She writes about it in her fresh new blog:Apart from food, what caught my eye was her fervent tweets and passionate shoutouts to a Batala drummer group. I had no idea what Batala was, but every link was to a place they played and so I asked her one day, and she explained that she is part of the troupe and they play at various places. I googled, like a good dutiful curious cat, and my eyes went round. I love all things music and arts, but seeing all these strong, vibrant women with HUGE drums and the way they swayed and played, was an experience itself!Then she tells me they are an all woman Band – Batala Washington and that she joined after moving here to the US!There was definitely a parallel connection. Not only were the arts the connection, she also followed her heart and passion and it shows! I can relate to that. Totally. :-)Of course I had to badger her to spend some time to sit down with me and tell me and us her story! How? What?Read on!
Blog: Doorstep and Beyond
So Aparna, let’s start from the beginning! A little background please?
So, I can tell you love music. How did that come about? Started off as a child or is that a recent entry?
Growing up in a Tamil Brahmin family, it’s hard to escape music. I grew up learning Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam. I have ALWAYS been exposed to music and dance, but percussion has been my main draw. When I was about 10 – I wanted to join “mridangam” classes, but it was a pretty male dominated thing to do, and multiple teachers refused to tutor a girl! So that was that. I ended up joining my high school marching band to get my percussion fix! 🙂
Haha, I can totally relate to that! I am not Tamilian by birth, but have lived there and I know that it’s something that runs in your blood, and it’s actually a hugely envious trait, for the rest of the clans I mean! So this sounds like a natural progression of sorts.
Percussion is amazing, and am not surprised but more shocked that the teachers would actually refuse you! Gosh, You showed them didn’t ya!
So tell me, did you figure out why percussion?
Percussion is fascinating to me. It’s very mathematical (and I love numbers!) in a sense, and timing is everything. Also, when playing the drums, you are expressing yourself, and you literally forget about everything else at the time. The energy is fabulous, and invigorates me.
I agree. The drum resonates deeply.
I know we can all google, but tell us about Batala. What sort of drumming is it, and origins?
The music that we play is from Salvdaor, in Brazil. In Salvdaor, music is literally everywhere. There are multiple street parades (called blocos) – and the music is basically the evolution of the drumming methods brought to Brazil in the 18th and 19th century by West African slaves. There’s a lot of history to the music we play.The all-women Batala Washington percussion group started in June 2007 in Washington DC, and is part of the International Batala group that plays Afro-Brazilian / Samba-Reggae rhythms.
There are over 20 Batala bands around the world – in the US, France, England, Spain, Brazil, Belgium…etc. It’s a big family!
That sounds super fascinating. But you are right, when I think South America, the vision is that of free styling, happy folks engaged in music, singing or drums and one thing that stays is that they all look so happy! That’s such a positive thing for a group to project. Love it.
So, how did you fall upon this band?
In 2011 my husband and I bought a condo and moved to the Ust neighborhood in DC. As luck would have it, Batala played a show in my neighborhood within a week of my moving! The minute I saw them – I knew I had to join them! I literally found my groove with them after seeing them that day. Seeing 70 women playing drums is powerful!
U bet! Isn’t that wonderful? Things just come together, when one is ready for it huh? 🙂
So you’ve been with the band a few years now, tell me how this has changed or shaped you?
Drumming in general to me is powerful, even more so as a girl. You forget about everything else when you are drumming – so it’s a great stress reliever, and a mental stimulator. Playing for 3-4 hours is also good physical exercise – it’s draining, but you are so wired from the stimulation, it’s almost like a “high”!
Batala Washington is all female –which brings about a different kind of energy and support!
Also, we got to play a show that opened for The Rolling Stones – can’t beat that!
All female is excellent! I belong to an all female biking group, and the fun, strong atmosphere is such a thriving atmosphere to be in. Has its perks definitely 🙂 Also one day you must send a video of you girls to all those tutors who refused you! 😉
Rolling Stones! Wow Indeed!
It must be a lot of fun and hard work am sure?
Playing with Batala is a LOT OF FUN, and if you are not having fun, it’s hard to keep up the commitment. At the same time, it’s also challenging. You are constantly trying to improve your skills, learn another drum, recognize the nuances in the music and the beats…it’s a constant learning and improvement process.
We also get to play at really cool and interesting venues, events – exposing me to a lot of things that I otherwise may not have come across.
YES! I agree. Work Hard, Play Hard always works. As long as we are challenged, and there is constant growth, interest and commitment sticks. What fine perks you have! 🙂
So tell me how many hours a week you meet, what’s your time commitment to this?
It’s definitely a big time and energy commitment. We spend about 5 hours weekly (Saturday mornings) or rehearsing as a group, and of course we have shows that we are all involved in. We are also an all volunteer band, which means we are involved in teams in the band and all contribute time to organizing shows, or managing the costumes and instruments, or doing PR etc.Currently I co-lead the production team, which is basically responsible for responding to show requests, making sure shows are set up and logistics on day of show. We have a number of teams and everyone in the band is encouraged to join one – if possible.
There are social commitments as well – with almost 80 people in the group, there is always a birthday, or a happy hour, or something! It’s up to you to manage your time and energy though – if you really want to do it, you will find a way. I have it easy – but there are women in the band who are in school, who have kids in school, so it’s a lot harder for them, but everyone is just so passionate about it, and you make it work. You want it to work.
Thank you for re-iterating what I also believe and tell folks all the time. If you want something bad enough, you will make time for it! The enthusiasm levels is what makes a group successful, and this is great that you girls have it together. Wonderful!
Do you think this drumming is for anyone to try? Is there a personality that would do better? Let’s say, should we be musical or trained for someone to try Batala?
Absolutely for everyone! I believe that it gives you a different persona when you are drumming, especially with a group of other women! Introverts, extroverts, musically inclined, not so inclined – there really is something for everyone, as long as you want it!
Yay! One of these days I’ll probably try it too. Am getting all enthused just watching a few of those videos you sent! So with all this time commitment and practice, I bet you had to give up a lot too? 🙂
Haha, yes, no more late Friday nights! In all seriousness, my husband has been a great support – since it does take a huge chunk of time, time away from him. And time away from friends too. My friends are also always supportive and come cheer us on in many shows. I don’t think of it as a sacrifice – but more that I have really found something that is truly satisfying, and am glad to have all the support I do!
It’s awesome to have that support right? Pretty much all the women I’ve spoken with, have a spouse who is amazingly supportive in what they do. It works both ways, but without the men allowing us to be ourselves, reaching where we want to is hard.
So, how diverse is this group? Have any one else from India or someone you can relate to? I know it doesn’t matter much, but for curiosity sakes?
There is one other Indian in the group. But – never felt conscious or stood out – the group is EXTREMELY diverse and very welcoming. I like that it is also a different world of sorts, for me – and outside my regular circle of friends.
Awesome! I agree. It’s refreshing too, isn’t it?
Okay now share some funny incidents during this learning process. I bet there are a few, there have to be! 🙂
Oh man, too many to count! To keep it kosher, I’ll give you a small example. When we were rehearsing for our show at the Rolling Stones concert, Mick Jagger (we call him Mick ;)) came out and said Hi – and all of us just stood there like lovestruck teenagers, in awe, and didn’t say a word. Not sure what he made of that…..We’ve also had a number of shows where my (drum) sticks fly off…or I make a HUGE and very evident mistake…it’s embarrassing, but it happens…and we laugh it off.
LOL! Mick eh? Yep, the aura of a super musician. I can see that happening with a few I admire. 🙂
..and yes, sticks flying. That’s me definitely haha!
As a parting shot, tell me where you see yourself, say a year or 5 years form now? Batala is here to stay?
Honestly, I don’t really know. I am not a planner. I do however know that I want to and will keep doing it as long as I can. Once a Batalette, always a Batelette J
A few links:
WashPo article on Batala Washington.
CCTV’s article on the Troupe and Founder.