Mark Barfoot is a professional West African drumming teacher and drum circle facilitator. He has taught 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.

African drumming is a fun, high-energy activity which is suitable for all. Mark starts with warm ups and basic technique and teaches different African drumming rhythms on djembés (African hand drums) and bass drums (with sticks). You don’t need to be a musician or to already be able to play a musical instrument to join in. You don’t need your own African drum either, as Mark has plenty of spare ones to go around.

“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, initiation 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 can be contacted on 07900 677547 or at mark.djembe.barfoot@gmail.com. He has a Facebook page Mark Barfoot Percussionist and Teacher with information about his drumming workshops. If you don’t use social media you can contact him and ask to join his WhatsApp group.

Mark’s weekly classes run at the Eagle Building in Sunderland on Monday evenings from 7.15-9.15pm, the cost is £12 per session or £60 for a 5 week block. Mark’s all-day workshops run in Sunderland on the second Sunday of each month from 11.00am-3.30pm, the cost is £30. Spaces for both are limited to 12 people. Beginners are always welcome and drums are provided. As well as the face-to-face classes/workshops you get access to notation and teaching videos so you can practice at home.

Mark is planning a monthly drumming workshop in Darlington hopefully starting in October 2022, and we will update this page when we have more details. He has a YouTube channel called djembemark and is currently building his new website, but has left his old one – Mark’s Djembe Blog – up for now.