Photo by Jon Chase
It was the beat that lured Allison Stamiris in from the street: the hypnotic, propulsive drumbeat emanating from the second story of The Dance Complex in Central Square.
Now, several nights a week, it’s Stamiris’ own drumbeat that calls to passers-by on Massachusetts Avenue.
Ever since she climbed the Dance Complex’s wide marble stairs in curiosity, Stamiris, who is manager of student records for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences registrar’s office, has made West African drumming her passion.
A rock ‘n’ roll drummer since high school, Stamiris had long wanted to trade drumsticks for hands and learn African drumming. Her Central Square revelation coincided with a world music class she was taking at the Harvard Extension School; the serendipitous occasion produced not only a final project for the class, but a hobby that has become a major focus of her life.
“I just feel somehow drawn to it,” she says. “I really like the feel and the energy of the music.
Stamiris drums nearly every day of the week, either accompanying dance classes on her goblet-shaped djembe or studying and performing with Malian master teachers Joh Camara and Moussa Traoure.
Last summer, drumming took Stamiris to Mali, where she and a group spent three weeks studying drumming and dancing as well as history, language, and culture. Eating with people in their homes, participating in ceremonies and rituals, and, of course, drumming, enriched the experience she’s had among the Boston area’s active West African drumming and dance community.
“Seeing the context in which it actually happens in Mali makes it make so much more sense,” she says.
A drummer first and foremost, Stamiris also studies African dance. It’s a bigger challenge to her than the drumming, she says, but an integral part of the performance. In a recent dance class in Cambridge, which she accompanied with seven other drummers, communication between dancers and drummers was free-flowing and intense. Dancers responded to the drums’ rhythm and intensity; drummers met the dancers’ escalating energy with their own.
In the dance studio, Stamiris was the only woman who was not dancing.
“Drumming is a very male thing,” she acknowledges. “I don’t think I’ve ever really seen a professional female djembe player.” In Mali and in the Boston area, however, Stamiris has been treated with respect. While she says she’s a long way from being an expert, she’s accomplished enough that several teachers have invited her to join their own performing ensembles.
A recent transplant from Michigan who thought she might pursue an academic career that married her love of history with her interest in French, Stamiris has found an anchor in her drumming.
“Being able to play with these amazing drummers every week is really keeping me going, keeping me here,” she says. “I feel very fortunate to have this type of resource available to me.”