West African Drumming and Cultural History Workshop

In the context of this course, students learn a series of West African traditional rhythms. They learn to play each one on the djembe, dundunba, sangban, and kenkeni, the four types of drums found in a typical West African drum ensemble. Aside from learning to play the rhythms, they learn the history and significance behind each rhythm; for example, Soli, a rhythm famous all over West Africa, is typically played at specific traditional ceremonies. Not all rhythms are associated with exotic customs like the Soli. Students also learn celebratory rhythms, which may be incorporated in the Ross School graduation ceremony. Beyond learning the rhythms and cultural history, students exercise their ability to understand rhythm. West African rhythms are not simple. Understanding them is like a massive cardiovascular workout but for the brain. Furthermore, the physical act of playing drums is a workout itself. Practice and performance on African drums, which will culminate in a performance for the community, is complemented by research on the rhythms and the cultures from which they originate. Students’ findings will be presented to their peers in written and oral form.