ESU Students Experience Music and Culture at Afro-Caribbean Workshop

Photo Courtesy / East Stroudsburg University Students enjoy playing cultural instruments.
Photo Courtesy / East Stroudsburg University
Students enjoy playing cultural instruments.

By Edita Bardhi
Opinion Editor

As part of Black History Month, the Department of Modern Languages, Philosophy and Religion, the Residence Life Diversity Committee and the Office of Multicultural Affairs presented ESU with a performance done by artist Froilán Kalí Ramírez.

Located in Sci-Tech 117, Ramírez presented, “An Afro-Caribbean Percussion Workshop”on Thursday, Feb. 15 at 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Ramírez was welcomed by a full crowd as he discussed several instruments common in Caribbean music. His presentation included background and a lesson of how to play the instruments properly.

“The purpose of this event is to celebrate Black History Month by celebrating all cultures throughout the world that trace their roots to Africa” said Associate Professor Dr. Annie Mendoza.

This one-and-a-half-hour-long event captured the attention of many people as they sat and listened to Ramírez speak about the inventors of the instruments, where the instruments came from and the places they were taken to.

Attendees were shown numerous photographs, whether of the instruments’ masters, average people playing the instruments. In addition, Ramírez brought a group of instruments to the event.

They included: tumbadoras, shekere, gourds, bongos, bongo bells, cloves and cow bells. One instrument he discussed was the tumbadoras. “These drums are called the tumbadoras, and they come from different parts of Africa. But specifically, when the Africans came through the Caribbean a lot of the Africans settled for instance in Cuba,” said Ramírez. He continued, “They came from the Bantu Tribe and depending on the conditions, they arrived on different cases. They did not necessarily have the instruments with them. So, wherever they showed up, they took photos surrounding them with drums.”

“This is a version of how these drums look like originally, and you notice that there is no metal. It’s just tacked on with tacks. And the way these drums would be tuned is that they would hold them to fire, so the fire would expand the skin, and depending on the tension and the heat, that is how the drums would be tuned,” said Ramírez. He continued, “Also, these particular drums, you notice that they are a little bit thinner, so these drums are actually constructed from Pilins of Peers.”With these instruments, Ramírez explained step-by-step of the reasoning behind the textures.

Attendees became quickly engaged upon the discussion for questions were asked, and laughter arose as they heard music. Yet, they became excited once they themselves were making music.

One for each student, a row of drums was lined up to give students a full experience toward the instrument. Students gathered downward to play, three at a time.

Originally, Ramírez allowed the students to place any beat on the drums. Participants did not hesitate to set their hands amongst their instrument, and not long after were they playing at a fast pace.

This continued until Ramírez stopped the students to correct their drumming skills. Particularly, he clarified that there was a correct way of playing drums. “Okay, you know what they would say on the streets. They would say the street is all those rolls and no butter. Drums. That is your first communication system. When you go to a park and you have like 40 drums, there is no communication going on. Because this is the first communication system, it is the first computer. It has been scientifically proven that music heals,” said Ramírez. Ramírez guided the first three participants on how they should place a beat.

Laughter was expressed as he stated, “tone bass, tone bass, tone bass.”Then, he himself gave a demonstration of him playing the tome bass. It was then that students learned the correct rhythm of the drumming.

They quickly noticed the difference and giggled at themselves. “If you can sing it, you can play,” said Ramírez. “Drumming is communication,” said Ramírez. Ramírez explained his point while alternating from different beats on the drums.

He stated that each type of rhythm says something different. Still more, he clarified that the ways people press their hands or fingers is creates a different sound, even though two beats can sound alike.

The second three participants were encouraged to continue playing despite whether they were playing correctly or not.

“Don’t stop,” Ramírez would say. All the mistakes made did not have the students feeling embarrassed; instead, they were happy to be a part of the activity.

Drum beats rolled across the room, and music was heard. Students continued playing as the night went on, and they grasped the rhythm of the drums early on.

Their performance lasted for a good ten minutes. While Ramírez stood on the side with the audience, the auditorium had only grown louder than before. “Different drum, different language,” said Ramírez after the performance ended.

To end the evening, Ramírez performed a solo, and thereafter the audience shared their appreciation and joy with a round of applause. “It definitely exceeded my expectations, and I learned way more than what I thought I would learn,” said junior Rose Blanc. “What I really enjoyed about this presentation this evening is that the instructor here tonight was very interactive with the audience and very inclusive. He allowed everyone, even if you feel not as well confident to practice with percussion instruments. He encouraged you all the way,” sophomore Deja Shelton.

“I think [this event] benefited both [students and faculty members] because it is good to, outside of the classroom, do something that really helps people to understand the history of the African-diaspora. Music that originates from Africa and travels, to, historically becomes cultures of other parts of the world. In this case, he was specifically talking about drums and drum patterns that are common in Caribbean cultures like Cuba and Puerto Rico. So, it’s interesting for students to learn about something like this and have fun. They learned rhythms,” said Mendoza.

Since 1988, Ramírez has been performing at various schools throughout the nation, including all CUNY schools, five SUNY schools, Princeton, Columbia and Barnard.

His passion for these performances root back to his Puerto Rican heritage and the Afro-Caribbean, African world music.

“My favorite, if I had to pick just one, it would be the tumbadoras/congas. However, all the instruments are part of an extended vocabulary of sound all world percussionist should utilize to tell their musical stories,” said Ramírez in an interview.

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