The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

March 13, 2014

Students learn multiple uses of African drum


Thursday, March 13, 2014 — Most of the Stanly Community College students gathered at the Webb Center Feb. 26 had never even heard of a djembe before, much less played one.

For the college’s final Black History Month cultural event, students had the chance to play African-style drums for the first time.

“It’s really very easy,” seasoned djembe player Joe Sulkowski said to the group.

He and Ellen Whiteside of Sacred Grove Retreat in Gold Hill came in to lead the group of first-timers.

“You just have to keep a simple beat,” Sulkowski said.

“No need to get fancy, just keep your beat.”

After showing them several  easy rhythms and running through a few warm-ups, he had the students begin their own round of drumming.

“Just pick something nice and steady,” Sulkowski told the first student.

“Then everybody will add to it.”

By the end of the round the drumming could be heard through the walls and out into the courtyard.

“See what you’ve started?” Sulkowski said.

“The beauty of the djembe is that it’s a community instrument. It starts as one little voice, and then everybody contributes.”

First-time drummers Chelsea Vue, Jimmy Curlee and Colton Cupple said the experience was both entertaining and eye-opening.

“There’s just this great sense of togetherness in doing it,” Curlee said.

“I see how this can bring a community together.”

Event organizer Andell McCoy told students African drums such as the djembe were used by slaves to not only show togetherness, but to send messages to each other as well.

“There’s a lot of history behind this instrument,” McCoy said.

Cupple said that for students that kind of diversity is in itself important.

“You can’t live your life sheltered,” he said.

“You have to try new things, see other cultures.”

McCoy said that’s one of the big reasons they plan  Black History Month events such as the drumming circle.

“I’m the director for Momentum and one of the big things we try to do is provide cultural education opportunities for students,” she said.

While Momentum, a minority male mentoring program, is chartered to help males pursue further education and professional training, McCoy said the group tries to open up its events to the rest of the student population as often as they can.

“We do learning workshops and seminars,” McCoy said.

“This is not just entertainment. We want to provide students with educational resources.”

She has now been with the program for two years and said she has been blown away with the amount of support the faculty and staff, SCC President Brenda Kays and the rest of the community have given her.

“This group serves as a bonding experience for so many young men,” she said.

“They’ve learned to support each other’s successes, work together to achieve goals. [The college] has done a lot to support that.”

In fact, the college purchased the set of 10 djembes the students used Wednesday.

“We really hope it becomes a regular community activity for the students here,” McCoy said.

“We’re always looking for ways to provide these kinds of opportunities to both our members and the rest of the student body.”

Momentum’s next event will be March 5. The group has invited the Elegba Folklore Society in Richmond, Va., to visit the Webb Center from 12-1 p.m. to share songs, stories and African dances.

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