The beat of my drum: Bringing West African culture to regional kids

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Students from regional and remote areas are being taught the basics of West African drumming in a bid to boost their cultural awareness.

It is a Thursday morning at Wollondilly Public School in Goulburn, Southern New South Wales, and the hall has been taken over by percussion instruments.

Energetic drum teacher Yacou Mbaye takes centre stage and begins to explain how drumming, music and rhythm are an integral part of West African culture and communication.

Mbaye was born in Dakar, in Senegal, and comes from a family of West African storytellers known as 'griots'.

Drum teacher Yacou Mbaye with students at Wollondilly Public School in Goulburn.
Drum teacher Yacou Mbaye with students at Wollondilly Public School in Goulburn. (SBS World News)
SBS World News

A professional musician, he now visits hundreds of schools every year as part of the New South Wales Education Department's West African Drumming program.

The aim is to teach kids the basics of a beat along with the cultural differences between Australia and Mbaye's homeland.

Students learn that certain beats will only be played at weddings or happy occasions and others are reserved for sad or serious performances.

“For me, I think to learn something different to your culture is very important,” Mbaye tells SBS World News.

“To learn another culture, it is like, to challenge yourself. [If] you don't learn some country's history you don't know what their story is.”

Mbaye comes from a family of West African storytellers known as 'griots'.
Mbaye comes from a family of West African storytellers known as 'griots'. (SBS World News)
SBS World News
 

The beats get more complex as the day's workshop goes on.

“It was a little hard to understand at first,” Year 4 student Darcy Miller says.

“But you got used to the way he [Mbaye] spoke. [We’re learning about] how you have to move your hands and the certain way you have to put [them] on the drum.”

Cultural exposure

The New South Wales Education Department provides the equipment, which includes West African drums known as djembe's and dun duns, as well as other percussion instruments.

Catherine Gilholme, an arts initiatives officer with the Education Department, says for some students, the program is their first exposure to another culture.

“The sense of community and coming together, and engaging in rhythm and performing, I think is really important,” Ms Gilholme says.

Confidence and concentration are also desired outcomes of the program.

For some students, the program is their first exposure to another culture.
For some students, the program is their first exposure to another culture.
SBS World News

Goulburn is the last stop on this year's tour of Southern NSW, but schools state-wide are being encouraged to put their hand up for the program, next year.

Mbaye says many of his students take away important lessons.

“I have had kids coming to me saying 'you really make my day, I learned a lot',” Mbaye said.

“And [they say] they learn something [they] never knew. They say 'I always think African people didn’t have food to eat' because... that's what they see on TV.”

“They tell me they learned a lot about African culture, which makes me, feel proud.”

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