Learning from the rhythms of Africa Artist in residence seeks to foster students' tolerance


The thundering of African drums filled the cavernous auditorium at Brooklyn Park-Lindale Middle School yesterday as nine seventh-graders sat on stage pounding away: One, two, three, one, two, three.

"Ah-go?" Kevin Campbell said as he beat the bottom of his red and white, bead-covered shekere, a drum made from a gourd. Ah-go means, "Are you listening?"

"Ah-mey," the children replied as they pounded an assortment of drums, balaphones, cow bell shakers and tom-toms. Ah-mey means, "Yes, we are."

There was no music sheet to guide the children as they practiced. To learn the music, they mimicked Mr. Campbell's drumming. In African music, rhythm dictates melody, which is learned through repetition, he told the youths.

"You guys have to sing [to yourselves] what he's playing so it's just a continuation," said Mr. Campbell, pointing to one of the students.

The absence of a music sheet is "a way to really share much more of yourself in an expressive way," said Mr. Campbell, who wore a long, dark, African robe.

Mr. Campbell, 37, a Takoma Park musician, is at Brooklyn Park-Lindale this week as part of an artist-in-residency program aimed at exposing children to African music, dance and history.

He is working closely with 30 seventh-graders, teaching some of them how to make their own African instruments using coffee cans, miniature plastic flower pots, wooden dowels, string, beads, seashells, paper towel tubes and feathers.

The children are getting "an experience that could not have come through regular school activities," enrichment teacher Richard Burger said.

"I've heard some African music, and I really enjoyed the beats and all," said Jamie Engles, 12, of Linthicum, who played the bongo.

"It's loud, and you get to know the music because it's coming right at you. It's not droopy music. It's exciting," said Avery Smith, 12, of Pumphrey, who played the songba drum.

Tomorrow, Avery and the other children will share their excitement when they put on a performance with Mr. Campbell to show classmates and teachers what they have learned.

After yesterday's session, Mr. Campbell said he hoped his work would help the students develop a tolerance for varied cultures.

What one child is taught, he said, "can affect a whole generation."

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