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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.
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I know that that there is a level of drumming to which master drummers aspire. That deep inner level of drumming that can heal or kill with a touch. Few will talk about it. One of mine slipped once and spoke of the energy that travels through the head into the bowels and opens the third eye so one can see the lines that run the body. The Spirit of Music mounts the Horse, takes over the hands and drums one’s body. Broken meridians are rebuilt, tone by tone, slap by slap. Healing occurs. They covet the knowledge that heals. They covet What Edwina Tyler does naturally; by default. “Drumming in Jesus”, she calls it; that tapping of the womb’s secrets that allows the medicine to pass and manifest.
Just before I left college Katherine Dunham came to Cleveland to do some master classes and she brought a drummer with her. The drummer’s name was Mor Thaim and he was playing a djembe drum. I had never heard or seen a drum like that before. The sound of the drum made my head swim. During the 60’s I was the only African American in my college dance class and had never seen live African dance. However, when I danced to the sound of the djembe it was as if I had finally found my true self. Just before Ms. Dunham left, she called me to her and whispered in my ear the following words. These are the sounds and movements of your ancestors. I was never the same again.