St. Stephen’s hosts a celebration of music and culture for Black History Month

Two young girls enjoy drumming.
The Olajide family had fun with the drums.
By on February 20, 2024
Leigh Anne Williams

The parish of St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Ottawa celebrated the start of Black History Month with a feast of Caribbean and African foods followed by a joyful evening of African music, drumming and dance.

The Rev. Canon George Kwari wrote in the Feb. issue of Crosstalk (p.8) that “This year, St. Stephen’s is focusing on Black music in an attempt to help our community understand the context within which the African-American music grew in order to gain a deeper appreciation of the Black people’s music.”

The parish invited the Juno-award winning music artist Sadio Sissoko to teach an interactive drumming session. “Through Sadio’s teachings, we will gain a deeper understanding of the rhythmic beats of African drums, which hold a vital role in African customs, particularly in worship and community celebrations,” Kwari wrote.

Sissoko, who came to Canada from Senegal, is a talented multi-instrumentalist who offered the more than 120 people who attended lessons in drumming. He performed beautiful songs he has written and accompanied himself playing the kora, a traditional African string instrument, which has a harp-like sound.

Sissoko speaks mostly French. He shared his thoughts and instructions throughout the music session through his translator and partner Nicole Glaze.

He explained that he was born into a family of musicians who have a special place in Sengalese society. Griots, as they are known, are taught to play by the elders in their family and they are called upon to bring peace when there is conflict in families or larger political problems. His songs included one that called for peace and another about his mother, which he dedicated to all mothers.

Then it was time to pass out the drums. There were not enough for the large crowd that attended, but people, young and old, willingly shared with one another and took turns drumming.

Standing in the middle of the large circle, Sissoko began teaching some simple rhythms with the drums and clapping, and before long the whole room was more or less in sync and loving it.

The crowd was also delighted to learn that Glaze was not only there to translate from French to English, but to dance and to lead anyone who wanted to try some African dance moves.

Young and old enthusiastically joined in all the activities and it was great fun indeed. Thanks to all the wonderful chefs in the parish who prepared a delicious array of dishes.

(Watch for more photos in the March edition of Perspective.)


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