The musical heritage project sent master musicians John Santos, Alegria and Domu Africa to local schools and Boys and Girls Clubs for lecture/demonstrations and performances. All the events were designed to turn the venues into places to learn and preserve the indigenous music from Africa and the Caribbean.
A percussionist, composer and educator, Mr. Santos was raised in the Puerto Rican and Cape Verdean traditions of his family, surrounded by music. His studies of Afro-Latin music have included trips to New York, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Colombia.
Widely respected as one of the top writers, educators and historians in the field, Mr. Santos is a member of the Latin Jazz Advisory Committee of the Smithsonian. He is a distinguished and creative multi-percussionist and recording artist.
Mr. Santos made two trips to the Central Coast from his home in Oakland. In the spring, he visited a middle school, three high schools, the Seaside Boys and Girls Club and gave a lecture/demonstration to students at California State University, Monterey Bay, as well as performing in the university’s annual Heritage Music Festival. During a return trip in the fall, he worked with music students on campus, at two local high schools and at the Salinas facility of the Boys and Girls Club.
At the schools, his lectures touched on Cuban sounds, Latin rhythm, harmony, melody and texture, and African-derived percussive instruments. He played rare recordings for the students, showed video to illustrate his points and played with the jazz bands at several of the schools. At the Boys and Girls Clubs, he also talked to the youngsters about the kinds of habits they need to develop to be successful in music, and in life.
He reached approximately 800 students during his two visits and was well received. The music teachers at the schools were appreciative of the opportunity for their students to work with a respected jazz educator and performing artist. With the state’s budget problems, arts programs in the public schools have been cut dramatically; without outside help, the opportunities for youngsters would be limited. This program helped to fill that gap.
In the fall, Alegria visited four area high schools, working with the jazz bands at each location. The five members of the group demonstrated and performed various music styles within the Afro-Latin-Jazz idiom, including rhythmic examples from Cuba and Brazil. Their performances were informal and included explanations of specific forms as well as question-and-answer sessions. About 150 students benefited from the four visits, and 50 more attended a lecture/demonstration on campus.
Domu Africa, which means “children of Africa” in Wolof, brought the sights and sounds of Senegal to the Salinas Boys and Girls Club with their music, dance and colorful costumes.
The group performed percussion on a variety of African drums – djembe, djunjun, sabar and tama. Their vocals stem from Islamic influenced praise singing and chanting. The combination was powerful and mesmerizing. The youngsters couldn’t resist the urge to dance, and even the adults were bobbing their heads. It was impossible not to get caught up in the charged vibe. The youngsters could feel the vibrations from the drums and the hardwood floor shake. The performance ended with the youngsters forming a conga line and snaking around the gymnasium. After the performance, they mobbed the musicians and were delighted when they were allowed to play with the instruments.
The members of the group, Ibrahima N’Gom, M’bor Faye, Ousman Gueye and Adama Diop are all native Senegalese who have studied and performed these rhythms and songs since childhood. They have toured and performed internationally with prominent West African ballet ensembles including Les Ballet Afrique Noir and the 2nd National Ballet du Senegal. They have appeared at Carnegie Hall, the World Trade Center and the Alvin Ailey Dance School in New York.
Their patient and friendly teaching style was a hit with the 200 or so youngsters at the club. It was as if the music animated their souls.