Djembe Thanksgiving – Part 1

January 13, 2010 at 5:53 pm 5 comments

Djembe Thanksgiving
Part 1:
The Drummers and Joe

Read Part 2: Kurzweil Jeff
Read Part 3: Oy! Logistics, Permissions and Switzerland, Oh My!
Read Part 4: A Joyful Chaos!

Read Part 5: Drums In Church — Some Concluding Thoughts

I am grateful for many things, and as I stand facing forward into the New Year, African drumming is one of them!  Looking back over 2009, one of the stand-out moments for me was the Thanksgiving Service in Boston at The First Church of Christ, Scientist, (The Mother Church) where I serve as soloist.

This year, we had the distinct privilege of including some truly soulful folks whose lives are given to healing and caring.  These folks also happen to be mostly African and drummers and they are Christian Science nurses and they shared their musical gifts with the congregation during the Thanksgiving service.

Rehearsal in the Original Edifice of The Mother Church: Doris Olawuwo, Tamie Kanata, Nathan Frederick, Joe Galeota, Dogah Koblavi, Teresa Ambugo, Steve Okwor, Julia Wade

In my inimitable fashion, I will be telling you some stories and sub-stories of this experience – in 5 parts!  It was such a rich, unifying and uplifting endeavor that went way beyond the actual church service (which was wonderful – but more on that later!)  So here’s the story, or actually, here are the stories…

===== The Drummers =====

I had been hearing about some African drummers in the Boston area who, every so often, would get together and drum.  They would also invite friends to sit in and participate.  Kemi Awosile, a beautiful friend from Nigeria, sat in and played on some of these sessions.  When she put me in touch with one of the drummers, Kemi told me,  “Julia, if you are from Africa, you are a drummer.” And oh, my friends, this indeed is true!

So, back in early October, I met with these dedicated Christian Science nurses who work at the Chestnut Hill Benevolent Association.  Hailing from Kenya, Nigeria, Japan (not Africa!) and the U.S., these were the drummers I had been hearing about and now I was going to spend an evening with them, sitting in.

Nathan Frederick, an employee at The Mother Church (TMC) and also a musician trained in West African drumming, and I went together to The Benevolent Association to the session.  Jeff Williams, our regular TMC consultant/musician met us there with a keyboard in tow.  We then met Steve Okwor, Teresa Ambugo, Ufresia, Doris Olawuwo, Tamie Kanata and several others who also sat in.

Steve’s little girls Sorochi (5) and Amara (3) as well as Teresa’s daughters, Zawadi (3) and Rehema (2) were running around with sheer, unhampered joy.  Chairs were placed in a circle, and drums and keyboard were set up.  We all sat in the circle, including the four little girls, who settled in immediately once the music started.

Teresa Ambugo and Steve Okwor

The session started a little shyly at first, but there is great power in gathering in a circle.  Sitting in that circle just put everyone into a shared space that allowed the focus to flow and change as each person spoke, sang, or drummed.  We could all follow and respond, take turns, and work together. It was beautiful.  And pretty soon some of the little girls were up dancing and finding their way onto different laps, including mine, while we all sang and drummed.  For me, it was a slice of heaven.

The drummers all played together for Jeff and me.  Teresa sang a song from her native Kenya with the sweetest, purest voice while drumming along.  Doris taught all of us to sing in Yoruba, her native tongue, and Ufresia and Tamie and others lent their voices and rhythms to this gathering.

Jeff and I taught the drummers the song medley for the Thanksgiving service and everyone just fell into it, drumming along.  When we got to the Nigerian hymn, “Allelujah Y’in Oluwa” the Africans immediately knew the melody, and in fact taught us an alternate version of the tune.

When I first arranged with Steve Okwor to get together, we had agreed that we “would see” if this was a good thing for the Thanksgiving service.  I came to this drumming session with the following questions:  What would the drummers sound like?  Would they be comfortable playing in front of people?  Would they even want to play in front of people?  Would this work in our church service?

Doris Olawuwo

The session answered so much. Their music was beautiful, and they drummed with freedom.  They wanted to do this!  They were excited to share their gifts with the church.  I left that drumming session in awe of the power of music.  I was inspired, excited and just loved the spontaneity, rhythms and joy expressed in these instruments and new friends from half a world away.  I was reminded once again that music is so incredibly universal.  It is a language that unifies people all around the globe – instantly.

===== Joe =====

Jeff Williams and I both knew that we had a beautiful thing with this group.  And it was clear that this would all come together with the right leader for the group.   But we needed to find just the right musician.  Jeff, our TMC programmer/musician, is a professor at Berklee College of Music, and he recommended Joe Galeota, a fellow Berklee professor and professional West African drummer to lead the drumming ensemble in this musical offering for the Thanksgiving Service.

After a lengthy phone conversation, Joe and I arranged our rehearsals and the drums he would provide for everyone.  Two weeks later, we all met in Joe’s studio at Berklee.

Joe Galeota

Joe was finishing a class when we all got there.  As the students left, we were reading his bulletin board outside his room that was titled “What’s Up Africa.”  Joe and students alike put up current events – especially from Ghana where Boston-born Joe’s wife is from and where they spend a part of every year

When the students were gone, Joe warmly invited us to come into his studio, calling it his “home away from home.”  Indeed, his studio is inviting and vibrant with music and instruments.  Gorgeous hand-made native instruments (from his own company, JAG Drums) line Joe’s walls and fill every cupboard, nook and cranny as well as take up the major portion of the middle of the room.

Jammed into a small corner is his desk and lining two walls are all the technical accoutrement that you would expect from a music room at Berklee – drum set, speakers, keyboard and sound equipment.  When you step into his room, you just want to start playing – on everything – immediately!

After introductions, Joe, with his special Boston accent, began describing his background – as a student, he had gone to Ghana to earn a degree in African music.  At a certain point, Joe kept trying to go study other forms of music in other African countries, but he kept finding new music to study in Ghana.  He just couldn’t leave!

So Joe stayed and got married in Ghana.  He had us all laughing and falling out of our chairs at his story of marrying a beautiful African woman and what it was like to be the groom – and to be forced to arrive 2 hours late to his very own wedding because his bride’s family was supposed to pick him up for the ceremony.  By the time two of the bride’s humongous cousins showed up to get him, the wedding and party were over.  His new wife said, “It’s OK – we didn’t need you.”

Turns out that the wedding ceremony in Ghana is really more about the two families coming together  — not so much focus on the bride and groom.  Since the families were all there, but Joe wasn’t – nobody cared!

Steve Okwor and Teresa Ambugo were cracking up and they said, “Ah yes, Joe, you got married African style!”

This concludes Part 1

Read Part 2: Kurzweil Jeff
Read Part 3: Oy! Logistics, Permissions and Switzerland, Oh My!
Read Part 4: A Joyful Chaos!
Read Part 5: Drums In Church — Some Concluding Thoughts

Learn about
Joe Galeota’s West African Drum and Dance Ensemble

Joe Galeota’s hand-made drums (JAG Drums) line his classroom wall while class goes on…


Julia Wade is a Recording Artist and Director of Digital Sheet Music

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Entry filed under: Church Music, Inspiration, Inspirational Music, Inspiratus, Performance, Practice & Performance: Working It Out, Spiritual Thinkers. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Gloria from Christmas Presence Djembe Thanksgiving – Part 2

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Doris Olawuwo  |  January 15, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    Hi Julia, This is very very good. I love the article. God brought us together and made us a great theme, I’m greatful to be in that theme. We are a blessing to the world and we will continue blessing mankind through love and joy. Thank you Julia for your wonderful and good job well done. Much love from Doris Olawuwo

    • 2. juliawade  |  January 16, 2010 at 10:51 am

      Doris, Thanks so much for your words! This experience just stays with me — lives inside of me! It was so joyful and healing. My hope is to share this experience so that other churches, musicians and groups will be inspired to look within their own communities to discover the rich resources they possess — right there — to share healing inspiration in fresh new ways. Thank you, Doris, so very much for precious contribution to our Djembe Thanksgiving! Sending you much love and appreciation! Julia

  • […] Part 1: The Drummers and Joe […]

  • […] Part 1: The Drummers and Joe Read Part 2: Kurzweil […]

  • […] Part 1: The Drummers and Joe Read Part 2: Kurzweil Jeff Read Part 3: Oy! Logistics, Permissions and Switzerland, Oh […]


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