Professor emphasizes power of sound

Amadeus Smith

Students join to become community in dance

Multi-colored cloth sways back and forth as various dancers and drummers make quick, exaggerated movements.

“Hela Hela Hala – Hela Hela Hala.”

The dancers begin to clap, mimicking the beat of the drums.

The sounds and gestures of cultures in Ethiopia, Ghana and Egypt, to name a few, were performed by students in African cultural expression last night in Oscar Ritchie Hall’s African Community Theater.

Halim El-Dabh, professor in the department of Pan-African studies, said the performance, the last before the renovation of Oscar Ritchie Hall, displayed the different songs and dances of the Ashanti and Yoruba cultures.

“None of them have danced before. None of them have drummed before,” El-Dabh said. “But they (the students) learn to become members of a village in the class, and this is a chance to share what they have learned with the public.”

During each dance, students take on different roles. Some take on the roles of the drummers and others make counter rhythms and gestures.

By doing this, El-Dabh said, the students are able to show the different roles of the village.

Each dance is made up of various rhythms and harmonies. But Justin Priest, senior political science major, said the numerous musical patterns ultimately form one sound.

“If you listen to the rhythm, they all come together,” Priest said.

Charelle Munnerlyn, junior conflict management major, said the class has focused on becoming a community.

“He (El-Dabh) is big on community and everybody being one,” Munnerlyn said.

The group performed six dances, including a dance from Amhara, Ethiopia and another from Anubis, a section of an opera written by El-Dabh.

Etsa, the dance from Amhara, represented love and courtship and Anubis tells a story of a crocodile, said El-Dabh.

But El-Dabh teaches his students to value the power of sound.

In 1944, El-Dabh pioneered transforming sound and voice in sonic experiments using wire recorders.

Although he is regarded by many to be the first to develop electronic sound, El-Dabh said he’ll “just let everyone else make the claim.”

Priest said sound is incorporated into the class through tales of El-Dabh’s travels.

“He told us a story about these people all making the same sound, and they started to float on the sound, like the sound lifted them up,” Priest said.

Contact minority affairs reporter Amadeus Smith at [email protected].