Folk Art PA

Master: Omomola Iyabunmi

Apprentice: Iraina Saalam
Art Form: African Music

The sekere, an African hand drum made from a calabash or gourd strung with beads, comes in a variety of shapes, tones, and sizes and is used in various sets and combinations. The goal of this Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Apprenticeship in Folk and Traditional Arts was for Saalam to learn the history of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, the function of the sekere instrument in society and the technique of playing the sekere Yoruba style. She also learned how the gourd/calabash is grown to make the sekere and how to acquire materials and assemble her own instrument.

Iraina Saalam began studying and performing traditional African dance and drumming many years ago. She was a member of the Spirit Cultural Dance Ensemble and later formed her own dance group, the Ajahbu Arts Ensemble. Her motivation for learning the sekere comes from her commitment to the Black Arts movement: "I count myself as part of a generation and community of diverse African Americans who were raised in the civil rights era and who claim African culture and heritage as a mode of expressing self-determination." Iraina hopes to share the drumming skills she gained in this apprenticeship with the students of the Traditional African Percussion class she teaches at Temple University's Pan-African Community Education Program.

Omomola Iyabunmi was first exposed to the sekere at the Yoruba Marketplace in New York, a cultural institute run by African Americans who had embraced their African roots and wanted to share their religion, language, etiquette, philosophy, clothing, and music. Embracing the Yoruba culture of Nigeria has helped Iyabunmi reclaim her culture: "As an African whose family was a part of the transatlantic slave trade, it has been important to me to reclaim every aspect of the culture. I am actively involved in cultural activities: following Yoruba traditions, participating with the vibrant local African dance and drum "cultural" community, and as a teacher and presenter." Iyabunmi has been playing the sekere for about 30 years at many different events including naming ceremonies, weddings, funerals, festivals, rites of passage, and dances. She is the founder of the Women's Sekere Ensemble, a female percussion group dedicated to the preservation and promotion of African music.