October 13, 2016

Master African drummer teaches rhythm to students

Cleveland State University students can now learn empowerment and culture through drumming from a master African drummer and artistic educator.

The Mary Joyce Green Women’s Center hosts a drumming class — led by Linda Thomas Jones, better known as Mama Fasi — in the Main Classroom Auditorium every Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Jones brings enough instruments for 40 people.

Jillian Holt, director of the women’s center, said that based on the center’s mission, a drumming class was appropriate to add to this year’s programming.

“The four words that we always use at the women’s center when we think about what we want to do [through] our programs and in our services and our space [are] ‘educate, empower, support and inspire,’” Holt said. “Mama Fasi is a bit of a legend and so we knew that her drumming and her instruction could encompass those four things.”

Jones has studied dance at both Case Western University and in Ghana, West Africa. She is a music educator with the Cuyahoga Board of Mental Retardation and Disabilities and she founded the Imani African-American Dance Community in 1980 in Cleveland.

KimAnya Hinds, Jones’s apprentice, explained that intention and overcoming shyness can help anyone learn how to play the drums.

“Before we even try to do something, we don’t necessarily know that we can actually do it,” Hinds said. “But you have to take that first step and you can’t be shy about it.”

By maintaining a teacher-student dynamic, Jones is able to emphasize techniques that are fundamental for any drummer to improve their skills.

“When you drum, you’re drumming who you are,” Thomas said. “You can’t hide. If you’re insecure, it’s going to show immediately in your drumming. In order to play with a group of people, each person has to be willing to take a good look at themselves and say ‘Okay, how can I support this?’’

During the early years of her exposure to drumming, Jones experienced discrimination from a drum community comprised predominantly of men who refused to teach women how to play.

Jones is one of the few female Djembe and Conga drummers in the male-dominated professional realm.

“[Men] refused to teach us, period,” Jones said. “And so it was either give up or go and sit and be still and let the drum teach you.”

Jones is the proprietor of Drumwoman Productions and her mission as an artistic educator is to “assist students with their process of ‘self-change’ by exposing them to a deeper level of knowledge and understanding of their African culture through the drum.”

Throughout her 35 years as an instructor, Jones has fostered a positive learning environment by setting ground rules: no to negative speech or making fun of anyone, and always encouraging each other.

Jones also coined a chant that intertwines the positive message, “I like you and youlike me,” into a drum pattern.

She teaches the same pattern to all of her students, including preschoolers, adults, elderly assistance communities and young men in the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center.

“For me to reach them,” Jones said, “I have to figure out how to get them to understand that how we treat each other is important in terms of their own healing.”


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