Twenty-five years ago a group of dancers formed Obini Batá and challenged the tradition of all-male drummers by becoming the first women to perform with the Batá drums in Cuba. Obini (the Yoruba word for Women) thus shaped the history of one of Cuba’s most influential instruments, but there were many who thought women playing the drum was scandalous, and it became a struggle to gain wider acceptance.
The multigenerational group ranges from Eva Despaigne, la Maestra, and last of the founding members, to younger women from diverse professional and artistic backgrounds. In moments of rest taken from intense practice, Eva outlines the history of the group and provides an introduction to the Batá drums, Iyá, Itótele, and Kónkolo. The younger members, having benefited from the original struggle to prove that women deserve a place in the world of percussionists, now focus on balancing motherhood, family life and their artistic careers. Eva maintains the longer view that Obini Batá must maintain two goals: First, a creative nucleus that can train new artists and secondly, a platform that defends the rights of women in society, in art and in the drum.
This short film by Damian Calvo gives us an intimate portrait of Obini Batá during rehearsal inside their home base at the Cine Cervantes in Havana Cuba. The film follows the band as they sing, dance, and play percussion, embracing a wide variety of musical styles and blending them seamlessly into weekly performances for energized crowds. The film reveals a rare glimpse into a world of music and human connection through the creative life of this extraordinary group of women, and their story of playing the Batá.