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BABA: So, Funga, the dance Funga, was brought to the United States by Dr. Pearl Premus. She’s an anthropologist and uh, a African dancer. Um, Kurimy Macky, Dr. Macky taught me an—i-because, at the time, he was using her pedagogue for teaching African uh, music or African studies, African dance and incorporating the dance and the music together. Um, to um, i-i-i-it was combining the African music and dance into the academic cur— curriculum, so that you, you know, you could use it to teach math, science, history, language, all of the af—academic subjects. So, now um, I’m go—I’m doing residencies with Kurimy. I’m his um, visiting artist and then I applied to become an artist. And um, that’s when I started my... my tenure with The Ohio Arts Council as a um, traditional artist.
BABA: When I’m in the classroom, or uh, even uh, when I’m in an auditorium with uh, you know, an assembly program. My approach is holistic um, and that’s what I hope... the students can um, absorb from me is... it’s kinda... it’s hard to explain but um, see, we are a total person as human being. We’ve been compartmentalized. Um, we’ve been, basically, we’ve been taught to only operate out of, you know, maybe the left side of our brain and totally ignore the right side. Um, and that has caused a lot of problems in the society. Because people don’t see things holistically. And, so when I bring the music and the... I’m—I’m... the drums, you know, it’s calling to you as a total person. Um, the elevation of your consciousness is more important than the information. Because, you can get information. You can... you—especially today. You can get on the internet, you can... if you know how to, you know, work your phone, you can get information. Um, but there’s something that you can’t get from information and that is uh, the... the-the total experience of who you are as a person and how you can um, rejoice in that experience and use it to affect a positive change i-in your environment, no matter where it is. Whether it’s in your home with your family or in your school, or wherever it is in society. That it—we—we are um, not individual’s as much as we are a collective. Because what you do affects me and what I do affects you. In our school systems, in our way of life, we are taught an—not that competition isn’t good. You can have competition, but that’s only... that’s like just having the left side of your brain. The— what about cooperation? That’s on the right side. Now, how do we combine those two to create a balance so that we can live in a balanced society? Um, in our ancient tradition and when we look at our ancient African models of civilization and tradition, we see that it is... they were holistic in their approach, you know. Uh, traditional Native American societies, they were holistic in terms of how they interacted with their environment and the land and the nature that surrounds them and their support system for life, itself. But, we’ve been isolated to think that um, just making money is, if you got money, so—you— that’s all you need. And the avenues for making money, unfortunately, have big—have created the toxicity in our environments that is killing us. So, we gotta return to a way of life that is in cooperation with nature, not one that is uh, antagonistic. You know, we— and by learning to drum and learning the... the traditional African value systems um, then I begin to see, oh, this education system is outta whack, you know. Uh, it’s not addressing the human being i—as a total person. We have—as uh, Baba Ishangi used to tell me, he said, we have developed a high level of technology, but we have not developed the human technology. We have... we have material technology, but we don’t have human technology, and there’s gotta be a balance. So, what’s happening now is that the uh, material technology is... is causing the um, it’s causing the water in Flint, Michigan to kill the children. See, it’s—it’s like out of balance. To have a system set up so that even the water can get poisoned with toxic chemicals, or that the um, ocean can be poisoned with radiation. Just to get to that point says, people have not been focusing on the reality of life and what life in its natural manifestation can bring to society. We— we’re—we’re like um, we lost our focus. We’ve, you know, we’ve lost that—our connection. So the drum is calling us back to that. And that’s why you see people coming together in drum circles to share the vibration, you know. Uh, and when people come, you know, talking about alternatives, you know um, solar wind um, green energy. Uh, people who are... are... are looking at holistic health um... we’re—we’re seeing how we can heal the environment. You know, these kinds of things are going on within uh, these conversations are happening within the drum circle with the people who are coming into the circle. And then I—went can I do to save the trees? To save the rain forests? To say the well? To save our environ—you know, let’s get back to being in a natural flow. So, the drum is amplifying all of that. Now, the education part is... we moved into the education system and I guess we were made—a—at first, we were kinda like a shock to the system, in the sense that people thought um, me-may have been a little standoffish uh—uh, you know. But then they saw, oh, well when... when... when Baba Jubal comes to school uh, and, and, you know, all—all of my lil—the-all the students who-who-who-who um, have problems, whether they’re attention deficit disorder or they’re just downright uh, disrespectful, uh, they don’t want to learn um, they seem to calm down and listen to him. And they actually do learn.. w—w-we see them reciting and learning songs and learning new languages a—and being able to go to the board and identify, you know, different countries and different continents. And they u-u-u- understanding certain principles that they never un—and scientific information, you know, and... wow, well, well how is that he can do that? You know, the artists are coming into the schools and they’re working with kids that, normally, you’d have to, you know, send them to the uh, timeout room or where—to the principal’s office. But now, even the ones who are tardy and don’t come to school when—they want to come to school now. They want to be in that program. They want to um, make that work of art, they want to uh, contribute um, their creativity to the process, you know. And they are enjoying it and they are learning from it. So, it’s had an—a really positive affect, arts education, you know. Um, and we’ve seen it grow. So, as I said, Dr. Mackey, second person to get a... a... a PhD in Astrophysics. He was a... an electrical... electrical engineer and astrophysicist, a musician, and a dancer, you know. So he uh, a—he was uh, he was my inspiration this... a—and he—and um, and there were other artists, like I said, Dr. Pearl Premus and uh, her husband (inaudible) um, you know. Chuck Davis, can’t forget him. And for his arts educations concerned um, Dr. Chuck Davis is another one of the pioneers of arts education and African dance in America. And he’s... he—he, along with Babatunde Olatunji, you know, they... they popularized um, African dance. Now peop—now it’s in universities and high schools, colleges, people are gravitating towards learning, you know, African dance. And of course the dance movements are included in HipHop. They’re included in all the latest uh, dances that the young people do, you know, because it’s a part of the culture that’s grow—tha—that they’ve grown... grown up with and that’s grown up around them. So um, it’s good to see these things now. I’m looking back on, you know, ‘cause I—I... like forty years. But, forty years ago, it was just um... and that was within my lifetime um, coming into the forefront.
BABA: Well, I uh, you know, I-I get to enjoy... I get to enjoy seeing the smiles on young people’s faces when they—when they’re enjoying themselves and each other and cooperating and making achievements uh, just small... small steps of achievement that lead to... that can lead to bigger achievements in their life, you know. Everybody... is not gonna be a professional artist or a musician or a dancer, but um, if you can take that same inspiration and work ethic into being a uh, being a carpenter, being a plumber, being whatever you do in life, you know, being a... a.. a phy—a physician or a dentist or a doctor. I mean, a beautician. Whatever you take... whatever you love doing, if you focus on the love that you have for that and you do the best that you can do to bring it into fruition, to make it real in your life, make it real in your world and you—then you see how that affects other people and has a positive effect on them. You know, that’s a wonderful thing. So um, when I... um, I-I-I mean, I have many, many, mem, many memories of um, going into schools, you know, that were in horrible condition, you know, just really bad. And seeing the transformation that take place with the staff, with the teachers and the students and then the parents, when they see that, oh, there’s something positive that we can contribute to, that we can do in spite of all of this negative stuff that’s going on in our school or our neighborhood, you know, ‘cause some horrible things are happening to kids on the way to school now, that, when I was growing up didn’t happen. But it’s happening now. You gotta deal with drugs, you gotta deal with drug dealers, you gotta deal with, you know, insanity that we didn’t have to deal with. So, to see that these kids have um, the—the—that there’s something that I can contribute to in their life that will give them a brighter day and give them some hope and give them a feeling of accomplishment um, and give them an idea of what a little bit of self- discipline can achieve in your life, you know uh, it’s a great thing. It’s a great thing, yea, it’s not like, you can’t do this for money ‘cause there’s no money in it. You know, it’s not... it’s not like you go to uh, make a million dollars, but you can make a million smiles, you can make can make a million uh, young people happy um, or—or find—find that place inside of themselves that’s happy. Not because I give ‘em a whole bun—you know, they have to earn everything with me. You got—if you were making a drum, you gotta earn your stick. And then, to see the—the effect of what it feels like when you actually earned your way, you know. I mean, their self- gratification... it’s priceless. So, that’s what I do it for, you know, self-gratification, yea, comes from within the self.
BABA: Well, I’m gonna—I’m gonna do the Funga (inaudible) song, because that is like standard. As I said, Dr. Pearl Premus, went to Liberia, Nigeria, and she brought back the...the movement and the language. Um, the language of the Funga is uh, Uribe. Um, the melody is African-American. It comes from a song called Little Liza Jane, (singing) you know, and then, the African rhythm was put to it. The Funga rhythm. So, I’m gonna... I’m gonna uh... I’ll do that one. Um, the Uribe language has a... it’s a tonal language and it has been... had a very strong influence within the African-American uh, community and retention of, not just retention, but I would say the um, the uh, re- emergence of uh, the awareness of African music here in America. So, I’ll... I’ll do another song um, in the Uribe language um, and then I’m gonna do one in Mandinka uh, because a lot of Mandinka peoples was brought to the United States. And a lot of our families are from the Mandinka—I don’t know if you uh—people are familiar with the movie ROOTS, when Alex Hailey uh, went to Gambia and he was in search of his uh, ancestor, Kunta Kinte, he found out, you know um, from the greo or the jolly, the name of his ancestor. And he had to sit with the... the greo and they recited um, the hit... the oral history of the Manding people and they finally came to his um, the village of Juffure and the... the name uh, Kunta Kinte. So, that whole story of ROOTS is... is based in the Manding people. So, I’m gonna sing a song that comes from them, LamBan. This song LamBan, it has two... two... two movements, Lamba... Lamban, and Lamban ba, the small Lamba and the big one. Because these songs were sung for the monsa... the emperor, the king uh, use that European term of Mali. Um, in the lines of uh, Sunjatakata who we, popularly uh, recognize as the Lion King. Um, you know, and they made the uh, Broadway play, very popular. The Lion King based on the epic of Sunjata, how he formed uh, the uh, the uh, Mali empire under his rule. So uh, I’ll sing one of those songs. And um, and then I—I, and then I’m gonna sing uh, a Sun Drummer. The Sun Drummer’s song, because um, that’s—the Sun Drummer, Brother Itu, from Sun Drummer brought the... they did a... a very unique... yo—it’s uh, a... a, a unique incubation took place in Chicago between Brother Atu and Sun Rah in Chicago. And the Sun Drummer came out of that experience. Um, so the song that I’m gonna sing is a song that is—was developed uh, in the SunRah repre—repertoire, but it has the Sun Drummer rhythm, which goes back to Moses Mianes and the Ashiko rhythms and they came through Chief Bai and uh, Opira Denny Zulu, and um, Baba Ishingi and that whole generation, you know, so we’ll tie all that together with that... with the Sun Drummer rhythm.
BABA: I perform at all these festival uh, throughout Ohio, everywhere I go because uh, uh, people really—first of all, they love to hear the music and it’s a good opportunity to bring the community together uh, bring the y—uh, give the young people uh, something to towards. Um, at the last years Ohio State Fair, I brought uh, a group from Columbus, Ohio, a group of students from Columbus, Ohio and a group from the Caramel House uh, here in Cleveland. I—I taught African drum class at Caramel House. So we—we did a performance at um, The Ohio State Fair. Um, a-you know, anytime we um, perform... I perform with different groups like Japo here in... in Cleveland and um, the... the... the emergence of um, African... traditional African music and dance performing groups is something that’s been evolving and evolving uh, since the days of um, uh, Dr. Pearl Premus and uh, and Dr. Katherine Dunham, and uh, and then to add to that extension of that goes into Babatunde Olantunji, as well as um, coming all the way up to um, Chuck Davis, Dr. Chuck Davis, you know uh, the African-American drumming—the African-American dance ensemble. Uh, so we just continue the tradition.
BABA: (OFF CAMERA CONVERSATION) Um, well, we just go to the hardware store, you know, that’s it. We got to hardware store and we get uh, faring strips uh, one by threes, and then we put ‘em on the jig and run’em through... well, we cut ‘em, put ‘em on the jig, run ‘em through the table saw and then um, we bind ‘em together to make the cone shape. Then once... once the cone shape is... is.. is uh, is made um, then it has to dry overnight. Then you... use a plainer to um, plain the surface and sand it and uh, shape it and then, you put the metals—the um, the head on, which is, that’s a separate process, so... now I don’t have... my friend, I’m supposed to go over to his house this evening. He’s got some video footage of us actually making drums down in the... down there. So, that might be something that, you know, that it would fit right into what you—much better than...
BABA: Um, we use two types, cow skin and goat skin. Uh... so... I’m thinking that... that video may have that process.
Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows
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Baba Jubal Harris interview, part 7 of 7
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Raw interview with Baba Jubal Harris, builder of African drums and master drummer. Part 7 of 7.
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Performing Arts
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Chicago: “Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows; 202; Baba Jubal Harris interview, part 7 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 7 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 7 of 7. Boston, MA: ThinkTV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from