Four-part interactive workshop helps mark Black History Month

A four-part interactive workshop called, “The West African Talking Drum,” by University College of the North professor Dr. Joseph Atoyebi kicked off on Saturday to help celebrate Black History Month.

In partnership with Mall of the Arts, the four-part series introduces a brief history of the Yoruba culture in West Africa and their connection to the Transatlantic slave trade to Europe and the Americas.

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Atoyebi will focus on the Yoruba gángan, also known as a talking drum, a language that allows people to carry conversations using the instrument.

“Yoruba is a tonal language like Mandarin. It uses three-level tones, and the West African Talking Drum follows these three-level tones; low, mid and high,” said Atoyebi on Wednesday.

“It also follows the three first notes that you have on the musical scale; do-re-mi. Every phrase of the Yoruba language is spoken with the combination of these three tones.”

Since the talking drum follows the Yoruba language, Atoyebi will demonstrate in the workshop how to mimic that language through a practical drumming session.

Attendees are encouraged to gather empty ice-cream buckets, coffee cans, totes, books or other items and drum along to some basic African rhythms.

“One of our boy members is looking forward to Joseph explaining the tones of the drum,” said Andria Stephens, the Co-Founder of the Mall of the Arts.

“I believe the drum emanates its own sound so explaining and learning about what each of those sounds means and how it communicates with people, I think it is going to be super exciting.”

Participants should look forward to learning about the West African culture from a native speaker through first-hand experience.

Atoyebi said this event is a rare chance to not only learn to communicate through music but also be knowledgeable about another way of living.

“The talking drum is not just your everyday percussion or instrument that plays. It talks, we use it to communicate and send messages across. You can say everything in the Yoruba language using the drum,” he said.

“Since most attendees are non-African, they have the opportunity to try some African readings. I will show them how it works and how they can tap beats to the readings. These are some of the things they can take away from the workshop.”

He added that the drum reading might even help some people unwind or simply give them something new to experience.

In addition to Saturday's event, the series will take place on Zoom at 6 p.m. on Feb. 23, 25 and 27 for an hour.

Stephens wants many people in Northern Manitoba to join the event and hopes that participants feel enlightened and have more appreciation towards the African culture.

“It is important we all learn about each other as we are a very diverse community. I think the more we learn about each other, the more we will understand and accept one another,” she said.

“This event is a way to bring people together, especially in a time like this where we can’t physically meet. This is still a way to come together to meet, communicate and learn something exciting and historical.”

The whole series is free for participants. Those interested can sign up at the Mall of the Arts’ website or on their Facebook page. A Zoom link will be provided after their registration.

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