The Bata -- In 1988, I embarked on a study of drumming that is still a focus of mine today. I had heard that in Havana, Cuba, some of the elder drummers had started to teach a few European women to play the Bata drum. I went to Havana that summer and began to study the Aberinkula (unconsecrated) Bata drum at the Conjunto Folklorico Nacional De Cuba.

The Bata drum is a religious drum that is used in the Yoruba (Nigeria) religion that was transplanted to Cuba during slavery. It speaks the language of the ORISHA (powerful energies of nature) and is the sacred drum used in the Afro-Cuban religion of Regla de Ocha, also known as Santeria. It is a two-headed drum that is played with the drum on the lap. The set is played in a battery of three drums. For thousands of years, the consecrated (Fundamento) drum has been strictly forbidden for women to play, touch, or be in the same room with on certain occasions.

The men at the Conjunto were forced by the socialist government, and by the director of the group (a woman at the time) to teach this drum to women who wanted to learn, during their international workshops. When Cuban women saw that foreign women were being taught, they too demanded to learn. Today there are many Cuban women playing all kinds of percussion, including the bata drums in Cuba.

I was certainly on the of the first North American women to play this drum. When I arrived home from Havana, I received the anger, disgust, and dismay of my American drumming “brothers”. We struggled over this issue for many years, and I can to say that after more than ten years, many bataleros in the SF Bay Area were teaching women to play the Bata drum.

I feel strongly that part of the mission of my life has been to bring people together, and to be one of the pioneers in breaking taboos that have shackled women for centuries.

I have been a practitioner of the Yoruba-based Cuban religion, Regla De Ocha, since 1977. I was initiated as a priest of the religion in Havana, Cuba by Amelia Pedroso in 2000.


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