McDaniel student African Drumming ensemble hosts first performance

Dressed in black and white, the students of McDaniel College’s African Drumming ensemble made their way through campus Thursday night carrying their djembes through the cold for the group’s first public performance.

Led by instructor Pape Demba “Paco” Samb, the group took audiences on a tour of the music of Senegal, sharing the rhythms and pieces of storytelling of the culture.


Samb is a Senegalese griot, someone who passes down history and culture through music and performance. Samb was born from griot culture, and he performs in order to share his story to others, he said.

“If you are griot, you have to flow your history,” Samb said. “I’ve never been in school in my life. My whole life is play and sing. Now, I’m 41 and my whole life is music and djembe and dance and sing.”

During the performance the students played three different pieces on their djembes, a West African drum, tuned by ropes which can produce a number of different tones. With each slap on a different area of the drum’s skin top, a different sound is produced, creating a full range of musicality with little more than a single drum and their hands.

The first piece they performed was “Kuku” a celebration piece about giving gratitude. This piece combined a number of drum rhythms with vocal praises.

“Kuku” was followed with “Lambaa,” a farm ritual piece that is played in midday when it is hot for farmers in order to lift their spirits, with the student’s participation in the performance concluding with “Macaru” which is played when someone who has left the village for a journey returns.

Samb said it’s this kind of exchange that is so vital to griot culture.

“If you are griot, you have to flow your history and your family, because we have such a long history,” Samb said. “You have to be traditional and share your culture. Any country you go to, you share your family with them.”

Though this is the debut performance of the Student African Percussion Ensemble, Samb said he hopes that it’s merely the first of many. Each week, students attended two classes, one remotely and one together, learning the patterns of the various pieces and picking up the structure of playing the djembe through call-and-response-style lessons.

Christina DeJoseph, a McDaniel senior from Palmyra, N.J., said last year, when she met Samb and performed with him as the introductory group before a jazz performance, it was one of her first experiences with this kind of music.

“I finally had room in my schedule and I wanted to do this because it was out of my realm of knowledge. I wanted to give it a shot,” DeJoseph said. “When we started going, we were just given djembes and it was very fast-paced, but he was very understanding. We all were laughing even as everything was moving quickly.”

Samb said he was thrilled with the way the class immediately took to the lessons.

“My first time, when I come here and I have to teach them, I think maybe they can do it, but maybe it’s hard for them,” Samb said. “But there was one thing: They love it. They are very smart, but I’m so happy to work with them because they love it. If you don’t like something you can’t make it work. If you like it, it makes it easy and that’s what happened with the kids.”

Samb’s description of how quickly the class fell in love with the djembe fit DeJoseph’s experience exactly. She said she was pleasantly surprised how smoothly it came, but even when she messed up, she was having too much fun to care.

“It can be tough. You can get bruises on your hands, though you shouldn’t,” DeJoseph said. “It’s just so fun and I was so happy playing that I think it ended up helping me in the end.”


In addition to the student performance, audiences had the chance to see Samb’s group, Super Ngewel African Drum and Dance Ensemble, perform a mixture of drumming, singing and dance to traditional Senegalese rhythms.