John Duma was a member of the first official malawian state dance troop. Through a comparably long life he has been an important man in retaining, teaching and performing local malawian dance and music. He also happens to be a full-time teacher at Music Crossroads Malawi, and I am lucky to be able to call him both my friend, colleague, neighbour and teacher.
This week John agreed to begin teaching me malawian traditional drumming. I knew it would be a tough nut, but to norwegian ears and rhythmical feeling it proves to be like not knowing how to swim and getting thrown in the sea. The only thing I feel capable of doing is flapping my arms up and down uncontrollably and gasp for air while John is sitting there laughing.
My hands are beating ever harder, getting sorer for every painful blow at the drum. The polyrhythmic beat seems to feel more and more right. Am I getting the hang of this? John looks at me and shouts grinningly ´´NOW, 90 MILES PER HOUR!´´ Fighting to suppress the tear swimming down my cheek I try to increase the speed of this inhumane drum pattern. I don´t even notice the absurdity in measuring musical tempo in miles per hour at this point. But it actually works for a while, I can tell by the slight nodding and crooked smile John is wearing on his mouth. Until it all collapses, and my hands are throbbing red from the beating they have received. Once again John gives me a grin, and says time is up for today. Luckily he’s as patient as I am stubborn, so i´m certain I will eventually look back at this post and snicker at my own helplessness.
So all I can do for now is let my broken hands heal and try again and try again. Reflecting on this possibility i´m given I realize how lucky I really am. It´s a pretty niche thing to learn, traditional Chewa drumming. And from such a respected expert!