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Drumbeats Break Silence At Escalon Library
A history lesson, music appreciation and audience participation ... all were part of the package Saturday at the Escalon Library, as Taji Maalik brought his 'Drums are Life' program to the community.

A musician and educator out of Oakland, Maalik brought a wide variety of percussion instruments for the audience to learn about and use, from the very first 'thumb piano' that was a precursor to the much larger instrument of today to several different types of drums.

"Does anyone know what the first instrument ever invented was?" he asked the audience of some two dozen adults and children.

One answer offered up by a young attendee was "microphone" but Maalik noted that it actually was a human.

"It was our body," he said, adding that the heart beating provides the base.

"If this is our instrument, we are walking with rhythm all the time," he said. "The heartbeat is the same wherever you go, all around the world."

In that way, Maalik added, music can be a great unifier and the beating of the drums is a way to bring people and cultures together.

Drums, in fact, have been used in the past to convey messages.

"Before they had cell phones," Maalik said, there were drums. "Certain rhythms were used for emergencies, some for healing ceremonies."

With a variety of instruments in the percussion family available, audience members chose theirs to use in participation in a drumming circle. Maalik would offer the beat, which was then repeated by the audience. Maracas, a cowbell, bongos and more joined in the rhythm, making the library perhaps the loudest it has ever been.

Explaining that his father was a percussionist, Maalik said his original love was singing and dancing, but he got into playing drums later on, when he was in high school.

"My dad said he used to carry me in one his drums to practice," the musician added with a laugh.

From toddlers shaking tambourines to grandparents beating on the bongos, everyone discovered they had rhythm and a bit of musical sense. And for Maalik, that was what it was all about.

He wove stories into the music, keeping the audience engaged throughout the hour-long workshop, and invited questions as well as offering his musical insights.

Questions ranged from where he obtained the instruments to whether he still gets to see his father, who now lives in Minnesota.

"A lot of them were given to me," Maalik answered of his percussion collection. "Some I bought at local music stores."

As far as his dad, Maalik said he sees him at least once a year, making a visit to Minnesota.

Originally from the East Coast, Maalik went to school in North Carolina, studying child development. He now teaches at a community college in Oakland and provides music lessons and workshops.

Funding for the Saturday afternoon program was provided through the Friends of the Escalon Library.