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Crosscurrents

Local Drummer Brings Middle Eastern Sounds To Oakland

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Courtesy of Mary Ellen Donald
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When Mary Ellen Donald was eight years old, she fell in love with the piano. Around that same time, she was also diagnosed with macular degeneration, which means she would gradually lose her eyesight. That didn’t stop her ambition. 

She excelled in her studies, graduated high school as valedictorian, and then went on to earn a Masters in psychiatric social work. In the late 1960s, Mary Ellen studied Spanish and flamenco, and learned to play the finger cymbals, which led her to another world, one that would transform her into a national pioneer – the world of belly dance percussion. 

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Hana Baba is host of Crosscurrents, KALW's weeknight newsmagazine that broadcasts on KALW Public Radio in the San Francisco Bay Area.