Music Workshops for Black History Month

A music workshop is the perfect way to approach the emotive and valuable subject of Black History Month, which is coming up in October.

Here at the Music Workshop Company (MWC) we have been busy creating some brand new workshops designed to explore the culture and history of the African people through the universal, recognisable medium of music.

The African Songs and South African Songs workshops will include newly sourced songs, many of which we have collected in the time honored oral tradition by sharing material between our workshop leaders, each of whom has a huge and unique musical repertoire. MWC’s Maria ThomasBooks 2a also particularly loves hunting through second hand bookshops for unusual music to add to the workshops.

As well as these brand new workshops, MWC provides a wide variety of African music workshops, all of which can be tailored to the students to ensure that they get the most relevant and enjoyable experience of the music and the culture in which it developed.

Our West African Drumming workshop teaches djembe drumming in a traditional West African Drumming circle. In North African Percussion, students learn about the instruments and rhythms from North Africa, such as the Darabuka drum and the Riq, which is a traditional Arabic tambourine. Afro-American Songs explores the melodies and lyrics of the African musical tradition as it has developed in the USA, in which we include songs sung on the cotton fields of the deep South, and the Blues workshop teaches students about the tradition of Blues music and gives them the chance to write their own songs.

It is important to find an approachable and informative way to help students explore Black History Month, as it can be a difficult subject. The origins of Black History Month go back to 1926 when black historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the son of two black slaves, began what he called “Negro History Week” in the USA. In 1926 the word “negro” was not thought to be an offensive word; it just means “black” in Spanish; but since the 1960s, it has fallen out of common use. Many people objected to the word because of its associations with the slave trade, and with terms of abuse.

Woodson’s goal was to educate Americans about the cultural backgrounds and achievements of people of African descent.  In 1969, the week’s celebration was expanded to a month and in 1976, Black History Month in February was endorsed by the US government. In the United Kingdom, Black History Month has been celebrated every October since 1987.Books 3a

Alongside the benefits of studying this pertinent history, learning about African and African-American music is a tremendous way for students to learn about the history of Classical, Jazz, Blues, Gospel, Soul and Rock and Roll music, and to see its influences on modern Pop music. MWC is also devising a workshop which will cover the influence of African music in the 20th Century, how the music has developed in the Twentieth Century and its relevance to the development of Classical and Pop music.

African music brought many familiar rhythmical and harmonic features to Western music, including call and response, improvisation, syncopation, percussion, blue notes and the complex multi-part harmony of the spiritual. The music and folk dance of England as far as the Medieval period was also strongly influenced by the music of particularly North Africa.

MWC is looking forward to October’s workshops and exploring all of this music and history with lots of young people.

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