Jazz Drumset Instruction at a Zambian Music Academy

4 minute read

After a shot in the dark went right, I find myself in Zambia working as a jazz drumset instructor at the Ngoma Dolce Music Academy in Lusaka. This is the country's only full-time music school. Zambia is in dire need of proper music education. Very few schools offer instruction on musical instruments (and with those that do we must question the quality); only one university has a music program!

The lack of formal training on Western instruments becomes even more interesting when one surveys the popular music scene in Lusaka: psychedelic rock (Zamrock), rumba, reggae, hip-hop, gospel, classic rock, and other genres relying on Western instrumentation. Although there are traditional drummers in Zambia (but even that number is lower than you'd expect) there are very few drumset musicians. So, thanks to the Christianson Fellowship, I have been brought on to teach drumset, instill jazz fundamentals in budding musicians and (most importantly) train a future Zambian drumset instructor.

My stint at Ngoma Dolce began with the difficult process of recruiting students. Throughout my first few weeks I surveyed international and community schools in search of hopeful musicians. I now have about 15 drummers-in-training ranging from 3 to 60 years old. The students hail anywhere from Zambia to Kenya, Germany, South Africa, Canada, and just about everywhere in between. Some are extreme beginners starting from scratch while a select few are capable of grasping the complex concepts of jazz. My supervisors and the music community have confirmed my fear: drums are not taught with music literacy (the ability to read notes) in Zambia.

Many drummers and musicians I've encountered were completely unaware that one could even read music for the drumset. Music is one of the few languages spoken almost all over the globe, yet here in Zambia no one can read or write it for drums. I am needed here more than I could have ever known.

My day begins with the commute to the Academy. The unpredictable weather dictates whether I walk a half hour through the dry heat and African sun or cram onto a crowded bus meant for 10 passengers (yet seating about 24). Once I move past the street vendors, various open-air markets and a handful of stray animals I arrive at Ngoma Dolce Music Academy in Kalundu, Lusaka.

I set up my drum hut and begin teaching private lessons. In the future the dead time between lessons will be filled with instruction training; I will be working one-on-one with a thriving Zambian drummer. He will be my replacement, my gift to Zambia that will keep on giving. He will ensure proper drumset instruction in jazz and other contemporary genres for years to come. I will teach this drummer how to read, American musical styles (with an emphasis on jazz), and how to teach the instrument properly. It has been quite difficult to find this drummer, though. The country's list of drummers, let alone musicians, is quite short and the few capable of playing often lack the qualities required to teach. It has, however, been quite an enjoyable process – hitting the city's best nightclubs and venues in search of the country's best drummer. I've even tried exploring the remote villages in distant provinces in search of Zambia's drumming future. Right now my most hopeful find is in his second round of auditioning for the Academy's supervisors.

This whole process of recruiting a replacement would be so much easier if the Academy were not in such a transitional stage. The building in Kalundu is only a temporary location for the school. The Ngoma Dolce Music Academy is currently constructing its brand new home in Kabulonga, Lusaka.

This type of facility is a monumental step for Zambian music education. The plot will contain separate soundproof rooms for nine instructors, an amphitheater for performances, an office, and a music library. The construction is attracting quite a bit attention from eager students and the community. However, Zambian red tape is slowing down and complicating the process. These inevitable yet unnecessary difficulties are placing the Academy in a difficult financial and organizational position. To make matters worse, the administrator of the school was just let go. Each of the six current teachers must now split her duties on top of teaching and aiding the move. This is an exciting yet difficult time to have arrived.

I have already seen quite a bit of progress with my students in the short time I've been here. Once my apprentice has been selected, my work will really begin. Until then I will scout Zambia for the best drummers, most capable instructors, and students. My work has been extremely rewarding already. Stay tuned for updates…

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
The International Coalition for Global Education and Exchange
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation