Saturday, May 15, 2021
JEMBE DEN, in collaboration with the Columbus High School Choir, performed three songs for the annual Eighth of May Emancipation Celebration. Their program included “Siyahamba,” a traditional Zulu song from South Africa; “Fanga Alafia,” a welcome song popularized by Babatunde Olatunji; and “Dzennaee,” a traditional kpanlongo song from the Ga people associated with Ghana’s struggle for independence. JEMBE DEN also played “Moribiyassa” (a woman’s dance in Guinea) and “Bamboula” (a dance rhythm from Congo Square in New Orleans) as drum preludes to call the community to the celebration.
JEMBE DEN is a percussion ensemble comprised of Dr. Robert Damm’s students. They play for cultural and educational programs throughout Mississippi. Their repertoire includes the dance rhythms of West Africa and the African diaspora traditionally associated with community celebrations.
The 8th of May, 1865, is the date the Union troops arrived in Columbus, MS to enforce the Proclamation from the Executive of the United States that all slaves were free. Beginning in 1866, local black leaders organized annual celebrations of emancipation. The annual celebrations in the black community faded after the Civil Rights era, with the exception of drums beaten at some rural churches through the 1990s. This celebration is in the same tradition as the Juneteenth holidays.
Since 2005, students at the Mississippi School for Mathematics & Science, under the direction of teacher Chuck Yarborough, have commemorated the struggles, contributions, and legacy of area African Americans through song, spoken word, and dramatic performance in Sandfield Cemetery. The cemetery is the final resting place of many of Columbus’ most prominent African American leaders, as well eight African American Union soldiers who died in the Civil War.