Sunday, January 24, 2021

Africans and drums

The other day, I learnt an intriguing reality: that foreigners and exchange students actually know more about our culture and entertainment than the average Motswana does. Simply put, they are eager to learn about our culture and heritage while we are more eager on being associated with their type of music, the rock music and the likes.

A friend of mine recently went to a quiet town in Ireland; he says people’s first reactions to him revealing that he was from Africa were, “Can you play drums”?

And he simply responded by asking them if they could all play the guitar, to which most said no. Musical stereotypes.
Nowadays, local parents would rather pay to give their children guitar lessons than marimba. Unique as drum playing is, most Africans are ashamed of it because it reminds them of the dark ages where drum music was associated with barbarism.

“It’s as if they think we all grew up with drums in our houses, every morning we wake up and bang away at our drums, same way we think they all grew up with pianos and guitars,“ he said
It’s also a trait that people overseas associate with all Africans. In Botswana, drums are commonly associated with our traditional dance music. The Setswana name for it is moropa.

Though this might be the case, it’s rarely taught in schools; the only schools that offer it as an acceptable music instrument for their music programs are those that have traditional dance clubs, for government schools and those that offer marimba lessons, mostly private schools.

A German friend of mine who has been in the country for about 6 months recently left the country with a drum as a present. She actually practiced playing the guitar and drums in the duration that she was here. By the time she left she could play whole songs with her mentors. I used to shun the musical stereotype of Africans and drums until I listened to them playing (the exchange students and their mentors).

Before that, I remember an incident where I was walking with a friend across one residential area at the University, when we heard loud drum music; we headed off in its direction to satisfy our curiosity. Upon embracing the culprits, we found a small group of exchange students hard at work banging away on their drums. We were not impressed to say the least.

“What’s wrong with these white people, I am guessing they came to Africa with the impression that everyone plays drums while dancing in circles around a bonfire, as a form of praying for rain, they should seriously stop making that annoying noise,” my friend commented.

At that time I agreed with her but I am ashamed to say, it was through my German friend that I met extremely talented musicians who can play the drum and put overseas guitarists to shame. It was through her that I was introduced to Kabo Leburu and his band.
It was also through her that I began to appreciate our local music as they played songs they composed together.

Why spend so much time fighting the stereotypes? It’s much easier to embrace them and make the most of them. Why not learn how to play the drum? Through organizations such as the Thapong visual arts centre, you can actually meet people who can teach you how to, and you can excel in it. The very same people who ask you about drums will be attending your shows and they will be paying you to play drums for them.

I have decided to take it upon myself to learn how to play both the guitar and the drum; I am pretty sure I can excel at one or the other.

Next time a foreigner asks me if I can play drums, I will say, “No, but I can very well play the guitar, maybe way better than you, you can play the guitar right?”

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