Union County citizens learn about African culture during museum-hosted program

New Albanians and Union Countians learned a lot about African drums and culture when visitors to  the Union County Heritage Museum took part in a drum circle Tuesday afternoon.

“African Culture and Drums’ was the program topic at the museum that was given and presented by Dr. Robert J. Damm, Professor of Music and Director of Music Education Partnerships at Mississippi State University.
Dr. Damm explained how individuals and groups celebrate African heritage. In recognition of Black History Month, visitors sung, danced, and played drums and other percussion instruments, while learning about African history and culture.
He said, “This is community music that we are making for ourselves. We are making music in the moment.”
The drum circle allowed visitors to recognize that when a community comes together to drum, they unite in rhythm to celebrate life. He explained that each musician’s interactions create a supportive, interdependent relationship in which each person is valued for his or her unique contribution to the group music.
The first part of the program involved a drum call, summoning visitors to the drum circle. Then he taught us to sing the welcome song, which was based off of languages from Liberia, Africa, and Nigeria. The translated words of the song were “drum,” “health,” and “let it be so.” In addition, more words of the welcome song explained the phrases, “With my thoughts I welcome you, With my words I welcome you, With my heart I welcome you, I have nothing to hide, and You have nothing to fear.”
Participants experienced the unique enjoyment of in-the-moment music. In the drum circle, there is no audience; everyone is part of the music. Everyone in the circle plays together, creating his or her own personal rhythmic patterns that fit into the music created by the whole group.
The third piece was inspired by a Hopi Native American dance, an Alaskan Shaman dance, and John Coltrane’s ‘My Favorite Things.’
He then asked the participants to say what one of their favorite things were. Some of the responses were: music, flowers, raisins, airplanes, reading, sewing, gardening, belly dancing, and more. Then Dr. Damm played a Middle Eastern drumbeat that corresponds with belly dancing and an audience member performed a short belly dance. He explained that belly dancing is not supposed to be provocative like it is shown in movies, but it is an aerobic dance and was mainly used as a way to prepare women for childbirth.
The fifth piece had a swing dance rhythm, the sixth piece was a meditative piece using sounds of nature, and he asked the participants to focus on breathing during the mediative music. The seventh piece was based on the lively Samba dance of Brazil.
Dr. Damm explained the importance of the ensemble. he said, “The power of the drum is to bring us into the moment. peace is only in the now. ‘In the Moment’ music is music that is improvised and spontaneous.”
The ensemble itself provided an invaluable social experience because the players depended on each other for the ensemble to succeed. Everyone who participated had something to offer the circle and all were welcome. The entire point of a drum circle is for it to be an outlet where the self-expression of all the participants creates a combined expression of the community created by the group. Recreational drumming is an entertaining and sharing experience that promotes community interaction, personal expression, and joy.
He said, “Each of you has a unique gift that contributes something to the community/village. Music is a very powerful thing and experience music and being part of an ensemble is also being a part of a community.”
The eighth piece was the iron bell rhythm of West Africa. The ninth piece was a steady drumbeat and the last piece was the farewell song that emphasized the words ‘Peace’ and ‘Friends.’
Dr. Damm has studied music and dance in Cuba and Ghana and now presents programs at schools throughout Mississippi, all the while sharing the skills and information he gained through his travels.
The program is scheduled in partnership with Blue Mountain College.