Students and faculty honor Halim El-Dabh

Bryan Wroten

Ethnomusicologist receives traditional tribute

“True of Voice,” a tribute to Halim El-Dabh was performed by students in the African Cultural Expressions class last evening. The performance was held in the African Community Theatre in Oscar Ritchie Hall. JESSICA NAPLES | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

To honor Halim El-Dabh, his students gave him a tribute all teachers want.

They showed him what he taught them.

Last night, in a tribute called “True of Voice: Halim El-Dabh,” students and faculty alike expressed their fondness for the 85-year-old ethnomusicologist.

“El-Dabh has been a part of this energy, this program, since he came here in 1969,” said Mwatabu Okantah, director of the Center for Pan-African Culture. “It’s only fitting that here in Pan-African studies, we take the time to say thank you.”

Students in El-Dabh’s African cultural expression class danced and sang according to the traditions of several African nation tribes. El-Dabh, professor emeritus, said he doesn’t use the word tribe alone because the tribes were bigger than what the word means. He said the Yoruba, a nation tribe whose dance and song was performed last night, has millions of people in Nigeria alone.

“We learn about how the lifestyle comes through the movements,” he said about the dances. “Each group has its own body gestures.”

The students dressed in traditional clothing collected by El-Dabh and performed five dances.

“It’s a way of going into the culture with a creative sense to it,” he said. “My class is like a mini-anthropology class, studying the cultures of each group.”

Okantah spoke of how El-Dabh encouraged him to write poetry in the traditional African storytelling sense when he was a student at Kent State. Because El-Dabh is such a supporter of student creativity, Okantah introduced LaDon Neal, freshman public relations major, who read three of his poems.

David Badagnani, ethnomusicology graduate student and El-Dabh’s archivist and assistant, spoke about the time he spent with El-Dabh. Presently, Badagnani is collecting all of El-Dabh’s scores, concert programs, news and photo clippings, audio and video tapes and putting them all in order. He said five years ago the boxes filled with all of these were stacked half way to the ceiling in El-Dabh’s office. Now, the boxes are only knee high.

Kent State graduate Mark Wiitanen, who has helped Badagnani transfer the reel-to-reel recordings of performances to computers, showed his documentary on El-Dabh, “The Frequencies of Life.”

El-Dabh will premiere his symphony, “The Quest,” for President Carol Cartwright tomorrow night at the 31st annual “An Evening with the Symphony.” On May 12, he also will premiere his finished version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s unfinished opera, “Thamos: King of Egypt.”

Contact minority affairs reporter Bryan Wroten at [email protected].