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The year was 1993. I arrived in a small Central Michigan Town after driving two days in the rain. I had caught a cold and was feeling quite sick. After a long wait in line, I made it through the check-in process at the Michigan’s Women’s Music Festival. This was my first Mich Fest experience. A kindly soul hauled my gear and helped me set up my tent. Fever and sniffles aside, I feel into a deep and seemingly dreamless sleep. My mission to go to Michigan for the festival was clear. There were black women drumming there and I wanted to meet them.
Two days later, I sat on a grassy knoll in front of the Acoustic Stage. The sun had finally broken through the clouds and a mild breeze quaffed through the knoll. A chocolate colored black woman dressed in white walked out onto the stage djembe attached to her side. She seemed small from where I sat but that was part of the illusion n. She began drumming and singing, and it seemed as though the white clouds drifting overhead stood still to listen. At some point she left the stage, I don’t remember when. My eyes were closed and I had lain back on the grass. The sound of her drum seemed to grow closer and my body responded. Rhythm pounded through my veins. Cells long a sleep awakened, Memories of trees calmed my name in a language slightly familiar. I quickly opened my eyes and sat up straight. She approached, not seeing me. Her eyes were locked on heaven, voice calling ancient sounds, face shifting and changing. I thought I saw my mother there and then gone. Her mouth never stopped moving. What was it she was saying? My mind could not remember. Her hands …. A slap here, a boom there and lots of little tapping in between. With steady measured pace she walked towards me then passed me by, weaving through the crowd, chanting, playing, walking, then was gone. My body vibrated with the soul of music. This was not a performance, it was ritual! Call it spiritual transformation. This was the mother of the Women’s Drumming Movement: Edwina Lee Tyler.