"When I first started to play djembe [an African drum], the brothers thought a sister shouldn't play. It was just that women don't play," says Regina Perkins. "But I bought a drum and learned how to play it. . . . Then I started to street-perform. Finally the brothers had to give respect where respect was due. I could play, and they started to ask me to come along."
Regina Perkins can play a mean djembe, as well as the Mali drum known as the djun-jun. She is a master of the Yoruba bead-covered gourd called the shakere. I've seen her toss her shakere in the air, catch it, and keep playing, making the silence during the toss fit perfectly into the rhythm of the whole sequence.
Perkins, who performs regularly with the groups Samana and Nunu Fatima, has been playing for 11 years, though she says "I don't consider 11 years a long time." She never expected to be a drummer. "My sister Beverly was wearing dreadlocks; she was into the African thing. My hair was fried, dyed, and laid to the side. She told me to go listen to the drummers at 63rd and South Shore, but I never did.
"Now I've always been a hustler. I needed some money, and I saw all these snowball vendors around. So I learned where to get the ice and the juice and set myself up; I cleared $100 a day doing that. One day these drummers started setting up around me. They started playing and I liked it. I decided that I wanted a drum, and I wanted that skinny brother on the white conga." Perkins got both the drum and the brother, Joseph Frost, who became her first teacher.
She teaches now, both private students and in an after-school program called SAFE--"say no to drugs, say no to guns, say no to gangs," says Perkins--at Saint Agatha's elementary school in Lawndale. Kids in the SAFE program learn African dance, drumming, and choir.
Saint Agatha's school will also be the site of an October 2 percussion workshop for children taught by Perkins and other members of the Women's Percussion Ensemble. "We'll be exploring polyrhythms," Perkins says. "We'll get the kids clapping to lay down a foundation beat, then we'll start drumming." The free workshop starts at noon at 3147 W. Douglas.
The Women's Percussion Ensemble is a group of five women from Chicago, New York, and Ohio put together for DanceAfrica/Chicago 1994, a ten-day festival of African dancing, music, and culture, by Chuck Davis, the event's impresario. They'll give two free performances on Monday: from noon to 1 at Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington, and from 5 to 7 at the Columbia College Hokin Student Center, 623 S. Wabash. They'll also be in the lineup at DanceAfrica/Chicago's performances next weekend at Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash. Show times for that are 8 PM Friday and Saturday and 3 PM Sunday; tickets are $12-$16. Call 271-7804 for info.