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TEDGlobal 2017

Kasiva Mutua: How I use the drum to tell my story

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In this talk-performance hybrid, drummer, percussionist and TED Fellow Kasiva Mutua shares how she's breaking the taboo against female drummers in Kenya -- and her mission to teach the significance and importance of the drum to young boys, women and girls. "Women can be custodians of culture, too," Mutua says.

- Drummer, percussionist
Kasiva Mutua is working to elevate the place of the African woman in music. Full bio

"Listen.
00:13
Do you hear that?"
00:14
my grandmother asked me.
00:16
"Listen.
00:19
Listen to what the beetle is saying."
00:20
I would spend hours and hours
listening to the little beetle
00:24
rolling a huge ball of dung,
00:29
and while at it,
00:31
I heard a variety of environmental sounds.
00:33
With the keenest of ears,
I would hear family chatter,
00:36
laughter,
00:41
the wind howling
00:43
and even crickets chirping.
00:44
All these sounds crisscrossed
into each other,
00:47
and I would hear rhythm in between.
00:50
Then I would beat my plate with a spoon
and my chest with my tiny hands
00:53
trying to recreate what I was hearing.
00:59
I have been beating the same plates,
01:01
shakers, drums, pans
and so much more ever since
01:04
to become a professional drummer
01:09
and percussionist.
01:11
(Applause)
01:13
As I grew up, subconsciously,
01:18
I felt a strong urge
to hide my newfound hobby.
01:20
Even without it being said out loud,
01:25
I knew that somehow
it was wrong to do what I was doing.
01:27
In most of the ceremonies,
01:32
I noticed that most of the women
and girls were not in sight,
01:34
but when they were,
01:38
I noticed that they would wear
their dancing skirts
01:40
and shake their waists off,
01:42
singing, clapping, ululating,
01:45
while the men filled up
the rhythm section.
01:48
A few years later, I came to understand
01:52
what tradition and culture meant,
01:55
and what was considered taboo
01:58
or otherwise.
02:00
In the majority of African cultures,
02:03
women have been forbidden
to play drums and percussion
02:06
for a very long time.
02:08
I believe this taboo stems from
the psychological and traditional belief
02:11
that the woman is an inferior being.
02:17
I grew up hearing that the place
of the woman is in the kitchen
02:20
or in the other room.
02:24
Mhm?
02:28
(Laughter)
02:29
Women had been brainwashed
and led on for so long
02:32
until we had fallen victim and actually
started believing in this ourselves.
02:35
This, coupled with the lack
of interest to educate women,
02:41
played a major, major role
02:45
in etching this into our minds.
02:47
The sounds of the drum
provoke emotion and movement.
02:50
Essentially, the drum
is a very sensual instrument.
02:53
Once at a festival, a man asked me
02:57
how I dared put a drum in between my legs.
02:59
I have been considered loose and dirty
for playing an instrument.
03:03
I have repeatedly been questioned
03:09
why I would choose to play drums
03:12
instead of practicing journalism,
03:14
which I studied for my undergraduate,
03:16
which has been termed "more decent."
03:19
The sight of a woman
playing drums enfeebles her,
03:24
makes her less feminine,
03:27
less desirable,
03:30
but all this optimally
puts her on a lower social stand.
03:32
Drumming has essentially represented
the strong African heritage,
03:38
and its importance can be seen
03:42
in the many aspects
of the African tradition.
03:43
Many communities encompass drumming
in their day-to-day activities,
03:46
and still do up to date,
03:51
from childbirths to initiation ceremonies,
03:53
welcoming ceremonies,
03:57
marriages and even burials.
03:59
However, this same drum
04:03
is disappearing very fast
from the music scene,
04:06
and the traditional genre
is losing its popularity
04:09
very quickly amongst the people.
04:12
Inspired by the need
to preserve this culture,
04:15
I am teaching the significance
and the importance of the drum
04:18
to young boys, women and girls.
04:21
In my journey as a percussion teacher,
04:25
I have realized that very many women
04:27
actually want to play the drum,
04:30
but at the same time,
04:32
they fear it.
04:34
Some fear how society will perceive them.
04:36
Others fear the physical pain
that comes with playing.
04:39
Oh yes, it's not that easy.
04:43
Some, because their spouses
don't approve of them,
04:46
and others generally
fear the responsibility
04:50
of being a bearer of culture.
04:53
I believe, or I think that all these fears
04:56
are etched in the collective
feminine cautiousness
04:59
because when we learn of the atrocities
that have happened to women,
05:02
continentally especially,
05:07
it serves as a constant reminder
05:09
that one step out of our designated place
05:11
may end up in very serious consequences.
05:15
Well, I use my drum to tell my story
and my people's stories.
05:22
My roots shaped me
and my culture is here to stay with me.
05:28
Women can be custodians of culture, too.
05:32
We are born to bring forth life,
05:35
to nurture it.
05:38
We can definitely preserve our traditions
very, very excellently.
05:40
My drum and I,
05:45
we are here to stay.
05:47
(Applause)
05:49
We are definitely here to stay.
05:54
If women have led countries,
05:58
women have gone to space,
06:01
women have won Grammys,
06:03
then the same, same women
can play the drum
06:05
and play it -- to a five-star rating?
06:09
No, to a million-star rating.
06:12
Thank you.
06:15
(Applause)
06:16
(Chiming)
06:29
(Metallic drumming)
06:35
(Chiming)
06:55
(Rattling)
07:03
(Drumming)
07:34
(Applause)
12:23

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About the speaker:

Kasiva Mutua - Drummer, percussionist
Kasiva Mutua is working to elevate the place of the African woman in music.

Why you should listen

Jackline Kasiva Mutua is an internationally touring drummer and percussionist based in Nairobi, Kenya. Her performance style is influenced by afrobeat, zouk, samba, reggae and soul. As a young drummer, Mutua learned traditional drums from her grandmother and continues to perpetuate her heritage and celebrate her community’s spirit.

More profile about the speaker
Kasiva Mutua | Speaker | TED.com