DCM helping Women

By Kalani • November 4th, 2010

Kalani helps bring community music to LA's Downtown Women's Center.

The LA DWC provides housing, meals, classes, and support for hundreds of women who live in and around LA's skid row. They had contacted me to provide community music facilitation and music therapy services.

When first arrived, I was greeted with smiles and looks of curiosity as I wheeled my rolling case which was piled high with drums, percussion, and my ukulele and flute. I set up in their back patio area, which has a garden-feel to it due to all the potted plants and trees. The sounds of birds, construction work, and the occasional siren provide a constant musical backdrop. Some woman sat at nearby tables as I began to set out instruments. I was about 15 minutes early, so there weren't many people there yet.

A couple of ladies came over and sat down next to me. I introduced myself and asked them how they were doing, talking about the center and what their interests are. As we spoke, I got out my ukulele and started to strum some chords. One lady commented that it sounded like we were in Hawaii! We started talking about Hawaii and it turned out that one of the woman had lived their for three years. As we talked, I told them about the fishing parties (Hukilau) on the island and how everyone would go out to throw their nets into the ocean, catch fish, and head back for a celebration.

I sang them the hukilau song and showed them some of the hand gestures for the hula. Within minutes we were all singing and doing the hukilau dance! "Oh we're going to the hukilau, the huki-uki-uki-uki-hukilau. Everybody loves the hukilau, where the lau lau is the kau kau at the big luau. We throw our nets out into the sea, and all the ama ama come'a swim'n to me. Oh we're going to the hukilau, the huki-uki-uki- uki-lau." It was so nice to see the ladies singing and dancing together, while I played the uke! We finished the song and felt as if we had been transported to a wonderful place where everyone was safe, friendly and happy (and we were).

After the hukilau, I took out some medium-size Toca ulta-light drums and showed them some basic darbuka (doumbek) technique. Within a minute, we were all improvising together. I grounded the pulse while they explored. At various times, I would mirror, match, and imitate different women to make a musical connection, often returning to my role as the rhythmic ground. At one point, we segued into Fanga Alafia and sang to each other. Other women showed up and either began dancing or playing along. I kept handing out drums until there were about 8 drummers. The tables off to the side were now full of people who were enjoying listening. As time passed, many of them joined in and played as well.

We continued to play drums and once the women found their own rhythm, I transitioned to the native american flute, playing melodies that fit with their rhythms. The women really seemed to enjoy the addition of melody and asked me about the flute several times. One woman started to imitate the sounds of the flute using her voice and she and I had a little musical dialogue over the drumming. I'm not sure what we were talking about but I know it was something having to do with fun!

Back to the Ukulele. I told the women about the beautiful "baiana" from Brazil, a woman who enjoys to dance in the circle (when she's done selling her goods in the market.) We learned the song and call & response sections. We talked about passion and what it is we all do when we want to feel good. Most of the women talked about music, dancing, and being creative! "Great!" I said "Let's all do more of that!" One woman asked me when I was going to come back so they could do more music. I said "Soon. I hope. But you don't have to wait for me!" We did the Baiana song a few more times while some women danced. Others drummed along or played hand percussion. Lots of smiles.

Finally it was time to say goodbye. So I talked about how we had started in Hawaii, suggesting that we might as well end there. I asked if anyone knew how to say 'goodbye' in Hawaiian. We talked about how 'Aloha' means both hello and goodbye. We also talked about the word 'Mahalo' and how it can mean 'thank you' and 'i love you' (If you want it to.) We sang 'Aloha Oe' and waved goodbye to different people in the group, which by this time had grown from three to twenty.

I stayed and ate lunch at the center, speaking to several ladies who receive services there. One woman talked about how 'skid row' got its name from the logging industry infrastructure, where the logs that were floated down river were brought onto the shore using 'skids' (low ramps) to make the transition easier. She said that it's ironic that the trees that ended up there were stripped of their leaves, branches and roots - much like the people who now live in that area. Wow.

The Women's Center is a place for re-planting, growth and a starting point for branching out. My hope is that, through the music we created as a community, I helped that process along today. I'm pretty sure that I sprouted a few leaves too. What a wonderful way to spend the morning.


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