It all started with a talking drum and one student’s interest in sharing this drum with his classmates. I seek to celebrate student-led learning. The talking drum was a launching pad for a lesson on African music and a tool to engage other students as leaders in the classroom.
This ensemble performance featuring the talking drum opened our classroom discussion of African music.
The Talking Drum
The talking drum is an indigenous instrument from the western region of Nigeria. In West Africa, it is often called Gangan or Kanago. It is mostly used during celebrations such as weddings, naming ceremonies, and burial ceremonies. The long thread/rope that surrounds the drum is called Osan and is used to change the tone of the drum.
The students loved listening to the talking drum. The student who introduced the instrument to his classmates spoke with excitement about it. I invited other students to share what they knew about African music with the class. Most of my 6th students knew very little, but a few of them raised their hands, excited to share their knowledge with the class. An organic lesson on African pop music was born.
African Pop Music
Two of my students are Nigerian-America. Both shared their favorite pop songs from Nigeria, which their classmates loved. This song, by Nigerian pop star Simi, was the class favorite.
Another student, whose parents were from Egypt, shared her favorite Egyptian pop song. The students appreciated listening to the song, sung in Arabic while reading the English subtitles.
Students compared various songs and music examples. They often related the songs to some of their American favorites, noting the fluidity of music. For a hands-on component, students worked in groups to create their own rhythmic musical presentations inspired by the rhythms present in the multiple African songs featured during class.
Learning About Africa
Through music, we expanded our knowledge of Africa. We researched African languages, countries, regions, and religions. The students were astounded to learn that an estimated 1,500-2,000 languages are spoken in Africa. We discussed the dominance of many European languages spoken in Africa as an example of the lasting legacy of colonialism. This linguistic map of Africa provided context for our discussion.
The students learned a great deal through this lesson. What I loved the most was the pride I saw in my students as they shared their heritage with their classmates. The power of student-led learning shone through during the lesson. Cultivating a spirit of multiculturalism, openness, and acceptance in the classroom laid the foundations for a successful and engaging lesson about African pop music.
If you are an educator, we’d love to hear how you celebrate diversity in your classroom. Parents, how do you foster a spirit of multicultural learning at home? Share your tips and experiences with us. We’d love to hear about them.