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Sounds of Africa: The ASU African Drum Ensemble gives students a chance to play music from African nations

For the first time the ASU Drum Ensemble learned and performed Ghana's traditional music

The ASU Drum Ensemble performs traditional music from Ghana on ASU's Tempe campus on Monday, April 24, 2017.

The ASU Drum Ensemble performs traditional music from Ghana on ASU's Tempe campus on Monday, April 24, 2017.

The ASU African Drum Ensemble gathers people together to learn and appreciate different African nations' traditional music. 

The ensemble chooses a nation to study, and it bases its performances on that tribe each semester.

Zach Paris is a graduate teaching assistant and director of the ASU African Drum Ensemble. He said the class is about learning a new type of music, and it is not a critique-based class. 

"It is very welcoming of any errors, it's a very trial and error group," Paris said. 

He said the ensemble is knowledgable in most of the African instruments to ensure the music is played smoothly in its performances. Its most recent performance on April 24 was based on Ghana's music.  

"They learned a new side of African drumming because none of them ever played music from Ghana before," Paris said. He said most of the students had no background in percussion instruments, and their progress has improved significantly.

"At the beginning of the semester, not even being able to hold the sticks to performing at an ASU ensemble concert is really cool," Paris said. 

Music therapy senior Ilana Bruce said the class helped her with the various skills African music requires. 

"My sticking technique and learning different strokes have improved," Bruce said. Even though the class tackles a difficult style of music, Paris helps the class understand the basics first. 

"We listen to folklore groups that do this, and Zach will minimize and simplify it," Bruce said. 

Music education master's student Sharyn Absher said the most challenging aspect of the class is singing the words of the songs, which are in a different language. 

"The words are words that we are not used to hearing, and we are probably not pronouncing them correctly," she said.  

Despite the language barrier, Absher said she still finds playing and singing the music enjoyable and that it has helped her de-stress from the chaos of school. 

"It was a great relaxation tool," she said. "I think it could benefit other students in that way too." 

The ASU African Drum Ensemble is different from other ensemble classes. The students learn about the history and understand the meanings behind the songs. 

"We learned the types of folklore groups and what the different drums represent," she said. "It helped me realize that I always should have an open mind and figure out in what way the class can apply to me."

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