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African, Japanese drummers pound out emotion

Shelby Nelson
Staff Writer

Wednesday’s performance of the West African Drum Ensemble was a celebration of rhythm, culture and African dance.

The performance, riveting with energy and culture, captured the audience that filled Morgan Auditorium.

The night began with TaikoMix, a Japanese drumming group.

“It was wonderful,” Kat Young, an audience member from Claremont, said. “I was inspired. Their energy was awesome.”

The TaikoMix drummers made every movement have a purpose, as they raised their arms with ferocity and landed the sticks on the drums with grace.

The performers used different clicking noises and calls to keep the beats in sync.

After the Japanese drumming, each African drumming class took turns at center stage.

Along with the pulsating performances, a short video was shown to demonstrate how the hand-made African drums are built.

“Every step we take is rhythm, every word we speak is rhythm,” said a village member in the video, who showed just how deeply music is integrated into their lives.

“It’s spectacular; they just take things from their lifestyle and turn it into an art form,” Stephen Mathew, senior at Cal State Long Beach, said.

Much of the ensemble drew inspiration from various African nations, including Guinea, Sierra Leone and Mali.

Each section of the class had its own performance. The concentration was clear as the students followed the lead of Steve Biondo, director of the West African Drum Ensemble.

For the last performance, an African dance accompanied the rhythm of the drums.

The dancers moved around the stage to the heavy sound of the drums, occasionally flinging themselves into the air.

“If you go to school, there is no institution devoted to Western African dance,” said Jahanna Blunt, West African dance instructor who helped choreograph the ULV West African dance group. “We go to Africa and bring people from there to here to learn from them.”

Blunt, originally from Los Angeles, is a professional dancer whose parents introduced her to the eclectic art form.

She said that dancing is in her blood.

Blunt was contacted by junior dance and movement and sports science major Jaime Law, who realized that the ensemble also would benefit with an original African dance.

“I’m really passionate about dance,” Law said. “I’ve learned a lot about the history with the songs.”

What Law has learned so far is exactly what Biondo wants his students to learn.

“When people come up to them and ask them, they can answer where the music is played,” Biondo said.

Biondo worked only six weeks with his students to learn the intricate techniques and songs they performed Wednesday night.

Biondo, who has been drumming all his life, said that African drumming is the foundation of the percussion art form.

During the six-week class his students were able to grasp not only the rhythm and techniques of the various African melodies, but also give them an understanding of the meaning behind the music.

“It was absolutely amazing,” Mathew said. “I couldn’t stop moving around in my seat.”

Shelby Nelson can be reached at shelby.nelson@laverne.edu.

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