Oxford Arts Alliance showcases music and the art of drum making01/23/2023 12:50AM ● By Steven Hoffman
If you stroll past the Oxford Arts Alliance on the First Friday in February you may be lured inside by the sounds of African drumming.
The Arts Alliance has once again brought in a highly unique exhibit. On Friday, Feb. 3, from 5 to 8 p.m., come inside and listen to the music of master hand drummer Pape Demba “Paco” Samb and view the beautiful art of hand-built drums. Music will be performed at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.. The exhibit will run from Feb. 3 through Feb. 24.
Paco comes from a family that have been griots in his native Senegal for hundreds of years. As a griot, Paco is one of the keepers of the ancestral history, stories, and music of his Wolof peoples. As a master hand drummer, Paco not only plays the instruments but he and his brothers build several types of drums as well. He performs both contemporary and traditional Senegalese music, as well as reggae, rap, funk, jazz, pop and a variety of other styles. Paco heads his own drum ensemble called Super Ngewel and released his first album in 2014.
An internationally acclaimed artist, Paco has performed with many major musicians based in Senegal and the Gambia including Senemaio, Ballet Gorgoru, Dormu Africa, Ballet Ngangan, African Ballet, Katchikaly, Youssou N'Dour Cultural Group, Marie Samuel N'Diaye Group, Batin Band, Laba Sosseh, Moussa Ngom, and Bala Sidibé.
Another important part of the story is just how this musician and this exhibit will come to the town of Oxford.
Ed Rahme, president of the board of the Oxford Arts Alliance, explained, “I have been playing drums since I was a small child and I still do. One of the drum instructors here, Bryan Tuk, said he had a friend who plays African djembe. He set up master classes for me with Paco Samb and I was just taken with the guy. At one of our board meetings I said we should have him here and we are. Paco is from Sengal in West Africa. He now lives in Wilmington. His family makes the drums and sends them over here to him.”
Rahme explained, “He has a band, he teaches private lessons, group lessons, does seminars, and master classes. When I took a class he bought some of the drums his family makes, and he explained he sells them. I was amazed at the workmanship. They are beautiful works of art carved from wood and the drum head is made of goat skin. I took some of the drums to the board meeting for the group to hear. The sound is just so different. We are so fortunate to have this exhibit.”
The exhibit will include the drums, how to play them, photographs, and stories.
Rahme joined the Arts Alliance board eight years ago and has been the president for three years. He has done work in the Oxford area for a number of years as well.
Rahme said, “When I first came to Oxford, I used to hear ‘we want Oxford to be another Kennett.’ Now, we have become something unique and have made Oxford unique in the process. The Oxford Arts Alliance is bringing people here to see this unique town and community and all that we have to offer.”
Rahme added, “The rest of the story is, how the Arts Alliance did so beautifully during COVID. Both children and adults continued to take lessons online. Both [staff members] Caitlin Daugherty and Tony Derrico are to be commended for that. The two of them just knocked it out of the park to keep the lives of children and adults normal during the pandemic.”
Another tidbit about the Arts Alliance is how far-reaching the organization has become.
“We have members in many other states,” Rahme said. “We have held a juried show and attracted entries from overseas, including Europe. It is amazing that the Arts Alliance attracts people from this country and beyond to Oxford. I am sure this exhibit will be another successful eye-opener for everyone, including the surrounding states. The Oxford Arts Alliance is really the gift that just keeps on giving.”