Una Sonrisa Para el Tambor (A smile for the Drum) is the title of a film produced by director Damian Francisco Perez Tellez about the work of the all women bata ensemble; Obini Bata. These five women, under the artistic direction of Eva Despaigne, travel Cuba sharing music and dance to the Orisha, the deities of the Yoruba based tradition of Lukumi. The barrier shattering work of these women is their use of the sacrosanct Bata Drums. These women have opened themselves to scorn to share this work and in the process shatter myths about the “unsuitableness” of women to play this particular instrument.
| The Bata drum is an hour glass shaped drum with one cone being larger than the other. The drum originates with the Yoruba people of Nigeria. The culture of bata drumming was brought to Cuba along with the Africans during the Slave Trade Era. The drum was introduced in the province of Havana during the 18th century. At some point, it was decided to sanctify the drums for the purposes of playing them in ceremony. It was at this point that women were prohibited from playing this instrument. Justifications for this prohibition include beliefs such as women are subject to mood swings, bleed or are unsuited to communicate with the Deities.” The truth is that there is no inherent reason that women cannot play these drums. The prohibition is solely based in gender discrimination and the perception of women as inferior aspects of the human species. We also speculate that the prohibition was based in gender economics. Bata drumming is an income producing activity. It is probable the women were prohibited from drumming to prevent their competing with men for limited resources. This is true of African Drumming in general. Other drums have opened to women drummers. The playing of bata seems to be slowly on its way to gender equalization.
Obini Bata was formed in 1993 and has been performing Orisha song and dance on a regular basis. The women have become accomplished performers and musicians both on the Bata and Conga drums. One thing we like about their music is their clarity in singing melody and lyrics. There is a tendency for men to sing or attempt to sing in falsetto which often distorts the melody and to sing lyrics in rapid succession. This makes it difficult to understand what is being said and to find melodies and harmonies. These women are clear, melodic. And deliberate in their musical presentation. There is a definite feminine essence to their music that is quite enjoyable.
Learn more about Obini Bata through this article by Melena: http://www.melena.com/melenaArticles.pdf