Just days before spring break, something magical happened at JS Waters School. Something that could make you forget where you were and transport you to another continent. You could hear African drums beating. You could see students dancing and creating visual art with Adinkra (symbols that represent concepts). You could listen intently to cultural storytelling. And woven into the fabric of all these unique activities were notes of social studies, literacy, and math.
What was happening, you may wonder. JS Waters was experiencing one of the Chatham Arts Council’s Artists-in-Schools residencies with The Magic of African Rhythm (TMOAR). TMOAR focuses on the African concept of Ngoma, the “rhythmic thread” that links drumming, dancing, storytelling and visual arts together. At JS Waters, the “rhythmic thread” came to life for second through eighth graders with dynamic performances and interactive class workshops, in the hopes of bringing a new experience to students in Chatham County.
“Anytime you can expose children to different cultures and learn about their creativity, music, and dance – that’s a good thing,” explained JS Waters principal, Chris Bowling. “In our own culture, music, dance, storytelling, and art are all important. This experience was another way to show them that different cultures have those things in common…the importance of culture to ALL people. We would love to have TMOAR back again!”
During the performance in the school’s gym, TMOAR’s Baba Teli taught students about the drums, how they’re made, what they mean, and where to position hands to make each kind of sound. Then Mama Mabinti brought a group of eighth graders up on stage to learn a short sequence of African dance with her, and the students were all in! Though you may expect a group of teenagers to feel shy or embarrassed about performing a dance they knew nothing about, these students exhibited quite the opposite. They were really excited, attentive to directions, and engaged. They seemed to love “performing” for an audience of their school mates.
Students also had an opportunity to participate in smaller interactive workshops over two days, rotating through the four disciplines that make up the “rhythmic thread” in Ngoma: drumming, dancing, storytelling, and visual arts through Adinkra. In drumming, every child had a bucket drum, and they learned to play as a unit. Mama Aya taught the isolation of body parts during the dance workshop, which is integral to a new dance sequence. In storytelling, the children listened with rapt attention to the story of Anansi the Spider, then became the storytellers with their own one-line personal stories. Finally, the four classes collaborated on a cloth-and-paint mural that the school will keep as a memento of this experience.
The principal and participating teachers encouraged students to be open to this new experience, explaining that learning about new things can be a positive way for students to learn more about themselves. This residency was a great learning experience, due to the openness and wide participation of each and every student.
The Chatham Arts Council is able to bring professional artists into Chatham County schools because of our partners: Chatham County Schools, Chatham County, and the North Carolina Arts Council. It’s a collaboration that is incredibly worthwhile, exposing students to artistic forms that they may not otherwise encounter. For many, the arts are an outlet where children can flourish and feel successful.
A HUGE thank you to our sponsors for powering this initiative at JS Waters. The Magic of African Rhythm residency was powered by Dorrie Casey and Archie Purcell. Special thanks also to Cheek Electric.