A few high schools in New York have started teaching African drumming as part of their curriculum. That’s pretty sweet. I studied music in high school, too, but it was western classical music and folk guitar. I’ve heard of one-day workshops where djembe, congo, and dhol players go into school and give crash course workshops on their instruments and styles of music for classes, but never a full course.
“In many traditional cultures around the world, people celebrate life with music. In Africa, making music is a communal event where both the performers and the audience participate. Drumming plays a significant role in these life celebrations. As many of the traditional drumming groups and suites are played in an ensemble setting, the promotion of a sense of community cannot be overemphasized. Students in this class learned a habit of learning principle such as Interdependence by playing in an ensemble setting. They learned an artistic skill by playing in the group. They also learned a life skill by learning how to work together in a group, accept constructive criticism and build confidence.
Students also learned how to play as soloists. As a habit of learning, it refers to Interdependence. By playing individually, students are inspired by the drumming vocabulary that they learn in class. To reach that level of independence, students have to apply another habit of learning known as Interpretation. This is done by their listening to traditional music, composed rhythms and contemporary music and then interpret it through deconstruction of the piece. To express themselves and play well, they have to apply all the principles learned and to bring out their own rhythms hence their own Voice.
Another point worth noting is that drumming in Africa imitates the nuances of the human voice and is used mostly to communicate. Like any other language in the world, to communicate well and effectively, one needs a large stock of vocabulary. Students were taught on how to brainstorm these sources and were also taught how to play distinctly so that dancers and the audience can hear, interpret and enjoy their performance. Students have not only learned how to play drums but how to sing as well. Songs such as “Agoo, Agoo, Agoo” and “Kusum Agoro” were learned in class.
All these artistic, academic and life skills learnt in class were evident during the culminating event at the Bowery Poetry Club held recently. Students such as Ebony, Francis, Valentine, Talisa, Aisha, Zach, Rafael and José treated their own mates, teachers and the audience to some pulsating drum suites through solo work, duet as well as played in an ensemble setting.”