thumbnail of Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows; 202; Baba Jubal Harris interview, part 4 of 7
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BABA: So, so now I’m exposed to... to—for the first time I’m a—I’m—I’m really being exposed to uh, the new—The New York scene. And, in New York, of course, African drumming and African culture has been going on since the twenties, you know uh, and thirties. And so, Brett, by being um, a person who was born i—in New York and born in that... in Harlem uh, he was—he grew up with African music, African dance, African art, African—you know, the African awareness, African consciousness uh, and... and he’s seeing it in operation on a daily basis and, of course, as I said, he was one of the drummer’s in Babatunde Olatunji’s uh, group who... who—who is... Babatunde... mm, he brought everybody together. Uh, in terms of making African drum and dance a household phenomenon in America. Because, his album, Drums of Passion, sold over a million copies, which was the first time that uh, African music had sold that many um, albums in history. Before folkways would do ethnomusicology um, tapes, you know, field recordings and things like that. But now, African music has moved into uh, popular, it’s moving into popular musical field through Babatunde Olatunji and the Drums of Passion. So, the people who were uh, his drummers were drawn from the first group of African drummers who came to New York and that would be back in, like, 1930’s... 1932, 1930—i—and even before then but—in-around 1932, a man by the name of Moses Mianes arrived in New York fro—he was (inaudible) from uh, Nigeria... south— southeastern Nigeria. And this is bef—you know, this is in the thirties. This is before Babatunde Olatunji arrived. So, Moses Mianes began to teach African music and dance. Uh, and some of the people who gravitated toward him, at that time, were Ismay Andrews, who wa—she was a, uh, a Broadway singer and a performer, African- American. Um, Ester Rolls, who—who... became very famous in her own right as a uh, a actress and dancer. Um, and then, the men that came were people like Taiwo Duvall uh, Montego Joe, Chief James Hawthorn Bay um, Denny Zulu, now those names um, are the names of people who—who—who—who formed the foundation of African drumming in America. Uh, Baba Ishangi, um, they... they... they are like my fathers and grandfather in drumming, so I—w-so I was introduced to them at different stages in my life and I studied with them at different stages of my life. Um, and as a result of that, I— I became the drummer that I am today and the drum maker that I am today and the person who appreciates and knows and understands African culture uh... in the way that I do. So, the journey i—i—it, you know, from... from that... from that 1970 meeting wi— uh... with Brett Brown taking me to... to-to um, Beffer Stiverson, to—to-to-to—to um, Brooklyn, to the um, and then I had—I kept—I had to go back, you know. It’s like once you go, you come back—I came back to Ohio and now I have all of this uh, I’ve seen like, the light, right? I’ve seen it in operations and I’m like, well, we gotta do this here. We gotta bring this... bring this energy back, brings this knowledge back. Um, we didn’t have drums. We didn’t have—we didn’t have uh, we had conga drums. Uh, we had drums with the metal, you know, c-because my teacher Flash Ford, his drums had uh, metal tuning systems on ‘em or the tack head drums, where the-the head is tacked on. But none of those drums that we had... had any type of traditional African roping system on them.. becau—and that goes back to the fact that uh, African... traditional African drum making, as well as playing was banned in the United States in the seventeen hundreds, you know. The uh... was 1740 was the Stono Rebellion here in the United States in North... North Carolina. Uh, dru—drumming had been banned in North America it—you know... going as f—as far back a—as... as the seventeen hundreds, so there were stiff penalties uh, associated with drumming or drum making. When uh, Moses Mianes arrived in Harlem, around 1932, he was looking for African drums and he couldn’t find any. Uh, and... and-and so he had to find a carpenter, he found a Jamaican carpenter who um, he described what he wa—he drew out what he wanted and then the carpenter made the drums and those were the first Ashiko drums in the United States. Um, and the whole knowledge of knowing how to make the drum, you had to know how to not just make the shell of the drum, but he—he wanted the traditional uh, system that you put the head on the drum, then roped the drum um, so he had to teach people how to do that. And um, uh, Opira, Denny Zulu and people like Chief Bay, Montego Joe um, Taiwo Duval uh, and other African-American men began to study with them to learn how to do this, how to make the... the—the—the drum, the African drum. So, um, I’m in Cincinnati, you know, uh, and—and we don’t have-there’s no African drums. There’s— there’s, you know, the Conga drums and the bongos. Those people—if you say African drum today, people will say, oh you play the—is that a bongo? Or is that a... a Conga drum, because the museum was the only place you saw uh, an African drum, a traditional African drum. So the—the whole thing came up, well, can’t buy one. How you gonna get one? If you don’t know somebody who is uh, like a at—a performer in an African ballet like um, The National Ballet of Guinea, or the National Ballet of Senegal, then you—you won’t—there’s no way you can have a... a tr—a—an authentic African drum. So we started to ha—uh, we had to learn how to make them. And, that is when I, fortunately, I was uh, at the time, I was uh-I was at the um, arts consortium in Cincinnati on Lynn Street. And I—you know, a—as a result of going to New York and-and, and— and and my experience with Brett Brown and knowing how to play a—learning how to play agogo uh, I met a guy, Nan... man by the name of uh, um... hold on... Sovanis Omanuki, from Ghana. He was going to the University of Cincinnati on a—he was studying to—for a doctorate in um, in art. And he became the Director of the Arts Consortium at that time. So like... and he was... he wanted to uh—he—I—he wanted me to show—to teach what I knew about the agogo bell, because I had studied agogo. So, I started an agogo bell class. And then, he brought in Melvin Diehl from Washington, D.C. to do a... an African dance class. And, Melvin Diehl’s uh, dancers uh, did—did the workshop at the Arts Consortium and um, I played the agogo bell and the drum and then we had classes. And, that’s when I, you know, I—I told the instructor uh, I want to... I want to make an African drum. Uh, we don’t have African drums, you know, we have the agogo bell, we don’t have drums and... said, well come to D.C. because Melvin can show –he can direct you. So, I said ok. I took the car and I made my way to Washington, D.C. I went to Melvin Diehl’s studio and um, I say um, you know, I introduced myself. I’d like to learn how to play Africa drums and I’d like to make a drum. So, he said, ok um, he gave me two sticks. We sat down on the floor. He gave me two sticks. He said ok um—he—he played a rhythm... (demonstrating) and then he handed me the sticks, he said ok, play that rhythm... and I went... (demonstrating) so, well that’s good. You can play that rhythm. Then he showed me another rhythm, you know, (demonstrates)... and... (demonstrates) and he said, ah, ok, good. He said um, I can help you with the learning to play the drums, he said, but if you want to make a drum, you have to go see Bilai McKnight. And I said, ok. So, he wrote down Bilai’s address, gave—gave me the car and I go find Bilai. Bilai is at the African um, cultural center. And uh, he has started an African Cultural Center. It was in a old aband—kinda like this studio here. It was in a old abandoned um, uh, it was a drug store. So, I knock on the door, Bilai opens the door, I said uh, told him who I am. I’m Jabal Harris uh, and um, I was just at Melvin Diehl’s studio and he told me if I wanted to learn how to make a drum that uh, I should come and see you, because I want to learn how to make a drum. He said, ok, so he opened the door, I came in. So, he had a—he had—he had a room, you know, in the basement and it was heated with a wood stove uh, it had wood chips all over the place, you know, and they were in there carving drums... African drums. So, I didn’t have any tools or anything at the time. So, he said well, first thing you gotta do, you gotta... you gotta get a gauge, you gotta, you know, you need a gauge and you need a mallet. And in order to make the mallet, you need a adze. But you don’t have any tools? I’m like no, I don’t have any tools. So, ok. Show you how to—so I started off learning how to make, using a adze to make the mallet. And then he said, well I gotta extra spoon, bent gauge over here, here use this, right. So, he gave me this little tiny spoon bent gauge, just like real small spoon mount. And the... and then, I had to go out and find a log. So, we went around to the park looking for, you know, logs that city departments left. Found a log, got it and brought it back and started um, then carving the drum. So, couple months later I’m... I’m—I’m... I’m you know, whacking my knuckles and—but we finished uh, carving a—a small djembe drum. While I was there um, for the months that I was there, I was there several sev-uh—many-a—about uh, at least six, eight months. That’s where I was introduced to people like Baba Ishangi of the Ishangi dancers. Um, people who were not only um, they were not only just—they were not only performers of African music and dance. They lived it. They lived the culture. So, his... Baba Ishangi was a priest of the Acon tradition and um, he gave me the I... I guess you could say, the spiritual dimension, if you want to put it in those terms of the African drumming. Um, at the same time, I’m being exposed to Urabi Priest, who um, including Bailai McKnight who ga—gave me the understanding of the importance of the drum in the communication with, not just uh, the music that makes you want to dance and have a party and have a good time, but also, the music that connects you to the forces of nature themselves, that connects you to the essence of... life. What manifests life. And um, the order that is involved in that whole process, that whole understanding of it. The tr- the—the deep, deep truths that nature reveals when you know how to approach nature with respect. Um, so, Baba, you know, showed me—gave me that experience of the drum and the family—what the—the-the meaning of family... the meaning uh, from the African um, sensibility. Uh, the importance of the family unit working together as a family. And that was real significant, because our families had been torn apart, pretty much uh, due to the slavery system and due to the economics and the social systems that uh, support capitalism, that uh, support um, economic oppression and exploitation of black people. So now uh, I’m getting through the African Cultural Center in Washington D.C. not on—I’m getting the... the um, you might say the medicine for those conditions that were imposed upon the African here in America that caused family deterioration. And, now I’m being embraced and brought into a healing uh, environment through the drum and the power of the drum and what it can do to heal um, the conditions that were... that were created through the oppressive slavery systems. And, I stayed there until um, until I—I had the feeling—the-the-the um, it’s hard to describe. It’s like, you know, if you go to college you get—you—you go four years and they give you a diploma and you sign off on it and then you go out in the world. And if you go to college for like another f-four to eight, ten years you can get your professional degree in um, well, this was like you get that kind of a... you might say reward for rites of passage. You get that kind of uh, experience, but it’s—it’s not a... it never ends. It’s not like, you know, ok you got it, and now you can go practice. No, it’s like the door has just been opened and the universe is infinite. And so, now you... you—you’re-you’ve opened the door and you can... you’re allowed to go in the room. You can experience what’s in the room. But when you get in the room, it’s like, oh wow, you know, there’s... there’s uh, the human being is connected to something that we need to be more conscious of and that is—uh—who—w—th—when the question is asked, who am I, what is my purpose here? Uh, that question can be answered. It is, however, a process of uh, unlayering, of taking off the... you might say conditionings, you know, that historically have brought us to whatever state we’re in, in the moment. Um, the unlayering... taking that off and now being who you really are, the human being that God created you to be and not something that might have been imposed upon you by some outside force. For a reason that may not be in alignment with your higher good, with your higher destiny. So now I’m... I’m being uh, taught by men and women who—who are moving on a path towards they’re higher destiny and as—and as their... they move towards this uh, this, you might say like, enlightened experience of their own humanity um, you know, I’m...I’m observing them and I’m learning from them. I’m lear—an-an-and-and-and the.. the—the experience that’s happening on a multidimensional levels, you know. So, now I’m coming back and forth between Washington D.C., Cincinnati, and I’m connecting with other dr—uh, people who are very much into the culture of learn—uh, are into the—the—the discovery of who they are from the African point of view... from-from... we say Africa. Which is a interesting thing, because we use the word Africa as a geo-political term. But when I went to Africa and I went to the villages and where the people speak Mandinka they speak Yuriba, they speak um, Walloff, they speak Serei, they—there’s no word for Africa Indian language. That... and—so, there’s a different way of connecting that is not based on th—that word. We use the word Africa as uh, you know, they have words that transcend Africa. But because we had been stripped of uh, our—of—of our knowledge of who we were as a African, we had to get that back, you know. But then, when I went to Africa ca—to—I—I-I was taken to another level where you—you know, we’re talking here about the forces of creation that created the planet. So, the forces of the—of creation that created this planet also created this solar system. And the solar system is just one solar system within the Milky Way Galaxy. And now I’m meeting people who talking about being able to communicate and connect with ancestral star people. If you want to use the word people. Who—witnesses of creation. And... they’re like, yea, you know, Africa was one part of the journey, but that’s not the—that’s not the end of it. That’s like, you just walked through the door. And, now we’re gonna show you how the drum, the rhythm, the vibration connects with the forces that create the universe. I’m like, oh, that’s deep. Because that’s what Sun Rah was doing when he was playing that instrument talking about space is the place, you know. Uh, Sun Rah’s like I’m from Saturn. I’m not a human being. I’m a angel, I’m from Saturn, I-you know, he’s... and I’m—people are going you know, this man is crazy. He’s outta his mind, you know, he’s... he must be schizophrenic or something, you know. And he’s like, no... there’s a reality you just don’t know about it yet. The drum puts you in a certain vibratory state where all those possib—every—everything is possible. There’s nothing that’s impossible. But you don’t know what is impossible, because you don’t even really know what’s possible. So, then I began to experience um, what-some things that people say is impossible. You know? I’ve seen um—Afric—what they call African Metaphysics. It’s like, impossible. How do you... how do you make something rise up off the ground using a...something that’s invisible and move? How—how do you do that? How do the Dogon people know that there’s a star, Sirius, and that Sirius has a companion star, Sirius B and Sirius A and Sirius C. How did they know that? They didn’t have a telescope?
Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows
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Baba Jubal Harris interview, part 4 of 7
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Raw interview with Baba Jubal Harris, builder of African drums and master drummer. Part 4 of 7.
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Chicago: “Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows; 202; Baba Jubal Harris interview, part 4 of 7,” ThinkTV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 29, 2024,
MLA: “Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows; 202; Baba Jubal Harris interview, part 4 of 7.” ThinkTV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 29, 2024. <>.
APA: Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows; 202; Baba Jubal Harris interview, part 4 of 7. Boston, MA: ThinkTV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from