Congo Square: Creating Cultural Community Spaces

GRADE: 9-12
SUBJECT: History, Culture
GENRE: African Drumming
TOPIC: Congo Square
DISCIPLINE: Music General


In this lesson, djembefola Weedie Braimah will introduce students to the cultural traditions of drumming in Congo Square. Students will collaboratively plan and design a community “Square” that represents a collective cultural space.



  • Discuss the western African music traditions of Congo Square in New Orleans.  
  • Describe the essence and purpose of Congo Square.
  • Examine personal, social, and cultural identities. 
  • Identify personal, social, and cultural traditions.
  • Design a common cultural community space for expressing music, history, and culture.
  • Present cultural community space concepts to an audience.



National Core Arts Standards

Visual Arts Anchor Standard 1 Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
Visual Arts Anchor Standard 2 Organize and develop artistic ideas and work. 

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.A Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.



Teachers should review the sequence of lesson and lesson materials prior to teaching the lesson.





  1. Tell students that African drumming is important to the history and culture of New Orleans music. Display the presentation, Congo Square: Creating Cultural Community Spaces. Show students the video, African Drumming in New Orleans where Mr. Braimah will talk about the traditions of African drumming in Congo Square. After the video ask students: What are examples of art forms that combine different cultures? (New music genres, mixed media arts, music videos, musical theater, fusion food.)


  1. Take students on a visit to Congo Square or take a Virtual Tour of Congo Square. Tell students to observe the space, the landscape, the surroundings and imagine the sounds they would hear when it’s full of drum circles and people.


  1. Watch a Drum Circle performance in Congo Square. Have students observe the instruments, movements, people, and cultures that have come together for this day at the Congo Square Rhythms Festival. Ask: How do sound, art, and culture bring people together? Why are cultural spaces important in communities? What do people gain from listening, dancing, watching, or participating in a cultural space?



  1. Mr. Braimah discusses a “gumbo” where several cultures and regions combined drumming traditions to make a unique African-influenced New Orleans drumming style. These drumming traditions are still the driving force of New Orleans music. Tell students that they will be working together and considering their own traditions. 


  1. Have students form small groups and discuss elements of their own culture: traditions, art, language, music, symbols, religion, food, dress, beliefs, etc. Allow time for them to brainstorm, discuss, discover, and record elements from each of their cultures on chart paper. 


  1. Tell students to imagine that the mayor of their city launched a contest called “The Cultural Square Project,” and is challenging students to design a cultural community space that honors the history, culture, and traditions of the community, much like Congo Square. 


  1. Distribute the Cultural Square Project Planner and review the criteria for the project with students: 
    • What cultures influence your community?
    • What sounds and instruments are commonly used?
    • What traditions are important to these cultures?
    • What is in or around the community space? (e.g. landscaping, physical objects, statues, dedication plaques, etc.)
    • What happens in the community space? (e.g. music performances, movement, traditional dress, a marketplace, food cart, etc.)
    • What is the name of the square? (e.g. “Harmony Square,” “Unity Square,” “Mrs. Jackson’s Square,” etc.)



  1. Have a discussion with students. Ask: How do cultural and family traditions influence our communities and vice versa?


  1. Present the group’s community “Squares” as a gallery walk (every group has wall space/booth space) and present to each other, another class, or invite families. Each presentation should demonstrate the combination of individual student cultures coming together for a common purpose.



Used with permission. Portions of this work are based on the National Core Arts Standards Copyright © 2015 National Coalition for Core Arts Standards/All Rights Reserved – Rights Administered by SEADAE.

© Copyright 2010. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers. All rights reserved.

Weedie Braimah, African Drumming Teaching Artist
Produced by Preservation Hall Foundation



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