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Ashé Drum Circle

Ashé Drum Circle and the MAAFA


MAAFA is a Kiswahili word that means "Great Tragedy". The commemoration honors ancestors who were captured in Africa, endured the Middle Passage and worked as Enslaved Africans in the Americas.

Each year the MAAFA procession has grown larger. This year, about 300 people gathered in Congo square for MAAFA on July 7, 2012 for the 12th Annual commeration of the Maafa in New Orleans.

During prayers, hymms, poetry and music performances, all lined up to be "smudged". i.e.. surrounded by sage smoke for purification and blessing by a priest in traditional African ceremonial dress. The fragrant smoke permeated the air throughout the park, as the crowd dressed all in white, as the spiritually pure color, milled about, greeting friends and listening to the speakers, singers and musicians.

Children played together or dozed in their strollers and parents and friends conversed as the drummers arrived and gathered.

The ceremonies begin at 6:30 A.M.and by 8:00 the procession formed and began the March from Congo Sqare to the Algiers ferry across the Mississippi River and the African Village, a small installation of dwellings and exhibits recreating the 1700-1800's lifestyle in Louisiana.Along the way the parade stops at several historically important places.

The corner of St Louis St. and Chartres St in the French quarter (now the Royal Orleans-Omni Hotel) was the site of the Slave Exchange, where people were bought and sold. The corner diagonally opposite is Piere Mesparos, where the paperwork was completed.

Another stop is St Augustine's church on Governor Nicholls St. in the Treme area. There is a cross made of old anchor chain links welded together. Iron wrist and ankle shackles once worn by the enslaved hang from the links. This is a called the Tomb of the Unknown Slave, whose deaths here or on ships on the way here were unrecorded.

On the Algiers ferry crossing the Mississippi River the drums continued and flowers are tossed into the river. On reaching the West Bank, all proceed to the African village installation, where memorial altars are set up.

Iced tea and watermelons helped provide some relef from the sweltering July heat, as performances continued and peple socialized. The procession ends there, and events continued at the Ashé Center back on the New Orleans side of the river.

I enjoyed the march and the drumming, seeing friends, and the performances. Our little boy ( three years old) made a new friend (also three), the son of spoken word artist and writer Sunni Patterson.

However, it is impossible to forget the somber aspect. Along with the unity of connecting with old and new friends, the heart-wrenching suffering that the MAAFA confronts and commemorates is the underlying theme of the day.

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P.S. Luther was instrumental in forming The Friends of Congo Square, a group which has helped renovate the park and preserve the history. His free class/drum circle is a great thing. Everyone from the children (his original focus) to old guys like me have delighted in the class as we learned something about African rhythyms, culture, along with a great many small insights into the issues and music of today. Performing with the Drum circle is not to be missed.

Luther Gray HOB HOB

Ashé Drum Circle is led by Luther Gray, a noted musician and educator, who has performed worldwide as well as here in New Orleans.

The drum circle offers kids and others interested in African drumming a chance to learn from one of the best each week. The class fosters unity and touches on wide range of subjects in short conversational asides during class. The kids are the stars very often, and here the group is seen in 2008 at the House of blues, new Orleans.

These days the class has moved to the historic Congo Square along side the French Quarter in New Orleans. Slaves were allowed to gather at this location on Sundays, sell things they had made or grown, play drums and dance, find others and speak their native languages, and in general retain something of home.

The roots of a great deal of the music of New Orleans and America can be traced to Congo Square. The same land was considered sacred spiritual ground prior to the European occupation.