, and passionately beat the drum. His steps were in sync with hers, against the orange background. And by taking two steps to the right, and a few backwards, Ewa let his soul lead her, and Oduntan let her soul lead him. And in this moment, despite their physical distance, their two souls would form an unbreakable bond.

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