By Anna Pulley
The Woman Crush Wednesday (#WCW) series is not yet a year old, and we’ve already had so many astounding, inspiring, and genre-busting drummers grace both our print magazine and website.
Our goal was to help bridge the gender imbalance we’ve seen in the percussion world, and in that vein, we have been truly honored and impressed by the staggering amounts of talented drummers we’ve gotten to learn about each week. It was impossible to pick favorite #WCWs, but the following ten women inspired and surprised us, delighted us with their wisdom, humor, and talents, and are helping to course-correct history with their perseverance and commitment. Consider them jumping off points to explore other crush-worthy women.
And as always, if you want to be featured as a potential #WCW yourself, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org telling us more about you.
Fifteen-year-old Japanese drummer Kanade Sato says she taught herself the melody to Chick Corea’s “Spain” before speaking words. She started playing drums at three years old, and decided to become a professional drummer at five. At age 11, in 2014, she won the “Grand Prix” award in the Hit Like a Girl competition. Now, she is playing with her new band “Ear Candy Jazz Factory” with Rei Narita and Naoko Sakurai.
Choice quote, on failure: “Of course, it is better not to fail, but failure is not a big problem. I think that it’s important in that it helps us learn. We fail in order to not fail next time.”
Sam Landa is a metal drummer based in Montreal with more than 20 years of drumming under her belt. She’s currently touring with Mexican death metal band Introtyl. She also drums for Dead Asylum and has toured around Europe and North America with Brazilian thrash band Nervosa.
Choice quote, on advice for girls starting out: “There are more women and girls playing drums than you think. If you’re feeling alone or don’t know any female drummers in your area, go search YouTube right now. Play because you want to. Don’t worry about what other people will think. No one is allowed to discourage you. No one else matters. See a lot of guys playing? Play with them. Don’t see many girls playing? Be the first. Don’t be afraid to be a trailblazer. Others will see you putting yourself out there, and more will follow.”
Fogo Azul NYC is the brain-child of Stacy Kovacs, and is an all-female drumline, marching band, samba band, Brazilian band, and much more. Kovacs was formerly the founder of the New York contingent of Batala, which dissolved in 2016 and has been rebranded as Fogo Azul.
Choice quote, on defining success: “Success is not something measurable to me. Every time we step out for a show, or in a parade, I know it’s going to be a ‘success’ for the band, however, each time we are out there, I push for us to be better.”
Amarilys Rios is a percussionist and dancer from Puerto Rico who specializes in Bomba, a dynamic Afro-Puerto Rican tradition in which dancers challenge the drummer to sound out their improvised movements. A graduate of the Conservatorio de Puerto Rico, Rios is musical director for reggaetón singer Tego Calderon and has performed and recorded with innovative Puerto Rican percussionists, including Paoli Mejias and Hector “Coco” Barez.
Choice quote, on taking care of your hands: “For hand percussionists (meaning no sticks), practicing with a towel on your drum will help the hand not absorb so much trauma as you develop technique and speed.”
Audrey Johnson is currently the drummer for four bands, whose styles range eclectically from ghost surf to garage to punk to riot pop. Coming from a musical family, Johnson has played in jazz and marching bands, done studio work, and empowered young girls at Girls’ Rock Camps across California.
Choice quote, on something others consider “crazy”: “I believe music is everywhere. When I do laundry, I hear my shoes make a beat while they bounce around in the dryer. When I take walks in the city, I hear a groove between my footsteps, bicycle chains, and the car horns honking. When I take a shower, the water droplets falling into the tub make the best beats. I guess other people might think that’s crazy, but listening to the sounds of the world around me helps me create and sometimes hear things in ways I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.”
Melanie Jo is a pro drummer living in Los Angeles, California. She was most recently the touring drummer for Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, whose solo group is called Billy Gibbons and the BFGs.
Choice story, on how she came to drums: “I originally started out playing clarinet in the middle school band and I had a crush on the drummer in the jazz band. He did not like me back, so I told him, ‘I’m going to take your spot as drummer in the jazz band,’ and that’s exactly what I did. [Laughs] That’s how I ended up playing drums, but even before then I’ve always had a love for music.”
Annapurna “AP” Tobler is a 2017 “Hit Like A Girl” finalist and winner of the popular vote in the under 18 category. She has been drumming for four years, working with instructors at San Jose School of Rock and participating in house band The Drought.
Choice quote, on how to start: “It is valuable to learn to read music, and also to take learning rudiments seriously. I also think the performing aspect of drumming is important, and I encourage people to watch live drumming, and to watch videos of other drummers playing. The drum set is like a symphony, and there are so many sounds it can make. It’s very important to find your own sound, and watching others and then experimenting can help you find it.”
Carolyn Brandy is one of the fore-mothers of the women’s drumming movement. She’s a hand percussionist who has played and studied Afro-Cuban and Caribbean drumming styles since 1968. She’s also the founder of Women Drummers International and producer of Born To Drum Women’s Camp, which is in its 12th year in Oakland, California.
Choice quote, on advice the future: “The drum is being taken back by women who, in a majority of cultures in the world, were forbidden to play drums by taboo.”
Liz Aponte is a drummer, teacher, and a drum builder. After trying pretty much every other instrument, Aponte settled on drums at the ripe age of 13. Since then, she’s played in garages, churches, on Warped Tour, and all across the country. She specializes in rock, gospel, punk, metal, and acoustic. She makes custom drums through her company, Respira Collective.
Choice quote, on kindness: “Always help others and be kind — whether it’s giving someone a free drum lesson or giving someone else a gig because you know they’d be a better fit than you, or helping a competitive business, or walking away when someone tries to bring you down. Give without expectation, because when you help others, you really help yourself. We live in a selfish world with corporate ladders and people looking out for their own and living in silos. When you start to bridge gaps and listen and help others, people unify and beautiful things happen.”
Reynaliz Herrera is the director, composer, and lead performer of the theatrical percussion show “Ideas, Not Theories.” The performance features original music with unconventional instruments, such as bicycles, tap and body percussion, water, brushes, as well as traditional percussion instruments, like marimbas and drums.
Choice quote, on finding your voice: “Don’t be afraid to go your own way, because this field is super competitive. I have seen a lot of aspiring artists trying to “be the best” or think that they have to follow a certain path or other musicians’ paths in order to be successful. My advice is: Create your own path.”