STANFORD — Students at Stanford Elementary School were treated to a very musical black-history event Friday afternoon.
The gymnasium was packed out at the end of the school day for "From Africa to America," a special two-man show tracing the roots of today's popular music all the way back to centuries-old drumming traditions in Africa.
Papa Malickfaye, a native of Senegal, West Africa, performed on his traditional goat-skin drum for the students and explained how the beat of a drum was the world's "first text message."
"The reason why the drums sound like this," he said after beating a single, loud note that elicited cries of surprise from the students, "is because 900 years ago, we didn't have no TV, no radio, no cell phone. The drums were used to call people; the drums were used to email people; the drums were used to text people. That's why the first text message came from Africa."
Malickfaye, who began drumming when he was two years old, told the students drum beats can carry for miles across the plains of Africa, allowing people to communicate long-distance.
The show's host, Roderick Patterson, who introduced himself as Sir Rod, told the students music is very important to American black history because of how Africans first arrived in America.
"You can say black history for America started when the first slaves landed in America," he said. "Now, everything was taken away from the slaves — their freedom, pretty much everything they owned — but the only thing they couldn't take away from them was their songs, their dance, their spirit, their rhythms. They held onto that and that got entrenched in American culture."
Patterson fired up his "time machine" — a black-curtained space allowing him to rapidly change costumes — and performed for students and teachers as many different famous black musicians from more recent U.S. musical history, including James Brown and Michael Jackson.
The music that came out of black culture helped blacks gain more equality in the U.S., Patterson said.
Singing songs while they marched gave civil rights advocates in the mid 20th century inspiration and highly talented black musicians were able to open many previously locked doors, he explained.
"Back in the day, in a lot of restaurants, hotels and different places, African-Americans couldn't go because of the color of their skin," he said. "But some of those guys' talents were so good … the doors had to open up. Music was a key to open up locked doors."
Malickfaye and Patterson, who is CEO and founder of the Atlanta-based educational company Sounds of Knowledge, were brought to Stanford Elementary for Black History Month by the Building Bridges Family Resource Center.