In the shade-dappled meeting circle of Acta Non Verba’s community garden, a group of thirty children sit, focused intently on a story being told by world-renowned percussionist Afia Walking Tree. The tall, stately woman tells the tale of spirit of the Kakilambe, a beloved protector and messenger to the Baga people of West Africa.
It’s all part of a very special African drumming class held at Camp ANV this Summer, combining music and story-telling, respect for the self, the earth, and spirituality. Afia Walking Tree commands the children’s attention with her expressive voice, movements, and drums. Weaving together stories and songs from ancient Africa as well as her native Jamaica, she connects the children to our Ancestors and a time long ago when Spirit and daily life intertwined.
“The goal,” Walking Tree reveals, “is to integrate African culture into this urban environment and reconnect the children — not just to planting — but to our ancestors, and that when they planted, they did it in a way that was ritualistic. So we’re always doing spiritual things together, as part of the bigger picture.”
“We’re Building Reconnective Tissue Here.”
Walking Tree holds her class outside in ANV’s vibrant garden, rather than in a typical classroom setting, so that campers may integrate musical, cultural, gardening, and even spiritual experiences. “We specifically had the drumming out here,” she explains, “because then they’re hearing it all day, for three hours nonstop. Whether they’re in the class or not, they’re getting it. It’s an infusion that you can’t see, but it’s felt. We’re building reconnective tissue here—that’s how I feel. The ritual of coming every day and doing the same thing, three days a week, has had its impact.”
Drumming, planting, gardening, and harvesting all combined to support ancestral connections. “Some of the kids would be planting with (ANV gardening teacher) Ms. Kana,” Walker Tree continues, “and I would be drumming and singing to some of the children, and there were moments where we would intersect. So there’s a holistic picture of how I might be able to integrate my love of the earth, my love of myself, my love of music, in one setting. It’s not disconnected. As African people, we weren’t disconnected from the plants, from the food, from the music, from the healing.”
Camper Jonathan, aged 10, loves everything about his drumming class. “I’m very good at it. I like the drumming and the funny part when she put on the mask and acted like the spirit (Kakilambe).”
If drumming isn’t a camper’s cup of tea, Walker Tree finds ways to engage them in the learning as well, including costumes and interesting props. “Sometimes I bring books, I bring feathers. I brought a turtle shell even once and that became the satellite that day. I had the wing today, and we were talking about it and I was cleansing them all. I’m bringing it in but in a magical way, not in a scary way. So our spirituality gets normalized. When are we going to normalize our spirituality?”
Children Discover African Peoples’ Strong Culture
“What I’m doing here,” Walker Tree reveals, “I call recalibrating. There’s an activating of these ancient stories for the children—just pieces for them to understand that African people were free at one point and we had a strong culture.”
By Summer’s end, it’s evident that the children have incorporated much of Walker Tree’s teachings. At Camp ANV’s graduation ceremony, camper Tariyah, aged 8, shares with parents the history of Africans known as the Maroon people, who long ago escaped British enslavement in Jamaica. “They got to the top of this mountain” Tariyah recounts, “and the British people couldn’t find their way through. (They) said that the African people can have the mountain because the British people didn’t know their way up there.”
After sharing the story of the Maroon people with the audience, Tariyah and the rest of the drumming students perform “Maroon Gone,” a beautiful piece which tells the tale of a cooking pot left untended. The campers were fascinated by the story of the Maroon people, who survived and thrive in Jamaica to this day. The song “Maroon Gone,” with its memorable percussion and lyrics, quickly became one of the children’s favorites.
About Afia Walking Tree
Afia Walking Tree, M.Ed, is an internationally acclaimed percussionist and visionary facilitator. Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, she is currently based in the California Bay Area. Walking Tree’s drumsongs are prayers of gratitude for the generosity of spirit. Her lyrics are evolutionary teachings, addressing present day issues of social justice, freedom, healing and self-love.
Walking Tree began her drumming studies in her tiny Harlem apartment share in 1990 listening to the music of Edwina Lee Tyler and Babatunde Olatunji. She immersed herself in the study of African Diasporic drum, dance, culture, and shamanism in West Africa (Guinea/Ghana), Canada, Alaska, Hawaii, Philippines, Bali, Thailand, London, and the US. She has shared the stage with activists and artists such as: Alice Walker, Jennifer Berezan, Patti Cathart (of Tuck & Patti), Olympia Dukakis, Gloria Steinem, Chief Wilma Mankiller, and countless others.
Walking Tree’s wildness inspires authentic edutainment performances, lectures, garden and landscape design and life coaching. She currently serves as adjunct professor at Holy Names University, California Institute for Integral Studies, Sophia University, and Edna Manley College for the Performing Arts in Jamaica.
Her first solo CD, Soul Affirmationz, has sold over 2,000 copies and is available for sale at afiawalkingtree.com. Join her upcoming DRUM MOBILE Movement—Eco-Resiliency Empowahment through the Drumming Arts, Earth Stewardship, Nutrition for People of Color, Women, Children, Communities! #drummobile
About Camp ANV
Camp ANV is run jointly by Acta Non Verba and Oakland Parks and Recreation. The program provides quality, educational enrichment in an urban farm setting to low-income East Oakland youth during summer and school breaks, year-round. Camp ANV takes place at Acta Non Verba, located at 1001 83rd Avenue, Oakland, CA, United States. For more information call (510)972-FARM (3276) or email [email protected]