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Drumming workshop helps celebrate Black History Month

Popular event packs them in to Heritage Hall

There wasn’t an empty seat or a drum left unbeaten Saturday afternoon during the Family Drumming Workshop at Heritage Hall on Essex Street.

“This is the fourth year we’ve presented the Family Drumming Workshop,” said Denise Francis, secretary treasurer for the Guelph Black Heritage Society.  “It is one of our most popular events.”

The seating and availability of drums was limited to 45 people and Francis was forced to turn people away 20 minutes before the event started.

“We sell out every year,” said Francis. “It creates a sense of community and brings young and old together.”

The workshop featured members of the Funga Drummers who also provided the drums for participants who ranged in age from small children to seniors.

“Music is first and foremost rhythm,” said Mark Rutledge who plays drums and the bala, a type of African xylophone. “Drumming is such a basic feeling.”

He has played with the Funga Drummers for eight years and has performed at all the Family Drumming Workshops.  He said that African music and rhythmic music in general replicates life.

It is the essence of being human,” said Rutledge. “Singing represents breathing and drumming is the beating of your heart.”

The workshop was led by jembe drummer Jason Maraschiello who introduced the other members of the Funga Drummers and explained how each of their instruments are used when performing African music. 

“Can anyone tell me the name of this drum,” he asked? 

“A jembe,” someone yelled.

“That’s right,” said Maraschiello. “Where does it come from?”

People yelled out the names of a number of African countries such as Ghana and Guinea.

“We are playing two songs that originate from Guinea,” he said.

He then led them through some of the basic beats and patterns of African drumming before inviting them to play along with the songs.

The workshop was one of six events that were promoted by the Black Heritage Society during February to celebrate Black History Month.

“This has been our best month so far,” said Francis. “Our collaboration with Royal City Brewing has been a big success.  They brewed a special ale called Lantern Ale for us.”

Proceeds from the events have gone toward the restoration and renovations at the Heritage Hall on Essex Street.

“All the funds we raise are going to the Ramping It Up campaign to install a wheelchair ramp at the centre and an accessible washroom,” said Francis.