Astral traveling with the Fire Goddess In Hawaii
Makeda Takes Her Female Empowerment Message Overseas
Conducting Her Sensual Strength Training Seminar
Calling Forth the Goddess Sprits with Sacred Rhythms
Makeda Takes a Healing Message to her Costa Rican Sisters
Witnessing the majesty of Makeda – A Shaman/Scientist/ Artist/Athlete – and her sisters drumming in Costa Rico, I am reminded of all the male chauvinist nonsense I was taught about women being forbidden by divine prohibition from touching the drums by my male Afro-centric tutors. They were convinced that they were imparting ancient ancestral wisdom. Drumming, whether summoning the Gods or inspiring kinetic poetry in dancers, was purely a male prerogative in their minds.
Of course, I came of age in a drumming culture, but of a very different sort – the world of precision rudimental snare drumming associated with military style marching bands. Bands that played marches like “El Capitan” and “Stars and Stripes Forever,” Songs made famous by the great United States Marine Corps band, and composed by its founder John Phillip Sousa. In these bands the percussion section sounded like thunder! And while I can recall no instance when a woman was prevented from playing the drums, either by divine decree or social etiquette, I can’t recall a good drummer who was a girl either.
Girls played the clarinet – which is both a reed and a woodwind – and is one of the most difficult instruments to play. And they played piano, the master of all the instruments in the orchestra; they also played the violin – a feat I still regard as some sort of inexplicable alchemy. But they rarely, if ever, played the drums. There was something about the drums that emitted a macho vibe…it seemed to me a manly thing to do early on. In retrospect I wonder if, like my initial love for football, I was attracted to drumming because it provided me an opportunity to show off for the girls. Max Roach, the greatest improvisational artist on the drum kit in the twentieth century once told that this was the impetus for his virtuoso drumming style, which featured extended solos. “Man I got tired of the horn players getting all the girls,” he recalled, “so I put the drums out front!”
However, Makeda is not one to be quietly shunted off into what some misguided male may mistakenly believe is her “proper place.” She is an intellectual iconoclast and irreverent free thinker who is smart as a whip. Plus she as stubborn as a Tush Hog. In this she is every bit my daughter in mind and spirit. She is exactly how I raised her to be! I am explicitly making this point because lately she has informed me that some of the dudes who play drums have criticized her for wanting to play, demanding that she respect ancient taboos. When she greeted such suggestions like the absurd insults that they are, some of these jokers caught an attitude and accused her of having problems with men.
The Greatest Drum Line in the world!
At which point Makeda pulls their coats to the fact that her daddy raised her to be just the way she is. And I just wanna say “The girl didn’t tell a word of a lie” as my grandmother would say. Witha twin brother who is also smart and was a two sport athlete to boot, Makeda had a worthy male competitor all of her life. When she came to me one day and asked if she could be a cheerleader, which seemed a natural progression because she had been formally studying ballet since the age of five, I told her in no uncertain terms: “Later for being a cheerleader, be an athlete and let somebody cheer you!”
She went on to become a multi-sport athlete and ran the 100 and 200 meter sprints in Division One. I am delighted to report that she got everything I wanted her to get from playing sports. Although there are myriad virtues embodied in active participation in competitive sports: learning how to view both success and failure as imposters; chameleons that are subject to change at a moments notice; thus accepting each situation with grace, maintaining your cool no matter what; this is the greatest lesson for real life. Thus one does not become deluded by success or demoralized by failure.
This is what I learned from playing football, and I wanted my daughter to be armed with these virtues. Especially since I knew that because she is a girl most boys would always try to play her cheap. There would of course be some exceptions, I told her, “but the general lot of them will always underestimate you.” However, I also told her that it was no disadvantage being thought a fool unless you are a fool; but if you are not a fool her competitors had placed themselves at her mercy. And Makeda Voletta is nobody’s fool!
These are the attitudes that made her a division I athlete, Science Merit Scholar, and Dean List student. It is also the reason why she has decided that she wants to possess the power and experience the ecstasy of playing the drums for dancers. I was surprised when she told me that she wanted to learn how to drum. To tell the truth, I didn’t take her seriously because she had never shown any particular interests in playing a musical instrument. But, of course, her interest in the drums grows out of their organic relationship to the dance traditions that most intrigue her.
Katherine Dunham and master drummer Ladji Camara
Two Legends Collaborate
Makeda Dancing Haitian Ra Ra
Like Katherine Dunham, Sevilla Forte and Pearl Primus – her God Mothers in the tradition – Makeda is a serious student of the dances of the African Diaspora throughout the Americas. But she alone among these seminal figures in Afro-American dance has decided to learn to play the drums that so inspire them to dance. I believe this is because Makeda never accepted the prescribed “place” set aside for women. She has always pursued her dreams and ambitions without regard to the conventional wisdom on gender relations.
Makeda’s attitude toward life’s challenges can be summed up in Robert Kennedy’s favorite adage “Some people view things as they are and ask why? / I dream of things that never were and ask why not?” That’s what she tells the women she counsels. In studying traditional dances with a ritual function in society, it is also necessary to study the belief systems of that culture. As a person raised free of religious dogma of any sort, delving into the spirit world of Shamans, Voodoo Priests and Priestess, Babaloshas and Babalaos, Gods – Goddess are more her speed – has been a mind expanding experience. By some inecpilcable alchemy she has managed to integrate these non-rational beliefs into her scientific view of the world and the human condition to arrive at a place I, as a cold and sober rationalist, cannot fully enter.
But for those who can go there – most especially women in search of a holistic experience of mind/ body/ spirit development – Makeda has a life enhancing message. She is rigorously trained in the sciences of fitness and nutrition – she holds a degree in Sports science with a specialization in exercise physiology and a minor in nutrition from the University Of Delaware, plus graduate study in nutrition at Columbia University – Makeda holds certifications in Olympic style weight training and Sports Nutrition among others. Beyond this she is a serious student of ancient spiritual beliefs that center on the Goddess figure in ancient cultures.
From this body of highly esoteric information she has devised a system for empowering women that strengthens them in mind, body and spirit. Since she is in the process of trade marking her method, a necessary step in a field where everybody is looking for a new angle; I will say no more about it here. What follows is a series of pictures and a couple of video clips showing her in action with the women in Costa Rica, as well as some pictures from her recent trip to Haiti, a country whose culture she has developed a profound love and understanding.
Makeda says her trip to Haiti was a spiritual sojourn in which she engaged in healing rituals centered around sacred dances and dispensing scientific information about fitness and nutrition based upon the resources available to the Haitian people in this time of national crisis. Needless to say, as a Pan-Africanist for virtually my entire life, I am immensely proud of my daughter and her work. However, as an Afro-Indio woman Makeda has passionately embraced her native American roots also.
In Search of her Seminole Ancestors!
Standing Outside the Castillio de San Marcos in St Augustine Fla
Standing In Front of War Chief Chief Oceola
Look At Their Faces: An Afro – Seminole Member of the Tribe?
Communing With Her Latina Sisters
Sharing Warm Vibes
Full Moon Ritual
Conjuring the Rhythms of Life
Good Food Was an integral Part Of the Training
Like This Scumptiuous Soup
Or These Exquisite Delicacies
Fish and Rice Costa Rican Style
At the Edge of the Rain Forest
We could hear the monkeys chattering in the Trees
Poster Art In Public Places is Still Au Courant here
A Community Bulletin Board
Costa Ricans Are Beautiful
A Rainbow people: Black, Brown and Beige
They Showed Makeda Much Love!
She got the whole front page!
Her Visit Was Well Covered In The Press
And When her Healing Work Was Done
They Bade Her A Warm Farewell!
Her mother went down to Observe and the women thanked her…
for birthing Makeda!
Praying to The Fire Goddess Pele in Hawaii
Evoking The Feminine Powers Of Earth’s Flaming Bosom
I Believe She Can Fly!
No running start; no special effects; just a straight vertical leap!
Double click to watch Makeda on Costa Rican Television
Text by Playthell Benjamin
Photos from Coasta Rica by: Makeda Voletta
Excepting the ones in which she appears.
Cover Photo by: Tim Ormand
Other Photos will be credited later.
Harlem, New York
October 8, 2010