Why I Don't Like To Be Called a "Woman Drummer"

with Thione Diop, ca. 2011

When I am introduced as a “woman drummer,” I feel somewhat uncomfortable because I need to be acknowledged as a member of the drumming community at large. When I’m presented as a representative of “women’s drumming” in Seattle, the implication is that there is a community of women drummers in this very small city who do a particular kind of drumming that men don’t do, and I am their standard-bearer.

    The truth is that there are many really fine drummers in Seattle and quite a few of them are women. That was not always true, of course, but it is true now. There are women here who are far better drummers than I am in terms of technique, speed, strength and stamina. There are women here who understand and can interpret African and Cuban rhythms much better than I do. To hold me up as an example of the finest that Seattle can offer, female-drummer-wise, is to ignore Seattle’s unusually large and vibrant drumming community and its population of fine, accomplished drummers who happen to be women. Maybe what people are really implying when they introduce me as the premier female drummer in Seattle is that among older women, I stand out. Well, that may be true. So why would that bother me?

    Here’s why.

    When I began drumming professionally, I took the “safe” road in terms of where and for whom I drummed. I took the “nurturer-caregiver” path, drumming in nursing and retirement homes, elementary schools, prisons and hospitals. (Later, I called this “the Florence Fucking Nightingale School of Drumming.”) In those places and for those populations I was a credit to my sex … and my age (Doesn’t that phrase makes you cringe?). Of course I was the best. To whom was I comparing myself? How critical or demanding was my audience?

    Then, one day several years ago, on a New Year’s Eve, as a matter of poetic fact, I had an epiphany. In a moment of stunning clarity I realized that although I was not as accomplished as many of my fellow drummers, and although I could not in many ways play like them, it was also true that they could not play like me! I understood in that moment that my gifts were unique and valuable. And that I could stand among them – men as well as women – and be counted and judged as a Drummer – not a “woman drummer” or an “older woman drummer” (or a “short older woman drummer from Seattle or any other narrow demographic which ensured my supremacy within that tiny group).

    It’s important to me to be seen – and judged, if you will (and you will) – as simply a drummer. My drumming stands or falls on its merits and I don’t want anyone to spot me any points in this game. I’m not handicapped by the fact of my age or sex, except as I choose to view these qualities as handicaps. And I don’t.

Yours in Rhythm,

Simone LaDrumma