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Estacada middle school embraces the past with Sankofa

ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Musician Ellen Whyte has enjoyed her collaboration with Estacada Middle School.Next time you’re listening to your favorite blues tune, ask yourself what you know about its history.

Seventh graders at Estacada Middle School will give audiences the opportunity to learn about this history at their “Sankofa” concert at 7 p.m. Friday, April 15, at the Estacada Auditorium, 500 N.E. Main St.

The performance is sponsored by Estacada Together.

In their social studies classes, the seventh graders worked with artist-in-residence Ellen Whyte to learn about Africa’s history and legacy, particularly its influence on music. Each class then collaborated with Whyte to write a song that embraces Africa’s history and legacy.

The title of the performance, “Sankofa,” is a word in Ghana’s Twi language that translates to “go back and get it.”

“It means we must go back and reclaim the past to move forward and understand who we are today,” Whyte explained.

Accordingly, the classes traced the history of Africa’s influence on music, beginning with pre-Civil War-era blues.

“We looked at where blues came from, how it got into our world and what other genres it influenced,” Whyte said.

Next, each class worked with Whtye to write song lyrics inspired by what students had learned, which she set to music. Each song focuses on a different aspect of Africa’s legacy.

“Each song has its own unique story,” said Kristole Juker, who teaches seventh grade social studies at Estacada Middle School. “(The audience will) definitely learn about African culture.”

Additionally, each class depicts its song with dancing and movement. Students have enjoyed the learning and songwriting processes.

“We’re having fun but learning about something important,” said seventh-grader Hayven Richardson.

Carson Eaton, also in seventh grade, agreed. He particularly enjoyed learning about the history of music.

“It was interesting learning about blues, and how it really shaped music everywhere else,” he said.

Whyte also believes the experience has been valuable for students.

“It’s been a real cultural experience,” she said. “They’ll be able to impress their friends and family with what they know.

This is Whyte’s third year as an artist-in-residence at Estacada Middle School, and all agree the partnership is a good fit.

“She’s really fun to work with,” Eaton said.

Juker concurred, praising Whyte’s positive attitude.

“You can tell she’s happy to be here, and her happiness is contagious,” Juker said.

Whyte also has enjoyed her work at the middle school.

“I feel very much at home here,” Whyte said. “I love the school, kids and staff.”

She encourages the community to come out and see the student performance.

“It’s an opportunity to see students in a different kind of setting,” she said. “It’s not your run-of-the-mill school performance.”

If you go

What: “Sankofa” concert, featuring Estacada Middle School students and Ellen Whyte and her trio

When: 7 p.m. Friday, April 15

Where: Estacada Auditorium, 500 N.E. Main St.

Cost: Free. Donations are accepted

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