Hit Like A Girl 2014: Winner's Circle

This year marked the conclusion of the third annual worldwide Hit Like A Girl drumming contest – the only competition of its kind to spotlight female drummers of all ages. Attracting 375 unique submissions from contestants in 43 countries, and generating more than two million online impressions, this year’s HLAG contest proved to be the most successful yet.

Originally founded by TRX cymbals in conjunction with DRUM! Magazine and Tom Tom magazine, the event has since grown to include countless representatives from all corners of the percussion world coming together to celebrate the power of women in music.

The third installation of the event included 42 combined finalists representing a whopping 15 different countries. That left more than enough work for this year’s panel of judges, an all-star lineup that included Sheila E., Jess Bowen, Emmanuelle Caplette, Hannah Ford, Allison Miller, Meytal Cohen, Didi Negron, Cherisse Osei, Dawn Richardson, Nia Lovelis, and Kawaguchi Senri, in addition to previous winners, Alexey Poblete and Valeria Sepulveda.

It was no easy task, but in the end, the panel named champions for both the Under 18 and 18+ categories, as well as first and second runners up from each group. All six winning contestants received loaded prize packages featuring gear from TRX, PDP, DW, Yamaha, Ddrum, Crush, Zildjian, Evans, Ahead, Innovative Percussion, GoPro, Heil Microphones, Kickport, and many more.

Winner (18+): Riesha Fayson

In what will surely go down as one of the great stories in HLAG history, Riesha Fayson had no idea she had even been entered into the 2014 contest. After filming an impromptu church jam, Fayson’s cousin Justin insisted on submitting her video for consideration (thanks Justin!).

“I really didn't want to even post [the vid- eo] on YouTube,” says Fayson. We’re certainly glad she did. Showcasing a deep, cozy pocket balanced by a wide array of blazing hand and foot combo fills, Fayson’s video included just about everything the panel was hoping to see from this year’s top contestants. It’s a remarkable display from someone who spent years keeping a strict 2 and 4 in her church’s music department.

Fayson is also a multi-instrumentalist and singer to boot. With ambitions to tour internationally and teach music at the high school level, it’s clear that the deeply humble musician is ready to take her talents to the next level.

First Runner-Up (18+): Fer Fuentes

This will not be the last time you hear Fer Fuentes’ name. One look at her stellar rendition of “Pick Hits,” and it’s easy to see that she’s at the beginning of a long career. The grooving lefty breezes through John Scofield’s dense fusion hit with a combination of tasty hi-hat work, perfectly placed ghost notes, and dynamic, layered fills.

Only a few years removed from her Escuela Moderna De Musica University graduation, Fuentes was still shocked to hear that she placed among the top three finalists. Planning to pursue her Master’s Degree at Berklee, she has loads of ambition and more than enough talent to back it up.

Second Runner-Up (18+): Anika Nilles (aka AnyK)

Featuring spot-on sound, professional video production, and absolutely top- flight playing, AnyK’s video submission for the 2014 HLAG contest wowed the judges on every level. Ripping through “Wild Boy,” a tune she composed herself, the German-born stick slinger shows that she’s surely on her way to drumming stardom.

Currently attending the University Of Popular Music And Music Business in Mannheim, Germany to study Pop Music Design, AnyK is as much an artist as she is a drummer. Working on a selection of self-penned songs to be released via YouTube, Nilles is proving herself to be the kind of multi-faceted talent that will continue to shape the evolution of the instrument.

Winner (<18): Kanade

A second-generation drummer inspired by the sounds of her father’s playing, Kanade Sato has been living and breathing drums from day one. Comfortably burning through “Drops,” a buoyant pop/fusion tune written by her dear old dad, Kanade displayed a remarkable sense of musicality in her video for a drummer of any age, much less her mere 11 years.

A devoted student of the instrument, Kanade is eager to discuss her passion for playing. But even after years of intense study the diminutive drummer was still shocked to hear her name called as the contest’s Under 18 winner. When asked how she felt upon hearing the announcement, she said, “I couldn't believe it! I thought I was dreaming!”

With plans to tour all over the world, there’s no doubt the Japanese-born drummer will be working hard for years to come. But, after seeing her incredible talent earn the top spot in this year’s competition, we don’t think she’ll have to work too hard.

First Runner-Up (<18): Nat Drum-Her

Ripping her way through a rollicking funk tune, Natalie DePergola (aka Nat Drum-her) knocked out her award-winning submission with almost no prep. After a studio emergency forced her to learn and lay down drums to a new track on the fly, DePergola put together a smooth, confident performance that sounds more like the work of a veteran than of a high school freshman.

But after nearly a decade behind the kit, the Florida native is clearly capable with a pair of sticks in hand. Her talents earned her a spot in the 2013 Grammy Museum's Music Revolution Project, as well as the attention of Tom Tom Magazine founder, Mindy Abovitz, who encouraged her to submit an entry for HLAG. On snagging a spot among the top three, DePergola said, “I was already a winner being placed with [the other] girls. I would love to meet them both someday and have a drum shedding session!”

Second Runner-Up (<18): Leticia Santos

Covering a Virgil Donati drum track is no easy feat, but that didn’t stop Letícia Santos from giving it a go – and knocking it out of the park. The Brazil-based baterísta rocked her rendition of “Native Metal” without a hitch, displaying a poise and power uncommon to most players her age.

The 14-year-old Santos has been dominating the drums for the better part of ten years, and she’s been busy the entire time. With a résumé that includes a music scholarship granted at age five, regular concerts, and even a few television performances, the up-and-comer has already started paving her way toward percussive prominence. For now, she’s focusing on improving her technique and building a career with her rock band.