Drumming up African Harmony

‘This festival is a celebration of African heritage and the therapeutic power of music and movement. We are here as a diverse community coming together to celebrate and enjoy our beautiful African culture.”

This is how Shannon Wright introduces a group of learners from seven Western Cape schools, from underprivileged areas such as Khayelitsha, Guguletu and Manenberg, to the Novalis Ubuntu African Drum ‘n Dance programme they are about to experience.

Teachers sit quietly, with wide smiles of pride as their learners enjoy moving through as

sequence of traditional drum rhythms and African voice and dance. There’s the quiet insistence of hourglass-shaped djembe drums played by hand. Then there are the ‘earth drums” made during the workshop process from 25-litre recycled paint tins covered by animal skins and beaten enthusiastically with stout wooden sticks.

The music playing out from the youngsters’ hearts ranges from quiet melodic pieces to heavy and aggressively emotional songs of the soul. As Wright explains: ‘The drumming group is a microcosm of our society. Within the safety of the drum circle, participants partake in a group situation – their habitual methods of dealing with issues become magnified and isolated, and addressed in an affirming and empowering way.


‘These students learn, with direct audible results, that any dissent ruins the harmony of the group. Each voice is valuable and must be included rather than overrun. Together we learn that leading and following are inherently connected and dependent on one another – that loud voices need to listen, and soft voices need to be heard.”

Wright calls his drum-teaching methodology ‘Rythmagik” and explains its essence in the following way: ‘This is a system of group music-making based on rudimentary exercises, with traditional drums. It helps all levels of players to achieve a high degree of personal and social integration. The Rythmagik method of group-music facilitation, eco instrument making and traditional African dance empowers people to develop music that is faithful to our African culture and therapeutic in schools and within communities.”

The key to the audible success of the drum programme lies in its ability to empower both teachers and their learners as each participant embarks on a journey of personal and cultural discovery. The first part of the programme is teacher training, which takes place at the Novalis Institute in Wynberg for five days of workshops, each lasting five hours. The aim of these sessions is threefold. One: to give teachers unique experiences as participants in the therapeutic and experiential journey of Rythmagik and traditional dance. Two: to give teachers a theoretic background to the use of body, movement, sound and relaxation therapy, and to teach them specific exercises, rhythms and songs as tools to use in the classroom environment. Three: to give teachers the physical and spiritual experience of hand-crafting an African drum from recycled and readily available materials. In this way, teachers can pass a hands-on skill on to their own learners, who in turn craft the core set of musical instruments in each school.

The success and immediate impact of the Rythmagik process is evident as each group celebrates the sound of an African drum beating – one heart at the centre of this living, breathing creature we call ourselves.

For more information, contact Genevieve at the Novalis Ubuntu Institute on (021) 797 1857 or visit

www.novalis.org.za

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Ross Edwards
Guest Author

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