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Somerville Arts Council awards $1,200 to Argenziano School music program for African drumming workshop featuring Mali native

Posted by Christina Jedra  February 20, 2013 04:40 PM

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"Joh" Camara dances with Noel Freeman at a recent concert in the Winter Hill Community School auditorium, to the music of drummers (from left) Kofi Atsimedu and Sory Diabate. Photo: Elizabeth Clark

The following was submitted by Kinga A. Borondy: 

Students at the Argenziano School in Somerville already speak more than 50 different languages, from Hungarian to Farsi, from Portuguese to Haitian Creole. This spring, music teacher Paul Barringer will be adding a new language to the list.

A special grant from the Somerville Arts Council for $1,200 will allow Mr. Barringer to invite Sidi Mohamed “Joh” Camara, a native of Bamako, Mali to teach the language of Malian drumming, singing and dance to the entire sixth grade plus seventh and eighth graders enrolled in the World Percussion class. It is one of 41 grants approved by the Arts Council to support a diverse range of projects, fellowships and educational programs.

“Because music is a non-verbal language, it allows students to more naturally express themselves” Mr. Barringer said, adding he is eager to bring Middle School students into direct contact with a master musician. “This is the age when they discover a great deal of music on their own, and through this residency we hope to give them an in-depth experience of group music making with traditional Malian music.”

Rick Saunders, Director of Music for Somerville Public Schools, said Mr. Camara fits right in to the schools’ philosophy of musical education.

“In many West African countries, music making is for everyone, it’s about total participation, everyone in the community has a part,” Mr. Saunders said. “Our focus in Somerville schools is on participation, not passive consumerism; we give students musical experiences that ensure all of them feel as if they are making music.”

Participation in music making be it singing, playing an instrument like clarinet, violin, trumpet, or improvising and performing with xylophones and percussion, is complemented with instruction in music concepts and skills.

“We want our students to be musically literate when they graduate from high school and leave us,” Mr. Saunders said. 

Mr. Barringer said the music Mr. Camara will be bringing to Argenziano will fit right into the Middle School curriculum, which includes a World Percussion Ensemble choice for all seventh and eighth graders. The school’s instruments include two dozen xylophones in different ranges, African hand drums, conga drums and various hand percussion instruments.

“Traditional African drumming is a powerful way of making music with the whole body that students at this age can relate to,” Mr. Barringer said. He added that the intensive, three-week residency is not just about drumming; it includes learning traditional songs, dances, and the cultural background of Malian music, a whole musical package that perfectly complements the rest of the 6th Grade and World Percussion curriculum.

Mr. Barringer described Mr. Camara as a culture bearer from his West African community where he is well known as a musician, performer and teacher. His whole family is steeped in music making and performance. “Mr. Camara uses music as a form of deep communication with other musicians, students and the greater community,” Mr. Barringer said.

Mr. Camara’s residency began through the efforts of Elizabeth Clark, a paraprofessional at Winter Hill School who is also the mother of two Argenziano students. The Somerville resident fell in love with African drums when she attended a class offered by Mr. Camara at the Dance Complex in Cambridge, MA. She suggested Mr. Barringer invite Mr. Camara to be an artist-in-residence at the Argenziano School through a Somerville Arts Council grant.

She describes herself as being passionate about the arts and believes 40 minutes of music and visual arts a week is not enough. She would also like to see a reversal of the trend in some districts to cut music and visual arts classes for budgetary reasons. She believes we need to send the message that music and visual art are an integral part of the learning environment and a vital component to strengthening the learning process for all students.

“I want to help bring in artists of all disciplines to enhance the overall learning experience,” Clark said. “Art and music are not just a break from math and science; they stimulate the brain in different ways and offer youngsters a different way of learning.” 

Mr. Camara’s time with the middle school students will enhance an already rich musical curriculum at the Argenziano School. All youngsters fulfill a musical requirement that includes weekly instruction in music making, performing in multiple concerts each year, and the opportunity to play a musical instrument and sing in a chorus.

While the Council has allocated the school enough money to pay Mr. Camara for the majority of his artist residency, Mr. Barringer is looking to raise an additional funds to allow Mr. Camara to complete the full three weeks of instruction. 

“There will be a final performance on April 30th showcasing the achievements of the 6th, 7th and 8th graders, and we would like to invite Mr. Camara to perform with his own group as well,” Mr. Barringer said. “It would be very rewarding for the youngsters participating in the class to showcase their performances in the same concert as Mr. Camara’s group,” Mr. Barringer said. The April 30th concert will be free and open to the public.
He is planning a special fundraising concert at the Argenziano School by the Afro-dance group Federator No.1 on April 7th and is soliciting donations from interested parents and community leaders.

For more information or to help Mr. Barringer achieve his fund-raising goal, please contact him at 

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