BELIZE CITY, Fri. Aug. 14, 2015–Roughly 15 young persons from Belize City got a rare chance this week to reconnect with their roots through the art of making and playing drums, as a part of a diverse summer program being offered by the Museum of Belize, which engaged the very talented sambai master, Emmeth Young, of Gales Point Manatee to share his skills with these aspiring drummers.
Among those youth were boys and girls, the youngest being only 5. Young said that although the minimum age limit was 8 years, in the culture, they don’t believe in turning people back who show an interest in learning.
When the classes began on Monday, Young took 15 shells, mainly of mahogany and cedar, to be used in the making of djembe and sambai drums, to the Museum of Belize, where the children converged for sessions running from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. By Wednesday, some of them had already completed making their drums, and all were complete by Thursday.
They had to use sandpaper to smooth the shells out, then construct their masterpieces by adding goat skins procured from Guatemala, which were wrapped around the top rims of the drums with metal before strings were laced to complete the design.
Johrdan Mohammed-Ali, 9, and Nisan Jones, 9, were among the students who participated in the drum making class – their very first time doing so.
Nisan said that his mom, Primrose Jones, signed him up and he is glad that she did, because he had a great time learning.
So did Johrdan, who was elated to complete her drum despite the challenges she faced in putting the pieces together.
“I wanted to come, because I love music!” said Johrdan, pledging that she will continue learning because she wants to be a drummer.
Nisan made a sambai drum in three to four sessions, and although he, too, thought it was hard work, he was nonetheless confident that he could handle it.
Emmeth Young had just completed a similar four-week training with children at St. Martin de Porres School, concluding those sessions last Friday.
He told us that he has been playing the drums since he was 8, and he continues to learn even after 40 years, as he tries to reconnect with the cultural rhythms from Africa—some of which he has been teaching the children during this week’s camp.
While teaching the children, he played on an African drum which he has had for 10 years – a gift to him from a friend who had bought it in Africa. Young, who now owns and operates the Maroon Kriol Drum School in Punta Gorda, says that he owns about 25 different drums.
“If you take care of them, they would last you a lifetime. You would have to change the skin but wood would last a lifetime,” he said.
There is no use having a drum and not being able to use it to make music, so after the participants in this week’s training were done creating their drums, Emmeth Young’s next task was to give them a crash course in playing a few of the rhythms he has learned.
He taught them a West African beat, Kuku, from the Ivory Coast, which women play when they go to the river. He also taught them the Liberian beat, Fanga, which, he said, nomads used to play when they would stop in at a village to rest.
Emmeth Young, who promotes “drums not guns,” told us that he wants to plan an annual event at which young people participate in all-day drumming on Emancipation Day. He envisions that a float could be paraded around the city with youth drumming up these African rhythms in celebration of the occasion.
According to Young, this is the second year he is teaching drum making and drum playing at the museum. The drum-playing sessions are scheduled for all of next week, and participants in this week’s session are being encouraged to return next week to hone their drumming skills.
“It’s about teaching the youth about their own culture instead of adopting other people’s culture. We need to teach them about our own culture and let them know that we have a rich culture that we should cherish,” said Young.
The sambai master can be reached at 668-7733 or via Facebook under his personal page: Emmeth Young, or his business page: Maroon Kriol Drum School.