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Teen musicians in the Drum Warriors Ensemble take St. Louis’ biggest stage

Four young Black drummers stand with their drums and looking into the camera.
Emily Woodbury
St. Louis Public Radio
Top row: Addison Jones, left, and Ismail Botchway. Bottom row: Corrin Ward, left, and Solomon Ahmed.

The members of the Drum Warriors Ensemble always plays for their culture and community — but this Saturday, they’ll play for a live audience and a panel of judges as finalists in the Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation’s annual Teen Talent Competition. Their act combines drumming and dancing of traditional African origin and will be featured among 14 finalists in this weekend’s competition.

The top three acts will win cash prizes that range from $4,000 to $8,000. The ensemble’s kenkeni and sangban player Ismail Botchway said that while the members certainly hope to place in the top three, they are most excited to share their culture with a wider audience.

“We tried out for the contest … to spread our culture and inspire people,” he said.

The three other drummers — Solomon Ahmed, Addison Jones and Corrin Ward — all play the djembe. Ahmed said that dancing and playing the djembe can be particularly challenging because of the instrument’s size.

“Sometimes the drum goes back and forth,” he said, “and I have to make sure it doesn’t hit me in the knee!”

Ahmed said the drums he plays in his high school band tend to be mass-produced, whereas those played by the ensemble are handmade. Jones added that they use different drumming techniques, too.

But there is a bigger, more significant difference between drumming in school band and in the ensemble, Botchway said.

“It's not only the way we play the drum. It's also the culture that was stolen from us when we were brought here from Africa.”

Related Event
What: 13th annual St. Louis Teen Talent Competition Finals
When: 7:30 p.m. April 8. Reserve free tickets here
Where: Fabulous Fox Theatre (527 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63103)

Hear some of the ensemble's rhythms by listening to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

Teen musicians in the Drum Warriors Ensemble take St. Louis’ biggest stage

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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