BLOOMINGTON — Lunchtime at Illinois Wesleyan University took on a different beat Monday as an African drum jam shook things up in the Dugout in the Memorial Center.

“We're going to start African Culture Week with a bang,” anthropology professor Rebecca Gearhart Mafazy told people gathered around the drums she assembled in a circle.

Mafazy said the special week is an opportunity for students and others to be introduced to and learn more about Africa through a variety of events. It's been going on for about 15 years, she said.

Senior LeeAnna Studt, a music theater major from Belleville, was getting her lunch when she heard the drumming and decided to join in.

“If there's one thing I've learned in college, you take these moments and go with it,” said Studt.

The djembe drums produce three main sounds: bass, from hitting the drum in the center; tone, from hitting the edge with curled fingers; and slap, from hitting the drum near the edge with an open hand.

She encouraged participants to repeat the rhythm in their heads or even out loud — such as bass, tone, tone, bass, slap, slap — to help them keep track.

Sally Buabeng, a junior in nursing from Bolingbrook, said the hardest part was remembering the rhythm, but said it wasn't too difficult “once you got the hang of it.”

However, when other people played interlocking rhythms, it got more confusing.

Senior Moyo Ajayi, a business marketing major from Nigeria, said even after she got the rhythm in her head “getting my hands to actually play it” was hard.

The difficulty was part of the lesson.

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“I wanted them to learn how complicated it is and how fun,” said Mafazy.

The jam session included drums and other percussive instruments, such as bead-covered gourds and cowbells, from east Africa and west Africa.

Mafazy said drumming, dancing and singing are commonly part of events in Africa.

“Sometimes it's just for fun,” such as celebrating a harvest or a wedding, she explained. “Sometimes it's to bring closure, like a funeral.”

“It's a great stress reliever,” she added. “Anytime you play music together, you generate community.”

The closing event is African Culture Night on Saturday, which is organized by the African Student Association and brings together students from both IWU and Illinois State University.There are about 10 students from Africa attending IWU.

The evening includes African cuisine cooked by IWU's food service using recipes from African students and entertainment, often provided by the students themselves, according to Mafazy.

Although African Culture Night is not open to the general public, several other events are.

Celia Nyamweru, a retired professor from St. Lawrence University, will speak on “Reinventing a Kenyan Heroine: Mekatilili and Resistance Today” at 4 p.m. Thursday in the Minor Myers Welcome Center Auditorium and about “Conserving Kenya's Sacred Forests” during a lunch talk in the Titan Room of the Memorial Center at noon Friday.

The movie “God Grew Tired of Us” will be shown at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Beckman Auditorium of Ames Library. The documentary is about tens of thousands of “Lost Boys of Sudan” who fled their embattled country, eventually reaching refugee camps in Kenya and, in some cases, the United States.

The film will be followed by a question-and-answer session with some of the “lost boys,” Mafazy said.

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Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota


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