Meet Drummed Up's Teachers

Mark Barfoot Drummed Up African drumming workshops teacher Mark Barfoot

Mark Barfoot is a professional West African drumming teacher and drum circle facilitator. He has been teaching African drumming workshops across the north east of England since 2004, working with a wide range of ages, backgrounds and abilities. A founding member of Drummed Up, he offers a fun and supportive introduction to African drumming together with an extensive knowledge of traditional rhythms from Guinea and Senegal. His sessions always encourage participation, team working and confidence building around playing music in a group.

"I began drumming in 2002 as a founder member of Drummed Up and taught the group regularly since returning from a trip to Senegal in January 2006. I have since travelled twice to the Republic of Guinea to study with master drummer Nansady Keita and to observe the traditional music and culture of his Malinké people. Living and playing with musicians who have studied and played traditional drumming music all their lives was a real privilege and they were extremely patient and supportive teachers. Their patient approach and the pure joy of playing this powerful music inspired me to teach others with a similar spirit.

I completed my teaching diploma in June 2008, which helped me to understand the teaching process on a more theoretical level as well as supporting my development alongside my study with Nansady Keita and others. In my experience, many people have little confidence and quite a lot of fear around playing musical instruments, especially with others. African drumming really helps to unlock these issues as it is very accessible and great fun to play with a group of other people. The rhythms from Guinea and Senegal are elegant and powerful and there are challenges for all levels from beginners to professional percussionists. African rhythms are built up from several parts played on djembés (hand drums) and bass drums (played with sticks and often accompanied by a bell). Many people come along with a djembé they have bought but little played and have never heard bass drums before. The three bass drums - dunumba, sangban and ken keni - are the foundations of the music. I encourage everyone to play them and run sessions entirely with bass drums as well as mixed sessions.

Some rhythms are played for ceremonial purposes in Malinké culture – naming ceremonies for babies, inititiation of young men and women and weddings for example. The fête Malinké can be a celebration for many reasons and the village drummers attend to provide music for people to dance. The songs and dances which accompany the music are well known to everyone who attends and it's a chance to bring the community together, be happy, and enjoy a high-energy atmosphere to counteract life that can be very harsh in so many ways.

When I run African drumming workshops for schools I show photos of scenes from Guinea and ask the children what they can see. We usually have a discussion about life in and around the capital Conakry, which is about the size of Tyneside but which has no running water, partial electricity supply and no sewerage for all but the very centre of the city. Yet some young people in Conakry have mp3 players and mobile phones, and all aspire for the same things our young people do. The difference is that our young people have the opportunity to create their own lives through study, training and working. One important role I have is to share the stories and stimulate the questions and celebrate all that is beautiful, but also talk about the poverty and deprivation and lack of opportunity in a complex culture with many similarities but important differences to our own. Hopefully the children will reflect a little as well as remember having a lot of fun."

Mark writes a regular blog on West African drumming called marksdjembeblog. He can be contacted on 07900 677547 or at Follow the links below to view his LinkedIn profile, his African drumming classes Facebook page (this is a closed group so you will need to request access), or to email him (this link will only work if you have an email package such as Outlook installed on your computer).

Connect with Mark on LinkedinJoin Mark's Drumming Classes on FacebookEmail Mark

Alec Fox Drummed Up African drumming workshops teacherAlec Fox

Alec Fox has been performing and teaching West African rhythms for over ten years and is a founding member of Drummed Up. An accomplished soloist, he has a tremendous depth of knowledge of the traditional rhythms of the Casamance region of Senegal. He specialises in playing and teaching djembé, but also plays and teaches dunun and enjoys teaching West African songs. He is a dynamic and charismatic teacher, bringing a sense of fun and achievement to every session that he leads.

He jointly ran both the 10 week Beginners and the 40 week Intermediate West African Drumming courses at Newcastle College from 2002 to 2006. During this time he also played with Nansady Keita and Mockoulo Sawane (pictured on the left) in the band Manding Kaira and toured with them throughout the UK for two years. In 2005 he travelled to West Africa for three months to study intensively with djembé masters in Senegal, funded by an Arts Council England grant.

He has performed with masters Baba Kone, Magette Dieng, Nansady Keita, Iya Sako and Mockoulo Sawane, and has played for dancers Issa Savane, Anna Mudeka and Penny Avery. Over the years, he has played to crowds of between 6 and 2000 people! He has worked freelance at The Sage Gateshead for their schools program and at Newcastle Green Festival with The Hub, a group for adults with learning disabilities. Currently, he is working on a long-term project creating UK variations of West African dunun and djembé rhythms.