Thursday, March 1, 2018
Dr. Robert J. Damm was a featured speaker and drum circle facilitator for the inaugural AFRICAN MUSIC AND DANCE Symposium at Jackson State University on February 24th. The program was hosted by interim JSU music department head, Dr. Lisa Beckley-Roberts. Dr. Damm served on a panel discussion entitled “Africana Music and Healing” which was moderated by Dr. David Okombo, JSU Assistant Professor of Music Education. Dr. Damm spoke about the role of drumming and drum circles in programs focused on community and healing. He cited Kofi Agawu’s The African Imagination in Music in which it was written that communal participation affirms togetherness and that the ensemble environment allows the amazingly skilled to make music alongside the less skilled. He also explained that Arthur Hull and other facilitators acknowledge Babatunde Olatunji as their inspiration for creating drum circles. Damm described various settings in which community and healing are the intentions, themes, and benefits of drum circles. He also discussed his MSU First-Year Experience recreational drum circle class; drum circles for university residence halls celebrating diversity, unity, and themes of community and how they are sometimes organized at the end of the semester to help students cope with the stress of exams; spiritual elements in drum circles for church congregations; drum circles for special needs populations (especially children with autism); and community drum circles which emphasize themes of diversity, unity, and peace. Dr. Damm also talked about drum gatherings which are particularly intended to emphasize healing. Following the panel discussion, Dr. Damm facilitated a one-hour drum circle featuring African drums (jembes and duns) and other percussion instruments and included African rhythms, songs, philosophy (Ubuntu) , and performance practices (i.e. polyrhythm, improvisation, call-and-response, communal participation, swing, and timeline). The symposium was supported by the Mississippi Humanities Council.