African drums: Art, culture, history in downtown

Dorchester Banner/Dave Ryan
Baba Dennis Minus led a diverse group in an African drum ensemble on Sunday at the Harriett Tubman Museum and Educational Center. The event was sponsored by the Alpha Genesis Community Development Corporation.

CAMBRIDGE — “It’s all about connecting,” Baba Dennis Minus said on Sunday. He was speaking to a group of locals and visitors at the Harriett Tubman Museum and Educational Center, sharing his knowledge of African drumming.

Mr. Minus – “Baba” is a word in many African languages meaning “father,” and is used as a term of respect – came from Dover, Delaware, at the invitation of Dorchester’s Alpha Genesis Community Development Corporation. Executive Director of Alpha Genesis Jermaine Anderson said his group is committed to bringing art and culture to the area.

“This is a perfect mechanism to introduce art,” he said. “Through the arts, we can build the community in a unique way.”

Mr. Minus became involved in performance at the age of 12. He worked in a variety of capacities in the Midwest and New York City, before making his home in Dover.

He is the founder and artistic director of the Daande Lenol African Ballet and Drum Company, the first African ballet and drum studio in the history of Delaware State University. He is also the artistic director and a co-founder of the Sankofa African dance and Drum Company of Dover.

He and Mr. Anderson said their goal is to create an African drum and dance company in Dorchester County.

The presentation began with an indoor lecture while the drums warmed up – they play better when they are heated a bit – outside. The diverse group of ages and ethnic backgrounds learned that the djembe drums were originally used for war, and then evolved into musical expression for a variety of situations.

There is an etiquette to be learned as well. For instance, one never eats at a drum, and must ask to play someone else’s instrument.

“You have a personal relationship with all these drums,” Mr. Minus said. “They talk to you, you talk to them. It sounds strange, but that’s how the culture is.”

In addition to the djembes, which have something like an hourglass shape, there are also the dundun drums. These are cylindrical, and their different sizes and shapes are considered, like the djembes, to form a family.

“It teaches our young people the essence of the family,” he said, as one drum creates a foundation, and another leads.

The Harriett Tubman Museum and Educational Center is at 424 Race Street. For information, call (410) 228-0401. To reach Mr. Minus, call 302-270-1591. Visit the Dorchester Banner’s Facebook page to see more photos of the event.

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