UMOJA-sponsored drum festival coming to Founders Park pavilion Saturday

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Retired teacher Vincent Dial took his charges at the Langston Centre through a quick primer on counting time Thursday as they beat away on personally-designed bucket drums.

Saturday, they’ll be part of Umoja Arts & Culture’s first-ever drum festival at the Founder’s Park Pavilion. The event begins at 5 p.m. and winds up at 10.

It all started as one of Umoja’s leaders, Angelitti, Bradley thought about what could be done with some African drums that had been donated to the Carver Recreation Center.

“They haven’t been in use because they didn’t have an instructor,” Bradley said.

Knowing those drums were there – and chomping at the bit to reactivate their community role that normally produces a two-day late summer unity festival in downtown Johnson City – Umoja leaders hatched the idea of a drumming festival.

The children at the Langston Centre are designing their own bucket drums as well as learning to play them.

“We have an instructor that’s coming from Knoxville who is a regular part of the Umoja festival that we have every year,” Bradley said. “He agreed to come and teach the kids at Carver a routine on the African drums and he also is going to be performing.”

The instructor is Obayana Ajanaku, a teacher at Knoxville’s Austin East High School who has performed professionally on three continents. In addition to performing himself, Ajanaku – like Dial – will take his group of neophytes through a performance.

With plenty of time for web surfing during the pandemic, Bradley saw a “bucket drum” routine online.

“I thought that was very neat, and I knew that Vincent Dial was an instructor on how to bucket drum, also called street drumming.”

Dial agreed to participate, and on Thursday was in the middle of three days of lessons with children at the Langston Centre.

“He also will be performing on his drum,” Bradley said.

A sound that may be unfamiliar to many is also on tap. Knoxville-based Vere Henry will perform on the steel drum.

“You don’t hear a lot of steel drumming performances around this area,” Bradley said.

Rounding out the percussion variety performance-wise will be Matt Geiger, an East Tennessee State University professor who will perform on an African-Cuban conga drum.

Peter Gbaa will walk visitors through the history and sounds of African drumming.

Both sets of young people will show what they’ve learned, and Bradley said kids from Kingsport’s New Vision youth organization will be involved. “Eastman is one of our big supporters so we try to get some of the kids from the Kingsport area.”

But for those who want to try their own hands, the event also includes an all-comers drum circle – “impulse musical expression” – led by retired teacher and Johnson City Board of Education member Michelle Treece.

These drummers will engage with each other to create a group rhythm and cooperate in rhythm games. “Anybody that has a drum and wants to come and join in the drum circle, they’re more than welcome,” Bradley said.

A DJ, Jerome Dunn, and at least two food vendors will also be on hand.

“This is not our big festival like we usually have,” Bradley said. “Just a small event, something that we thought would be good and different for our area.”

But there’s another motive, Bradley said.

“We’re hoping that we can get some future drummers out of these workshops. Anything we can do for the youth to encourage them, that’s what we try to do.”

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