African drum band performs at KSU Saturday

Josh Echt

With overturned buckets, African drums and a standard drum set, members of the drum band Heartbeat Afrika perform for a group of 50 people who attended the concert in Oscar Ritchie Hall Saturday night. GAVIN JACKSON | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

“BOOM!” Olu bangs the tom-tom — a slow, steady rumble.

“Thunk-thunk-thunk!” Devin bangs the overturned garbage can — quick, loud reverberations off the plastic surfaces.

“Click-click-click!” Link steps and dances on a wooden board, his metal-soled shoes pounding out a staccato rhythm.

The cacophony of musical beats and sounds are typical of a band, except for one thing: The concert is improvised.

More than 50 people came to see Heartbeat Afrika, a drum band featuring African music styles, in Oscar Ritchie Hall Saturday evening.

“The purpose of the band is to show people how African drums influence music today,” said band leader Olu Manns, who started the group one-and-a-half years ago. When their drums were taken away, the African communities had to find ways to replace them, Manns said.

The band featured a skit where members “discovered” rhythm and beat by creating sounds by hitting metal ladder steps, garbage cans and buckets that they would use in their day-to-day work.

The concert featured a dancer, Talise Campbell, who performed several pieces with Mann hitting the tom-tom while Campbell danced in response.

Each set is different, depending on where the band plays. Heartbeat Afrika showcased several styles of music, like the Brazilian samba, the call-and-response, hip-hop drumming and stepping. Most of the time, the band just feels the rhythm and everyone picks up on each other’s vibes, Manns said.

“We’ve been playing together for so long,” band member Devin Gilbert said. “Improvisation is our style.”

African cultural groups Harambee and the Atonkwa Tribe sponsored the concert, which took several months to plan, said Harambee Vice President Ladon Neal.

“We started planning in January,” Neal said. “It was good to see the crowd involved.”

Band leader Manns, a 2000 Kent State alumnus, stayed in contact with Mwatabu Okantah, Center of Pan-African Culture director. The bond helped bring Manns to this weekend’s Pan-African Festival. The band also performed a December 2005 concert, he said.

“I’ve known him since he was young,” Okantah said. “It’s a blessing to see how much he’s grown.”

Bayo Badejo, junior business management major, said he was impressed with the band’s unique character.

“You just don’t see creativity like that,” Badejo said. “It’s so well connected — everything’s in tune.”

Contact general assignment reporter Josh Echt at [email protected]