“I am woman hear me roar.” Those words written and sung by Australian-American Artist Helen Reddy came at the apex of the female empowerment movement in the early 70’s. The song, its lyrics and message served as an Anthem for women during that time who felt oppressed and were now demanding to break free…free from being dismissed, held down and pigeon holed. Further into the song, the lyrics declare, “You can bend but never break me. ‘Cause it only serves to make me.” The charge fueled many newly empowered women to new heights. More than 4 decades later, we have women serving in the highest levels of our government, heading up and running major corporations…even landing on the moon. However, the advancements were not without struggle. Breaking down barriers to hold positions normally reserved for their male counterparts often came with a price. Those fearless women braved the way. So, Thank God in 2015 women from all walks of life can spread their wings and be free or…can they? FLAM talked with three young ladies who are trying to do just that. But, as they strike out to “march to the beat of their own drum”, they’ve all had to, at some point, demand for the guys…to give the “female” drummer some.
A few years back Rolling Stone conducted a poll asking readers to pick the 10 best drummers of all time. Surprisingly, not one of them was female. What?! What about Sheila E., Cindy Blackmon…Terri Lyne Carrington?! FLAM decided to do some research looking up the very definition of the term drummer in Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The definition of a drummer is listed as: One that plays a drum; sometimes used figuratively in phrases denoting unconventional thought or action like marching to a different drum. It’s interesting. It never referred to the term as “HE who plays a drum”.
But, if you’ve ever seen Zee “Bateria” Johnson play, you’ll definitely have to give HER respect. She is definitely woman. Hear her roar! She doesn’t shout or scream. She let’s her kit do the talking. “Anytime a guy or someone asks you to play, it’s imperative that you go for blood!” Zee, who coined herself Zee Bateria (Spanish for drummer), says it was a tough journey that led to self-discovery. Graduating at 17, she tells FLAM she went to college early to major in science, because that’s the path her parents laid out for her. The irony is she played and had a passion for drums since she was a child. Zee Bateria says she had to take an elective in college. So, she signed up for a keyboard class. She tells FLAM she loved it so much she would stay in the piano lab from 9am to 10 o’clock at night. Despite never reading music or playing keyboard, by the time the class ended, Zee was, reportedly, playing better than people who’d been playing since childhood. Can you say prodigy (smile). The self-taught drummer and keyboardist changed her major to Music. The native Houstonian says her goal was to make her mark as a drummer after college. There was a major shift after she posted a video of a choir singing acapella with her playing the drums. People began to demand to see more of her phenomenal skills on the drums. She started posting more videos. Zee says her social media friends grew from 200 to 1500 almost overnight! But, all it took was for one person to cause her world to seemingly come crashing down. A well-known local Houston drummer and producer, whom Zee describes as a 30 something grown man with a family, reportedly posted that she was a “wack girl drummer”. The tide changed after his post and a flood of comments came in ripping Zee Bateria apart. The attacks were so vicious she shut down her social media accounts and put her sticks down. She says she wallowed in the hurt and the pain for several months. Until one day, she decided to let his rejection be her motivation. “I decided I was going to take that comment and throw it in his face!” she said. Zee decided to audition for the Guitar Center Drum Off. The determined drummer tells FLAM her preparation for the contest was intense. She says she would wake up at 4am and practice for 5 hours before heading off to work a full day at a local yogurt shop. Then, she would come back home to practice for 5 more hours. She held down the intense regiment for 4 months. It paid off. In 2014, she got 3rd place in Houston’s Guitar Center Drum Off store finals. She placed 3 out of 300. And, yes…she was the only female. Zee says, “A lot of girls came up to me and said I never saw a girl play, and I never saw a girl play like that!” The greatest reward for her wasn’t winning. Zee says it was the full circle moment she had when she faced her biggest critic. It turns out the drummer who tore her apart was one of three people judging the competition. He, reportedly had to eat his words after she blazed on the kit. “The guy apologized and said I was a beast on the drums”, says Zee. She forgave him, but tells FLAM she has no time for people like him. “Now, I’m dangerous, because don’t care what people say!”
Houston Drummer Ariel Jones has had to silence the naysayers, as well. She recalls a Tuba player in high school telling her that girls couldn’t play drums. Despite that, she persevered. Jones was Drum Line Captain her Junior and Senior year of high school. She went on to march in Texas Southern University’s Ocean of Soul Band. Today, there’s no need for Jones to have to prove herself. But, when she shows up on the scene, there’s an air of skepticism. “Sometimes when I go to gigs and jam sessions, it’s sort of that elephant in the room until I start playing.” Women like Zee Bateria and Ariel Jones are shattering stereotypes, while up and comers like recent high school grad Anastasiya Kostromina uses drums to drown the haters.
The first thing FLAM noticed when interviewing the Russian born Brooklyn bred teen was that she is definitely fierce. “As a metaphor, I drum louder to cancel out the noise of other people.” Anastasiya affectionately referred to as AJ says, “I’ve gotten a lot of comments that say, ‘Oh, she’s a chick drummer. She’s good for a female drummer.’ But, I don’t let that get to me, because once you know what your calling is, don’t let anybody stop you.” I don’t think anyone would try to stop AJ if they tried. Did I mention she holds a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do (LOl)?! Just like Zee Bateria, AJ’s parents tried to steer her into pursuing a career in science and medicine. The Brooklyn Drummer who started performing last summer on the streets of New York says she’s not going the traditional route. “There’s nothing wrong with going to school, but that doesn’t guarantee you’re going to get gigs when you graduate. Your hustle is going to get you where you want to be.” AJ says she plans on studying under some seasoned drum veterans and taking her skills on the road. “I see myself in the next couple of years playing for somebody like Beyonce, because I love playing for fierce females!”
It’s clear that these women are inspirational, but who inspires them? Ariel Jones says it’s not always the big name drummer. For her, it is Blind Jazz Drummer Sebastian Whitacker. He told her he got his house playing drums. So, she knew she had no excuse when trying to accomplish her goals. AJ says her environment is inspiring. “It’s not always about who. It can be what, like if I hear a sound when I’m walking down the street.” They look to nature to inspire and God to guide them. “God has shown me that I need to give back while coming up,” says Ariel Jones. All three female drummers are doing just that. Jones has recently taken a position as Band Director at Dowling Middle School in Houston. AJ’s high school won first place in in this year’s band competition after a decade of losing, with her leading the drum line as an upper classman. And, many students have flourished under Zee Bateria’s guidance as an Instructor at the School of Rock. These women are teachers. But, if you’ve looked them up on social media or seen them play in person, they’ll teach you a lesson all right. “This is me. I’m sexy and beautiful. But, I kill it on the drums!” says Zee Bateria. And, to that we remember the charge of Helen Reddy and say…Roar woman roar!
Story by Nikki M. (FLAM NEWS)