Drum Speech

“You need to look at the roots before you look at the modern things,” said Mr. Graeme Griffith as he gestured at a slide show image of a rusty, yellow recycled drum. “Otherwise, it’s like looking at something machine knitted without looking at things that are hand-knitted.” True to his words, Mr. Griffith gave PA a lesson in looking at the foundations behind the drum. At the Talking Drum Show last Friday evening, Mr. Griffith spoke about the Trinidadian steel pan drum. The Show also included a West African talking drum performance and a lecture about West African Akan culture. Mr. Griffith danced and tapped rhythms into the air, demonstrating the passion with which the steel drum players of Trinidad perform their music. Footage of a steel drum festival in Trinidad gave further evidence of this passion. “Bear in mind,” said Mr. Griffith, “that these people are not musicians; they cannot read music. They are not educated. This is their life. This is the one day that they get to be recognized.” Akosua Oforiwaa-Ayim ’07 introduced West African drummer Okeyeame Kwasi Auffo and the evening’s speaker, her father Kofi Ayim. The two men ran a slide show that was accompanied by short performances by Mr. Auffo on the talking drums. Mr. Ayim’s presentation focused on the Akan culture of West Africa. He discussed birth rite rituals and the significance of various African names. After the presentation, each audience member could recite their Akan soul name, based on the day of the week when they were born. They were exposed to the central concept of truth versus myth,and could list the three attributes that a person is born with: blood from the mother, spirit from the father, and soul from God. They were also introduced to understanding the language of the drums. At various points during Ayim’s speech, he paused to have Auffo demonstrate a certain phrase on the drums. He prompted the audience to try to recognize and decipher the tones in the drumming. True to Ayim’s claim that the job of the drummer is to bridge the gap between God, royalty, and people, Auffo’s performance seemed to extend far beyond simple music. The beats that he tapped using an unusual, bent stick were more about communication than sounding pretty. Ayim and Auffo’s goal for the evening was communication. “The reason we came was [so] that I [could] see that the school is still increasing its minority population – and in fact the population of people of African descent,” said Ayim. “People at this school need to know about the African culture to understand how people of African descent behave.” Ayim and Auffo painted a thorough picture of Akan culture. Their detailed slide show revealed much about various Akan rituals and beliefs, while their manner and traditional clothing also contributed to the educational experience . Unfortunately, not many students attended the Talking Drum Show. However, the event made a lasting impression on those who did attend. Elaine Sullivan ’07 said, “The mixture of performance and discussion made it interesting to learn about not just the drumming of Africa and the Caribbean, but also the historical and cultural lesser-known facts of the two areas.”