Juba Drumming and Dancing

Grade Level

Selection: Juba
Performers: Sugar Adams (cot drum), Daniel Aikens and Caddy Lazurus John (boula drums)

Activity #1: Rhythm and Beat
1. Listen to "Juba."

Q: What instruments are the performers playing?

A: Drums

Q: How many drums do you hear?

A: Three. Two drummers are playing the lower sounding part on boula drums and the higher sounding part is played on a cot drum. This type of music from Carriacou is called "Big Drum" music.

2. Listen to the selection again, and ask students to tap a steady beat with two fingers on a table-top, desk-top, floor, or other surface. Encourage students to tap a slow beat despite the rapid and raucous sound of the drums, and to listen carefully in matching their beat-keeping to the rhythm they hear. Remind them that it is the beat and not the fast rhythms that they should be keeping. 

3. While listening, ask students to use one finger on each hand (like drum mallets) to tap the first rhythm that is introduced (and is continued through the course of the selection, alternating from the right to the left hand): /// / (triplet, quarter-note). Students will need to concentrate carefully to keep this fast rhythm going, and not to lag or lose the steadiness in the quick tempo.

4. Students can be challenged to try a second rhythm, a modification of what is actually layered in atop the initial rhythm. Starting on the second beat (following the first rhythms triplet beat), tap with one finger on each hand, again alternating hands, for this rhythm: - / / // /// / / / (rest, quarter, quarter, 2-eighths, triplet, quarter, quarter, quarter)

5. The two rhythms should lock together in this manner, maintaining the steady beat.

Rhythm 1 /// / /// / /// / /// /

Rhythm 2 - / / // /// / / /

> > >

6. Try tapping the rhythms to the recording, and then without the recording.

7. Transfer the rhythms to drums (congas, bongos, djembes, even hand drums that are positioned between the knees), bouncing the fingers on the drumhead to the two rhythms. For variation, switch from fingers to hands or mallets.

Suggested Activity #2: (Juba This and Juba That)

1. Explore the meaning of "Juba," a dance of enslaved peoples in the Caribbean and the southern United States. Often, juba was danced by men who gathered in a circle around two lead men who were positioned in the center to perform various steps. While they danced, the circle of men clapped or "patted juba" for a time; this movement was interspersed by the movement of the full circle in a shuffle step around the circle. In the case of a Carriacou "Juba," a boula (big drum) and several other drums (and occasionally the chac-chac (shakers) and the old hoe (bottle or spoon)) might play a rhythmic percussion piece for dancing.

2. Listen to "Juba" again for the drumming patterns, imagining some movement to fit the rhythms. At the same time, listen to a chantwell (lead singer) sing a juba song.

3. Try a movement to fit the music of "Juba." Improvise movements of eight beats (the length of the second drum rhythm, played above). Divide students into small groups of three or four, each one given the assignment to come up with a separate eight-beat movement. Following a few minutes of small-group practice, play the recording while the different groups are called on to demonstrate their movement. One group can move for 20-30 seconds, then is replaced by another group, and so on, until all groups have performed their "Juba" movement.

4. Form a circle, and have a small group enter the inner circle to dance. On cue, the students in the circle can turn to their left and shuffle (for a short while, for example, for 16 beats). Then a new small group enters the inner circle to dance, and so forth, until all groups have performed their "Juba" movement, interspersed with the full circle shuffle.

5. Bessie Jones, a Georgia Sea Island singer, shared her "Juba" song with Bess Lomax Hawes in their book, Step It Down: Games, Plays, Songs, and Stories from the Afro-American Heritage(1972). There is ample explanation of its meaning to Bessie Jones, and a lively song with patting rhythm can be learned. [See the Lomax Digital Archive for a recording of this "Juba."]

Cultural Link: Carricacou, Grenada; West African drumming; African diaspora; Afro-Caribbean music; The Georgia Sea Island Singers

Designed by Patricia Shehan Campbell