Mandiani Rhythms! a Cultural Education Project

Dr. Melanie Ohm | July 31, 2022

What is cultural education? On the surface, cultural education is learning about other cultures—of course! The Cultural Arts Coalition also views cultural experiences as just the beginning. Interacting with the values, ideas, and traditions of other cultures allows us to explore our own values and beliefs, revisit our personal and community traditions, and learn something about ourselves. Art making in all its forms  enables us to wrestle with concepts and perspectives in the physical world, engaging critical inquiry and creativity in a project-based environment.

Music and dance tell the social histories of people around the world. In West Africa, the passage to adulthood is often celebrated through drumming and dance practices based in Mandiani rhythms, known simply as “Mandiani.” African touring groups brought Mandiani (or Mendiani, Manjani) to the United States, where it is a popular form of cultural expression among African-American communities.

Emerson music students drum with teaching artist Keith Johnson.
Keith Johnson teaches Mandiani rhythms on djembe
Muslimah teaches Mandiani steps at Emerson School
Muslimah Hameed teaches Mandiani dance steps, Emerson Elementary, Phoenix

The Mandiani Rhythms cultural education project has engaged 15 artists over 2½ years in teaching and resource development.  Initiated by Cultural Arts Coalition teaching artists Muslimah Hameed and Keith Johnson, the project was originally implemented at Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary School in Phoenix spring 2021. The school Principal Nicholas Lodato welcomed the programming, and music educator Dr. Dianne Anderson-Nickel, known to the students as “Dr. Music,” served as host to the project in her classroom.

It became clear that first pilot year that the project could be delivered and accessible to more schools and communities with the addition of cultural resources. The Cultural Arts Coalition (CAC) determined to develop high quality instructional videos for Mandiani drumming and dancing, provide curriculum, and create a performance video.

During the second pilot year at Emerson Elementary, the CAC collaborated with music educator Emily Flathers. Muslimah Hameed returned as teaching artist and Darrin “Nomad” Jackson joined the team for Mandiani drumming instruction. Dr. Melanie Ohm and Muslimah Hameed have worked closely together to produce the video series, supported by the Financial Potion videography team Taylor and Eric Wellman. Return soon to find all of the resources available here on our website.

For now, please enjoy Darrin Jackson’s “Mandiani Rhythms” Instructional Video below. We are grateful for project funding from the Phoenix Office of Arts & Culture, Arizona Commission on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Phoenix Office of Arts & Culture Logo
Arizona Commission on the Arts Logo
National Endowment for the Arts Logo


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