Jembe Den performs African rhythms at South Side

Memory Shuffield, a student of Damm's and a member of Jembe Den, lets South Side students try his drum at the conclusion of the performance.
Staff Writer

Robert Damm, director of Music Education Partnerships at Mississippi State University, with his percussion group, Jembe Den, performed for the students of South Side Elementary, Feb, 21, in celebration of Black History Month. The group was sponsored by the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

"South Side is our adopted school for the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, as a partner with Bright Horizons," Naomi Kilgore, member of the sorority, said. "We usually bring in someone to entertain the children and teach them about cultural diversity during February, Black History Month. Robert Damm and his African drumming group were wonderful."

Casey Glusenkamp, South Side prinicpal said the Delta's have been providing educational and cultural entertainment for South Side Elementary for as long as she has been with South Side.

"The Delta's want to bring programs that will enrich the students minds and make them think," Glusenkamp said. "We want to thank the Deltas and Dr. Damm for coming to entertain us."

The group performed rhythms from different parts of Africa, each with its own meaning to the people of that particular area.

"We play for educational and cultural programs all over Mississippi," Damm said. "Jembe Den only plays African music. The words 'Jembe Den' means we are still learning. Our clothes are from Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda. Most of the drums we use are hand carved from wood and the top is goat skin."

Bonnie Renfroe said she had been drumming for 10 years. She loves what she does and enjoys playing for children.

"I've only been taking lessons from Dr. Damm for four years," Memory Shuffield, a member of Jembe Den, said. "I've been with the group for three years. I'm 14, the youngest of the group. I enjoy studying the rhythms and getting to know the traditions of the music and where it comes from. It's great."

Toro is a rhythm from Guinea, West Africa, and it is played as a thank you from boys who have been taught and mentored to be successful and productive young men in the community.

"When hearing the toro rhythm you may be able to distinguish the beat from Queen's 'We Will Rock You,’” Damm said. "Rock and Roll comes from Africa. Most music can trace it's roots back there. It is such a wonderful place. The diversity of Africa and its power to bring people together is unlike anywhere else. The unity within the communities comes through the music. We are all celebrating life, love and community. That is what is so special about Africa."