I reach for my drum. It all seems too formal. We’re a predominantly white group of delegates politely handing over an envelope of cash tips to a black group of staff at a conference venue in South Africa. “We learned a Zulu song last night, have you got time for us to sing it to you?” I ask.
Their eyes shine as we stumble through our performance and they say, “Thank you. This is how WE would sing it”. They blow the roof off. Then there’s another song, and another. We end up dancing together on the breakout room tables!
As we’re leaving, one of the few black members of our group, a Maasai activist in traditional dress, takes me aside. “Tom, your drumming activated my spirit. Our native Kenyan culture is discouraged by our current government. We don’t have drums back at home. I will tell our children about you”.
Six months later I see him in a Facebook photograph, by chance, at a Kenyan orphanage a friend of mine from London is visiting.
“Tom, good to see you, these are our children” he writes, “we have thirty five here now”.
“But I thought you said you had no drums”, I write back, “It looks like you’re drumming and dancing in the photos”.
“Oh yes” he says. “I looked up your website and showed the children your drumming videos. They insisted we make our own drums so they could play along with you. We have remembered our traditional rhythms too”.
Over the next ten years, with a little help from my friends, I raise enough cash to fund a water pump, a water tower, beds for everyone and a dining hall. I also build them an ‘Odlum House of Grass’ website so Western Union desist from questioning their legitimacy every time I send them some new funds.
“But how do you do all this?” a friend asks, “you’re just a drummer”. Indeed I am. I am just a drummer.