Community, Creswell

Connecting Cultures – A drummer’s journey from Guinea to Creswell

Photo provided

Drumming is not what Fode Sylla does, one of his students B.J. Jones said, it’s who he is.
At two years old, Sylla was taught how to drum by his family in his home country of Guinea; beyond drumming, he learned music, dance and acrobatics. When he was just 14, he began to perform professionally in shows like Ballet Merveilles de Guinee, UniverSoul Circus and Odysseo Cavalia.
For Odysseo Cavalia, he was one of 10 men who received a place in the show out of 3,000.
”It was a very exciting experience,” Sylla said. ”Going traveling and out of the country to represent my country and culture was something that I really loved to do, and I still want to follow that.”
Sylla has traveled across the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Europe. He had other performer friends who ended up in Eugene, which is how he came to the area five years ago.
Now, he’s a proud resident of Creswell with his wife, Carol Sylla.
”Creswell is a place where I feel at home and can share my culture,” he said. ”I teach at (Lane Community College) and it means a lot to me. It’s a rich culture.”
Each drum rhythm has a different meaning. From welcoming guests to signifying lunchtime, the melodies are all different and have accompanying dance steps. Rhythms are made using a variety of different drums, the most common including djembe, a goblet-shaped hand drum, and a dun dun – a two-headed bass drum played with sticks and often features a bell, known as a kenken.
”Drumming is everything to me,” Sylla said. ”The fact that it brings people together, I love that.”
He uses drumming and music as way to start the conversation about Guinea culture with his students. He described music as healing, and said it’s one way to start meeting people and connect.
”It’s a different feeling to teach people how to drum,” he said. ”You teach them and they teach you. Drumming is an instrument that brings unity and peace; teaching something like that, to me, it’s very incredible.”
His classes started when he found there was a need for a drumming teacher. B.J. Jones, creator of the nonprofit Music Money, and Carol Sylla connected over their love for drumming and met Sylla at an African Dance Class in Eugene. Although there weren’t any teachers at the class, Sylla came up to the women after class.
”He said, ‘You guys look like drummers, are you interested?’” Carol said. ”And that’s what we were looking for.”
Carol said the first time she heard drumming she fell in love and it ”felt like home.” She took a few lessons, but she said Sylla’s classes are like a ”love fest” because everyone is smiling.
Carol and Sylla married in 2014.
African drumming is complex, Jones said, but good for the brain. She said they’ll struggle to hit the right beat, but when they do, they can feel that it’s right. ”You look up and smile, and see another person smiling; it’s a connection,” she said.
Jones describes Sylla as her friend and teacher, and while she liked African drumming before him, playing with him is like ”I died and went to heaven.” When she founded her nonprofit in 2016 in Cottage Grove, she said she had to include him. The organization, Music Money, crowd-funds cultural and diverse music performances, to help keep the arts alive in local areas.
”(Sylla) has a wonderful culture to share and he’s one of the best there is to teach,” she said. ”We’re lucky to have him.”
Sylla has not been surprised by the journey he has taken. As Jones described, drumming is in ”every cell in his body.”
”This is all I’ve known and loved,” he said.
You can catch a special performance by Sylla on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 4 p.m., at Cottage Grove Armory, 628 Washington Ave.



View this profile on Instagram


The Chronicle (@thechronicle1909) • Instagram photos and videos