The Pan-African Connection in Oak Cliff, Dallas is a bookstore, art gallery and research center. But walk in on a Sunday, and you’ll hear the beckoning beat of pulsating African and Caribbean drum rhythms. People of all ages take part in this free expression activity, including many children joyfully playing drums, dancing and running around.
The drum circle forms in the Northwest corner of the store, surrounded by tall black shelves full of books on Black history, anti-racism, social and civil rights topics and more. On the walls are paintings and other art depicting many Black leaders and cultural figures. Around the rest of the store, African sculpture art is bountiful – covering nearly every square foot of the location.
The drum circle is led by Baba Leo Hassan, though everyone knows him as Baba Leo.
“We always have book signings, and we have meetings with folks who are involved in community activism, neighborhood development, and enriching our minds and souls with positive knowledge,” Baba Leo said.
Witnessing the drum circle in action felt spiritual. Seeing generations of people participate in an ancient activity led by the teachings of an elder was something special. This is a place for healing.
“Our drum circle has been going on for 6 years now,” Baba Leo said. “It was just folks coming together to play drums, but since we have been so overwhelmed with the pandemic and the media, which is almost like strangling us with paranoia, we come here to heal. We come here to express, and to release these anxieties which we carry around with us all week.”
“And it works. If we feel like screaming, we scream. If we’re playing loud, if we wanna get up and dance, we’re just releasing a lot of stress. This is healthy for us, because we don’t want to carry around this stress.”
Some of those who engaged in the group were seen smiling and laughing, while others seemed to be in a meditative state with their eyes closed and their hands moving along their drums with focused ease.
“We invite the parents to bring the children, and we want to empower them, we want to give them some positive energy, to inspire them to do better, be healthy and be strong,” Baba Leo said.
It seemed that this gathering was more than just a pastime, but a necessary pillar of strength in the community.
“We’re at a war right now, and this war, we’re not going to allow this war to defeat us,” Baba Leo said. “This is some of our artillery. This artillery is drum rhythms from Africa and the Caribbean. We are asking our ancestors to help us to stay healthy, and actually to survive.”
The drum circle is hosted weekly and is open to the community every Sunday from about 3:00pm – 5:00pm. Drums are provided if anyone needs one, and donations are accepted for instruments that need repairs.
The location has begun giving Pan-African dance classes as well, every first and third Sunday 1:00pm – 2:30pm.
More cultural classes and book signings can be found on their event calendar.
Jessica Waffles is a freelance photographer/videographer and regular contributor to KXT.
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