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Students drum to African beat

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Steve Biondo, far left, leads his students, Brooke Ball, Paola Portillo, Christine Serrano, Christian Robles and Zac Florez through a West African drumming lesson. The unique sounds and rhythms can be heard outside of the Hanawalt House during the week as the new drumming class meets every Wednesday. Biondo teaches traditional drumming techniques to three different groups throughout the day. / photo by Christopher Guzman

Christopher Barnes-Baxter
Staff Writer

Carly Hill
Arts Editor

The rhythmic beating of drums can be heard throughout campus, a sound that transports students to a far off land through intricate beats and silences.

The drumming is coming from the West African Drumming class, taught by music department coordinator Steve Biondo.

Biondo is teaching 25 students this semester how to use drums to highlight West African culture and technique to produce an amazing sound.

“It’s all about the history and culture of West Africa,” Biondo said. “There are more than 300 rhythms played for certain reasons.”

The class involves attending one two-hour meeting a week, and then additional practicing three times a week.

Students are provided with drums from donations to use for class and for practicing.

“It’s a really fun class,” said Adrianna Utley, senior child development major. “I learned how to play an instrument and become one with the drum.”

Students are given an introduction to the Malinke drumming traditions, which are practiced by the people of Western Africa.

They learn about two main drums, the djembe and the dunun.

The djembe looks like a large goblet, and the head is commonly covered in animal skin.

The drum can produce a variety of tones.

The dunun looks like a long snare drum and produces a low bass sound.

Students also learn about the shakere, which is made of a hollowed out gourd, and produces a sound similar to a maraca, and used for background effect.

After learning the culture and the types of drums, the students begin to learn rhythms and how to play as an ensemble.

“I had to take the class for general education, but I ended up really liking it,” said Corey Teter, senior political science major. “I ended up taking it for a second semester.”

Biondo grew up playing Latin music and Afro-Cuban music.

He then decided to learn about West African drumming.

Inspired by Raynor Carroll, percussion for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Mamada Keita, he taught himself to play, and now teaches three classes of the course.

“Music has been taught the same way for 600 years,” Biondo said.

Getting people to show up for class and practice the required amount of time is the hardest part of teaching the class, he added.

He teaches the class three basic rhythms, the Kono, Mendiani and Dinasa.

Many of the song titles that the group performs are in French, the spoken language of the Malinke people.

At the end of the semester, the students are required to give a performance to show what they have learned.

Dressed in authentic African clothing, the students show that West African Drumming is not just an easy A class.

Not only do they need to know how to play, but they also have the beats and rhythms memorized and know how to play together as a group.

The West African Drumming performance is at 8 p.m. on Dec. 15.

Tickets are $5 general admission, free for students.

Christopher Barnes-Baxter can be reached at

Carly Hill can be reached at

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One Response to Students drum to African beat

  1. Kate Djembe December 19, 2014 at 5:01 am #

    I know this is an old post but when I come across the mention of drum circles I just want to offer my support. Drum circles are a great way to bring diverse people together as one community. Keep up the awesome job!