Bringing the Beat to Benning Branch Library

African Heritage Dancers and Drummers display musical talents for members of Benning Branch Library


“The sound of drums evokes dancing, in the African heritage dancing was the way that the people could tell what kind of person you were,” said Melvin Deal during his lecture of the history of African drumming and dancing.

Deal, a native Washingtonian and founding director of the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers Company (AHDD), recognized the importance of African song and dance to the progression of the African-American community 55 years ago. Since that time he has worked tirelessly to educate adolescents through the AHDD.

“Our culture is a part of our being,” said Deal.

 The Benning Branch Library served as the headquarters for cultural education during the month of February for Black History Month.  Ward 7 Arts Collaborative Inc. and the District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities hosted a variety of events geared towards educating the youth and residents of the D.C. area on the heritage and progression of the African American community. The month-long series of performances and events wrapped up with Deal and the AHDD.

Deal, alongside the elder of the drumming ensemble, Baba Joseph S. Ngwa, and three of his student drummers performed ‘the dance of the strong people’. Played on the djembe drums, the performance brought several members of the crowd to their feet. Amongst the dancing crowd was Ms. Campbell, a veteran dancer for the company who learned how to dance despite her hearing impairment. 

“I looked at her and told her you don’t have to be able to hear the music, you should be able to feel it,” said Deal in response to Campbell’s initial concerns.

Those words proved true as Campbell danced the dance of the strong people during the drummer’s performance.

Deal took a moment to recognize the three student drummers: Yao, 15, Vaughn, 12, and Robert, 9. All of the boys are second and third generation students in the company and plan to keep the tradition alive. The three life-long friends and honor roll students expressed how African drumming makes them feel unique.

“Most of my friends have never been exposed to the art of African drumming and they think its weird, sometimes it’s embarrassing, but I will never stop doing it,” says Yao.

Robert talked about a slightly different experience with his peers, “Drumming make me feel safe like I’m in a good environment and I know I am setting a good example because a lot of my friends want to do it because of me.”

The audience closed out the event with a standing ovation.

“The performance was excellent,” said Zakiyah Williams, a resident of the Washington D.C. area. “It was enlightening, uplifting and I was happy to see the youth involved. I’m really happy I came out to the event.”

Visit the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers website www.AHDD.org to get updates on performance locations.