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BABA: So, my teachers, you know, um, Babatunde Olatunji uh, Chief Bai, Baba Shangi, you know, um, Upira, Denny Zulu uh, they were—I mentioned all of them because they’ve passed on to the ancestral plane. Um, but what they told me, you know, the things that they showed me and they taught me and... and exposed me to um, just confirm for me the... the depth... there’s no... there’s no limit, there’s no bottom to this. There’s no um, there’s no box you can put this in, in terms of the... the music, the—the—the music of the drum. The music that... that is... that vibrates and is—can be created um, through— through poly-rhythms and through understanding uh, or I should say inner standing the vibratory influence that music has. So, you can be teleported, you can be transported, you know, from... from the blues, from the blues of having to, you know, work on a railroad every day until you die. You know, hammering nails into railroad ties to create a railroad that goes across the United States of America or that goes from—from South Africa to... to Zimbabwe to... to, you know. It’s like, that is blues, but at the same time, it’s—what is the feeling, the energy that moves you through that. That gives you that, you know, the ability to still rise above your oppression while you’re being oppressed. Uh, that, it’s an ancestral connection. That goes way, way, way, way—that goes to the heart of the—the heartbeat of creation. So, you know, when I was learning this, it wasn’t a popular thing to do. It was like uh, because, you know, I mean, I was a student in a university, but this was outside of the univers—there wasn’t—you couldn’t learn—this— these—this-this information and these experiences you did not get in a traditional kind of school sit—setting, you know. Uh, you had to go find a person that would—and sit down with them. And then, they had to accept you as a student. And they didn’t have to accept you. I was very just blessed that they accepted me. That they um, you know, brought me close enough to them to be able to impart um, their life story to me and connect through the drum. And so, I started making drums you know, I—I-I—I um, Bai Lai showed me how to carve drums. And then, couple years later, I’m playing at a festival in Amherst uh, University of Amherst, and my band is called the Sunship Band. And I hear a sound I never heard before. Like, wow, that’s a drum. But I’d never heard a drum sound like that. So, I go—I’m—I’m like, well, I gotta find out where that sound is coming from. So, in another venue there was a group from Chicago led by Moshe Mylan, sun drummer and dancers. And, Moshe is playing a drum that I had only seen in LaRock Bay’s studio in New York, but I didn’t know exactly what—I—I didn’t know... I just saw it sitting there. I—I didn’t... I didn’t hear it and I didn’t see him playing it. They were kinda like puttin’ ‘em awa—putting their drums away when I was at LaRock Bays studio. And now, I’m seeing this drum, and Moshe—I –I didn’t know him at the time, but I went and introduced myself to him, Moshe Mylan. He’s playing, he called it a air drum ‘cause you... you wear it strapped on and you play it standing up, as opposed to the conga’s and the—that-th—ashiko family of drums, you know, you play sitting down. And he said this is a djembe drum. I made this. I said, whoa, that’s deep. So, again, um, I—I um, got Moshe’s number and information everything and... ended up going to Chicago. And there’s where I started studying with the Sun Drummers in Chicago. Because, his t— Moshe’s teacher, his name is Atu. They called him Black Hero. Atu was a student of Chief Bay from New York and Montego Dro and all the other drummers that came up under Asadada the—I mean, came up under um, um, Moses Mianes. That whole drumming tradition in New York. Now, he transplanted it to Chicago to form the Sun Drummers. And so, then I got to Chicago to Mosh—Moshe’s house and start studying uh, with the Sun Drummers and Atu Murray. So now, we’re about to make the full circle um, well yea, we did. We made... we made that-that-that-that circle complete. Um, and then I came back... coming back and forth from Chicago to Cincinnati. Um, back and forth from, you know, New York and... Washington, D.C., so we formed, in Cincinnati, a group called New World Drummers. And then, from the New World Drummers we brought Moshe in to The Arts Consortium and he began to form the um, Sun Drummer and Dancer Company. Um, we—we had—we got a grant from um, the city of Cincinnati and uh, we started the Sun Drummer and Dancer. And we performed the first um, African Drum and Dance concert in Cincinnati at uh, Taft High School with that group, Sun Drummer and Dancer. So, it—you know, tha—that’s kinda the beginnings of... of the movement. Uh, we had-we-we didn’t ha—they didn’t have drums in Chicago. Everybody had to learn to make the drums. They’re carving drums, making drums uh, s—same thing in Washington, D.C., Bailei McKnight carving drums and making drums, because if you wanted to drum you wanted to African drum you had to, you know, you had to make your own.
BABA: Ok, this—this-this is the latest drum we make. This is called a Heartbeat Drum. Now, actually, that drum is a combination of um, it’s tall, which is in the Congolese tradition. But, it has a cone shape, which is from—out of the Ashiko shell. And then, we put it on the platform, and um, we carve the hearts in it to signify acoma, which in... in the uh, Ghanaian tradition is the heart. So, it’s the heartbeat drum. And we use these drums for the heartbeat drum circle. This is the core, the center piece of the heartbeat drum circle. These drums can be played with hands or they can be played with the sticks. Now the whole phenomena of—of the drum circle, you know, that... that goes... that’s uh, coming out of um, really, we would gather in—in New York you gather in Central Park. And the drummers would all sit around and we would play. We didn’t call it a drum circle, but it—it wa—it was a drum circle. Uh, on the west coast, we used to do that out at Berkeley University, you know, uh-uh, Berkeley College of Music out on their campus. On Sundays, everybody would go out and you’d have... you’d have a group here and, you know, like uh, the uh, Afro-Cuban drummers would be over here. The guys who knew how to play maybe some um, um, Ghanaian atunpong drums over here and ano—another group of drums over there, but they were separate energies, you know, no—in other words if I would play with the conga players, then I’d have to go over here and play with th—these other guys. And, and sometimes you couldn’t play with them, because you didn’t know their music and if you didn’t get the rhythm right, they wouldn’t let you play with ‘em anyway, ok, because you’d mess up the rhythm. So, you’d have set—you had to give them respect and watch. So, this phenomena was going on up until the nineties, when, in California, and k—they-they started talking about let’s do these uh—I was at a camp in—in um, (inaudible) from Mali. He had a African drum and dance camp. And, we used to all sit in a circle for his drum class and he would come around and give everybody parts in the circle. So, they started calling that a drum circle. Well, that whole idea of drum circles, because now, white people were coming to the circle and they’ve started drumming. And they want to learn African drums. And the people who started learning from uh, (inaudible) and other African’s who came uh, to California uh, they started to um, go out and teach. And then, so they would form community groups. And they called ‘em drum circles. And anybody—you didn’t have to, you know, you didn’t have to be a... a professional, you didn’t have to have ever touched a drum in your life, you could come to the drum circle and just experience the vibration of what it’s like being in a circle with drums. Not necessarily uh, being— playing a specific rhythm, but just uh, the nice vibration that when the drum calls everybody comes and you can fit in. And you just get in and fit in. And somebody’ll hold a rhythm for the whole group. So that was the idea of the drum circle. It kind of expanded to become inclusive. So if you—no matter if you’re like, Uribi, Twea, Ashanti, African-American, Afro-Cuban, if you’re from South America, North America, Europe, it doesn’t matter. Everybody could come together in the drum circle. So, I’m doing drum circles and I’m noticing that one thing is missing. It’s like the bottom, the... the glue. You gotta have—you gotta have the bottom to hold everybody together. It doesn’t matter what you do on top. You know, people want to just like, play. But if you don’t keep the rhythm solid then it’s no fun. It turns into a bunch of noise. Now, I was noticing that some of these circles, it’s just noise. What they need is some bottom. They need somebody to hold a bottom, so that’s—I knew that through the Congolese system of using um, you know, your bass drum, all traditional African drums-uh, um, systems have a bass... a bass drum that holds the—it’s the mother drum. It holds everything together. So, that’s when I came up with uh, the idea for the heartbeat drum. We have a whole corp of drummers playing the heartbeat to hold the rhythm, to keep it tight. And then I developed a system of ten rhythms that can be played. That changes the vibration based on the number, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. And um, it expands from the core, from the center. It can expand... it can expand, it can just keep going like uh, the golden mean spiral. When we base everything on the golden mean spiral uh, you know, from uh, from zero, the center uh, out to infinity. So we can put as many drummers as we want to or a—a-as we can in that—in that spiral from—starting with the drum circle to create the drum spiral. And that’s what we’re doing now. We are... we have the drum circle, it’s like this room. We got the circle here, but it starts with the... the drum circle and then it moves into the drum spiral and we can be inclusive of as many people that want to drum as possible and that’s what the heartbeat drum circle is all about.
Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows
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Baba Jubal Harris interview, part 5 of 7
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Raw interview with Baba Jubal Harris, builder of African drums and master drummer. Part 5 of 7.
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Chicago: “Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows; 202; Baba Jubal Harris interview, part 5 of 7,” ThinkTV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 21, 2024,
MLA: “Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows; 202; Baba Jubal Harris interview, part 5 of 7.” ThinkTV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 21, 2024. <>.
APA: Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows; 202; Baba Jubal Harris interview, part 5 of 7. Boston, MA: ThinkTV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from