Drumming by Laborers in Leisure

Grade Level
4-6, 7-9, 10-12, C-U


Audio file
Drumming of the Sosyete Wou

Audio file
Djouba and Kongo Drumming

Performers: Group of workers in Haiti 

Activity #1: Finding the Rhythms of the Djouba and Konga Drums
1. Listen to the 'Djouba and Konga Drumming' (Volume 9: #22), and ask students to keep a soft steady pulse by (for example) tapping with just one or two fingers per hand on a dependable surface such as a book or a table-top.

2. Listen again to the selection. Ask students to direct their attention to the following questions, and to respond to them according to what they hear.

Q: What are the instruments being played?
A: Drums (including a djouba, which is a barrel drum that is laid on its side and played by a drummer who sits astride it)
Q: Are the drums played by hand or by sticks?
A: Both. There are occasions when the hands play (and when the foot is engaged in changing the pressure on the drumhead,
which raises or lowers the drum pitch), and when a pair of sticks called katalye strike the body of the drum.
Q: Does the music stay the same, or are there changes along the way?
A: The tempo stays mostly steady, but there are changes in tone quality. Listen especially to changes at 57",1'28", and 2'02".

3. Listen again to the selection to 57", and play along with the beat on drums (djembe or conga drums are best), using flat hands or finger tips. Aim for sounding a slow and steady beat, even as faster pulses, which are subdivisions of the slower beat, tick along in between on the recording.

4. Without the recording, practice playing steady beats. On cue (which could be a call, such as "2", or "Twice as Fast", or the clicking sound of a wood block), play two pulses to a steady beat. Then, on cue again, such as "1", or "Home", or "Beat", return to the slower, steady beats. As well, try playing four pulses to a steady beat, using a cue such as "4", returning to "Twice as Fast", and the original "Home" beat. For example:

Original (Home) Beat, "1" 
/ / / /
"2", "Twice as Fast"
/ / / / / / / /
Original (Home) Beat, "1"
/ / / /

"2", "Twice as Fast"
/ / / / / / / /
/ / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /
/ / / / / / / /
/ / / /

5. Listen again to the selection to 57", and on cue from the teacher ("1", "2", "4"), students can play twice-as-fast, or the subdivisions of the beat that are "twice as fast" ("2") and "four times as fast" ("4).

6. Challenge students to adjust to the different sections of drumming quality of the rhythm; do likewise at 1'28" and 2'02". In fact, the music is moving between djouba and kongo rhythm styles.

Suggested Activity #2: Drumming the Sosyete Wou Way

1. Listen to the 'Drumming of the Sosyete Wou' (Volume 10: #22). Focus student attention on the following features, by asking them "What do you hear?". Responses may cover a broad spectrum:

  • Voices speaking, both male and female
  • Crisp, clicking sounds of wood sticks
  • (Occasionally), the dry sound of rattling beads 
  • Muted sounds of drum skins, both lower and higher in pitch

2. Listen to the recording again, with special attention to 

  • The textures of the crisp and muted sounds of sticks, rattles, drums
  • The rhythm patterns played by the instruments
  • The relationships between the instrumental timbres

3. Divide students into groups of three or four players, each with drums, sticks, and rattles to play. Ask that students explore the possibilities of pitch and timbre on the instruments, in order that they might construct
a 'composition' of rhythms. Then, set parameters for the students that will help them to reflect the nature of the Sosyete Wou in their group rhythm:

  • A layering in of the instruments one by one
  • A segment of call-and-response between the drums and sticks
  • A variation of higher and lower pitches on the drums, and crisper and more muted (even muffled) timbres, featured in short sections of four beats each
  • A quick-paced but even tempo

With about 5-10 minutes to experiment with expressions and forms, ask students to create a piece of about 32 beats (8 measures of 4 beats each).

4. Allow the student groups to perform for one another, and lead discussion on the featuring of elements of the Sosyete Wou group.

5. Listen to the recording again as comparison with the student compositions.

Suggested Activity #2: Reasons for Rhythmicking
1. After listening to the Djouba and Kongo Drumming (Volume 9: #22) and the Drumming of the Sosyete Wou (Volume 9: #21), lead a discussion surrounding the uses and purposes of the rhythmicking musicians. Ask students what their own hunches may be as to the purposes for the drumming: For funerals? Dancing parties? Wedding ceremonies? Athletic events? Concert events? School competitions?

2. Describe the presence of drumming (and other percussion) music in the labor societies of Haiti, in which music would be performed for parties associated with work brigades. This lively percussion music was intended to temper the rigors of work and to provide energy to the workers, who played as well as danced to the sounds of the percussion rhythms. According to Alan Lomax, who recorded this music of laborers in 1937, the drumming 'is associated with labor, though it does not occur during labor.' Instead, the work is proceeded or followed with the drumming and dancing.

3. Assign students the task of searching into the topics of 'work song,' Djouba drumming and dancing (relative to work related to cultivation and farming), Kongo drumming and dancing, and music of laborers across historical periods and cultures.

Designed by Patricia Shehan Campbell