by: ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Photo by MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World

Some of Jeff Roberson’s students at Academy Central Elementary School had been reluctant to participate in music class… until this week.

That’s when Imani Gonzalez, a visiting artist from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington brought her lesson in world music and a small hand drum to the school at 1789 W. Seminole St.

“In general, this group of kids hasn’t sung much. They don’t seem to want to,” Roberson said. “Today, it’s 1,000 percent.”

Fifth-grader Jalen Jackson couldn’t contain himself. Not only did he sing along to repetitions of two African songs Gonzalez was teaching, but he smiled through the whole lesson and danced in his seat to the beat of the little drum. “I felt ‘freeness’ and stuff,” he said after class.

Gonzalez gave the 40 or so students gathered in Academy Central’s gymnasium the background story for each of the two songs; then she quizzed them to see how well they remembered the information.

One of the songs, “Elegba,” is about gods and goddesses and is sung by the Yoruba, a large ethnic group in West Africa.

When she asked whether students recalled one of the god’s names, no one answered, so she gave them the first letter “O.”

“Obama!” one student called out, sending Principal Ebony Johnson and another teacher into giggles.

“Obatala!” Gonzalez corrected them.

First, Gonzalez had students repeat the lyrics after her. Then she put them on an overhead projector “because some of us are visual learners.”

Next, she led them through the songs four or five times. Then the students had to sing without her voice but not without the drumming.

“Now the chorus: make it sweet to the tongue,” Gonzalez said, guiding them.

“Sosa so kere, alaroye so kere, Sosa, so kere, Alagbana so kere,” went the chorus.

She repeated the process for the second song, “Ta Ta Tay,” which mothers in Ghana sing to their children while they’re still in the womb. Students also learned what their names in the “Ga” language would be, depending on the day of the week they were born. Jalen still remembered his after class – Awishi – because he was born on a Sunday.

“There is a learning process in teaching world music because the patterns and inflections of voice are different,” Gonzalez said afterward. “Because the songs are in a different language, the words don’t mean anything to you.”

Her visit to Tulsa was funded through grants from the Kennedy Center and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

The professional jazz and world vocalist lives in Washington and has been featured on many of the National Geographic Television’s Explorer Series soundtracks, including the Emmy-nominated film “The Jane Goodall Biography.”

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