Jambo, jambo! Jambo sana jambo! These are the first words to one of my favorite Swahili welcome songs. As an early childhood music and movement specialist, I like to start each school year by exploring music and dance from the continent of Africa.
In Africa, music is deeply integrated into daily activities, it is used to convey news, to teach, to tell stories, for religious purposes and a lot more. Music and dance often overlap and in some languages, the same word is used to represent the two. Because children learn through active involvement, African music offers the perfect curriculum for preschool age children. All the songs that I choose to teach are accompanied by movement and most songs are structured as an echo, where the teacher sings one musical phrase and the children echo it back. African music also has a strong rhythmical pulse and one cannot help but smile and move to the beat of drums, body percussion, kalimbas, shekeres etc.
One of the goals of my classes is to teach music appreciation. Because African culture gives high regard to music, it serves as a perfect model for weaving music into our days and of the importance of music in our lives. Africans love and appreciate music as an art form. So how can we help children develop a lifelong enjoyment and appreciation for music? The answer is simple—surround them with music and make music part of your daily routine.
Sing with your children as you drive to school and prepare meals. Always have music playing in the house, and do fun things with music such as organize a living room dance performance and attend a music and movement class. And don’t forget to sing to them as you put them to bed! It doesn’t matter if you think you can sing or not, your children love the way you sing! This will not only create memories but foster an environment at home where music and dance are appreciated as forms of self expression and as ways to build a community.
If you want some ideas to get your family started with listening, dancing and playing African music check out your local library for CDs by Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Putumayo’s Kids African Playground. The song “Jambo” was recorded by both Ella Jenkins and Red Grammer. If you don’t have any instruments at home, don’t worry! You can make your own shakers by simply putting dry beans or rice into a small plastic container with a lid (just make sure to seal it so the little ones won’t be tempted to open it). Empty oatmeal containers, buckets and pots can turn into wonderful homemade drums!