Art

Rani the drum queen

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Drummer Rani Shah. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

How many girls do you know can be a ballerina one night, dancing tall on her toes at the Kenya  National theatre and two days later behave like a funky punk girl drummer giving an awesome solo performance at an elegant Golden Palms restaurant?

“This is my first, sort of, professional performance on drums,” Rani Shah tells BD Life just moments before she goes to sit behind her man-sized drum kit.

“I’ve performed a lot in school, but this is the first time that I’ve been invited to drum professionally in a public place,” she says, explaining how she has been at Golden Palms since morning that day, both setting up her drums and rehearsing with DJ Raji who selected half a dozen Bollywood tunes he knew his audience would like and she picked the other six top-ten hits.

Normally, Rani says she rehearses several hours every day and also has drum lessons via Zoom with her Cameroonian teacher three times a week. But since she was invited to perform, she’s added rehearsal hours just to ensure her performance is rhythmically perfect.

And perfect it was! She changed her style depending on which kind of music the DJ played. But overall, there wasn’t one moment when Rani missed the beat or fell off the rhythm. Nonetheless, one could see she was adding special stylistic effects to every song.

And you could also see that she enjoyed each tune, and never even worked up a sweat despite the speed, force, and dynamism that she injected, using not just her arms, legs, and feet, but also her head, heart, and soul.

Asked if she normally does special exercises to prepare for the sort of rigorous performing that we saw last Tuesday night, Rani says it isn’t necessary since she gets the exercise during her lengthy rehearsals and in her classes as well.

Yet when you look at this tall, lanky, and lean little girl who is just 15, you can’t see one bulging muscle on her bones. You have to wonder where she gets all that energy!

“It’s all in the technique,” Rani says. “You have to learn the right technique. Then you don’t need big muscles.” Her words are confirmed in her performance where she made explosive sounds when she wanted, at the same time alternating with cooler sounds when the song required them.

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Drummer Rani Shah. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

The owners of the Golden Palms, Neera and Khilan Shah, are clearly impressed with the first female drummer they have had perform on their premises. “We often have drummers perform with our DJ, so when we heard about Rani, we decided to invite her tonight,” Neera tells BD Life.

The crowd that is coming in this evening is having a pre-wedding party and dinner dance so everyone is dressed in elegant saris and colorful tunics. Rani’s performance provides a welcoming warmth to the
guests. Yet not everyone is aware this girl performs for more than an hour and a half nonstop!

“Rani loves her drumming,” says her mother, Leena Shah. “She has been learning to make music and to dance from the time she was age three,” adds this visual artist who admits creativity runs in her family’s bloodline.

“We were living in South Africa when Rani was born, and I had been told that it was best not to send children to school until there were seven. So I chose to enroll her in music and dance classes instead,” Leena says.

Rani’s drum teacher also taught her play keyboard, which meant she taught Rani to read music even before the little girl could read a book.

“I also took her to ballet around the same time,” Rani’s artist mother adds. “She hasn’t stopped studying either dance or drums ever since!”

This multi-talented girl-child has also been painting side by side her artistic mom for as long as she can recall. And whenever her school had theatrical shows, Rani was also on stage. But the most consistent art forms that give her the greatest joy are her drums and her dance.

It doesn’t hurt that both her parents are gungho for Rani’s artistic pursuits. Her dad, Raj Shah, tells BD Life that her artistic activities have only enhanced her academic studies.

“The same sort of precision we see in her drums and her dance, we also see in her academics, thankfully,” says Raj who brought Rani’s full drum kit (of five drums and two sets of cymbals) to Golden Palms] in the morning. He’s the epitome of a loving father who’s proud of his child.