I deleted so many scenes from The Talking Drum over the years in which I was revising it that I had a hard time choosing which one to feature in this blog. I finally settled on a scene in which my character Sydney, who co-owns The Talking Drum Bookstore and Cultural Center with her husband, is desperate to unload a set of encyclopedias her husband purchased. She doesn’t think anyone will buy them. She’s thrilled when drummer Omar Bassari comes into the store. She thinks she can unload them on him. I deleted this scene because it didn’t really move the story along. Omar does a lot of explaining that drags down the dialogue.
Also, I later found a more interesting way for Sydney to meet Omar, while she and her neighbor Della and Della’s daughter Jasmine, were having lunch at Omar’s uncle’s restaurant in the neighborhood slated for demolition. Omar was playing the drums for the lunchtime crowd at the time.
The chime went off. Sydney vowed that she wouldn’t let the person leave without buying something. Maybe she could unload the set of encyclopedias.
The first thing she noticed was the clothing the man was wearing, a royal blue, long-sleeved, loose-fitting shirt that ended at his shins. The shirt had blue/gold embroidery around the neck and cuffs. He wore matching pants and a close-fitting matching skull cap with the same blue-gold embroidery around the rim. His clothing reminded her of outfits she had seen people wearing at some of the street festivals she had gone to in the African section of the city with her parents when she was a child. The long shirt he was wearing was called a boubou. She remembered the word because it had made her laugh.
He was of average height, with smooth, dark skin, about the color of a Hershey’s candy bar. A small, gold hoop earring hung from one earlobe. She found his eyes striking. Slate grey. Sydney had never seen a black man with grey eyes before. She noted his regal bearing as he approached the counter.
“Good afternoon, Madame. My name is Omar Bassari.”
She liked the name. It had a poetic feel.
His diction was crisp, each word spoken in a patient, deliberate fashion. Sydney had been right. He had an African accent. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Bassari,” she said. She decided that his eyes were a steel grey, not slate.
“So you are a Dizzy fan.” he said.
“I’m a what?”
“A Dizzy fan.”
“Sir, I don’t understand.”
“You know, Dizzy Gillespie.”
She realized that he was referring to the tune on the radio. “Oh, I was just looking for some music to listen to, you know, to pass the time.”
“You have picked the right music. Dizzy is one of my favorites.” He stood back and lifted his arms. Through the loose sleeves of the boubou, she could see muscular arms. “He’s not just a trumpeter, not just a band leader. This man knows how to improvise like nobody else.” He motioned as if he were conducting an orchestra. “I saw him many years ago in Argentina: true genius. He is my music teacher, although he doesn’t know it. He is my idol, as you Americans like to say.”
She noticed flecks of gray in his mustache. He was probably in his late thirties or early forties.
“So where are you from?” she said.
“Africa.” He said it with a deep sense of pride.
“Senegal.” He tilted his head. “Have you been there before?”
She laughed. “No. I’ve never been outside of the United States.”
“That’s a shame. You must come there someday. I’m from Dakar, the capital. We have more than a million people. You would like Senegal. We have major cities, just like here in America.”
“So what brought you to the United States?”
“My music. I lead a band, Fulani Sound. I play the African drums and the balafon. It’s like your American xylophone. I am also the Griot.”
He took a deep breath and smiled broadly. “The griot is the most important role in the band. I’m the storyteller. I tell people about the generations before them. I remind them of Senegal’s rich past and what they must do to build a strong community.”
“You’re a historian?”
“I’m also a composer. Just like Dizzy. I compose almost all of the songs we play. I joined the band after I finished my business studies at the University of Dakar. We traveled all over West Africa with our music, even South America. Then we got travel visas to come to the United States. We went back and forth for many years, but we decided we liked America so we stayed here.” He grinned. “We like the money.”
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