Most American teens don’t typically affiliate traditional African drumming with rap music. But the youth who attended Rogue Valley Correctional Facility’s recent drumming workshop learned how the two forms of music connect — teaching them about other cultures as well as their own.
About 85 youth participated in at least part of the week-long program during their spring break. The workshop was offered through the Obo Addy Legacy Project, a nonprofit that runs educational programs on African culture in schools throughout Oregon. The nonprofit has hosted similar programs in several other OYA facilities, but this was their first time visiting Rogue Valley.
The youth started with classroom instruction on the background and history of Ghana, West African drumming, and how the music evolved into present-day hip-hop and rap. By day two, they were writing their own lyrics for a rap song based on three questions: Who am I to myself? Who am I to my community? What will my legacy be?
“It was pretty amazing, and sometimes sad, to see what they wrote,” says Fes Lellis, Rogue Valley’s volunteer and activity coordinator. “But they articulated what is in their hearts without judgment, and I believe it was cathartic.”
During the last few days of the workshop, the youth had the opportunity to play hand-carved African drums and learn drumming and dance sequences.
“The young men were extremely excited just to touch the drums, and they all were amazed at the carvings,” says Bryant Campbell, the interim director of the Oregon Youth Authority’s Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations. “I heard several of them mention that they had never thought about how African drumming connected to American culture.”
Campbell says this type of programming is important for helping the youth understand how everyone can connect on a basic human level, no matter what their background.
“Exposure to music of other cultures helps youth to see themselves in others, making them less likely to devalue others’ experiences,” he says. “This is an important step toward personal accountability.”