Church life

Church life
photo by Kevin Kalunian


Messiah Baptist Church is one of the oldest and most active African-American churches in Brockton, Massachusetts. From youth programs to financial investment groups, the church finds new ways to engage members across generations.
Community service is the foundation of both the church and the members, a quiet tradition spanning decades.
Journalism students at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, enrolled in Advanced Newswriting and Reporting taught by Prof. Maureen Boyle in the Spring of 2016, highlighted some of the service programs at Messiah Baptist Church to give the outside community a glimpse of the work church members do. As part of this class project, students used iPads to shoot photos and videos for the stories.
Special thanks to Rev. Michael Walker, pastor of the church, and everyone at Messiah Baptist for their help with the project. Also, thanks to the Community Based Learning program and Prof. Corey Dolgon at Stonehill, the iPad initiative programs sponsored by the college and Information Technology Department, Stonehill librarian Patricia McPherson and student liaison Liam Dacko for their assistance and support.

Service to community and the church

About Me

These stories and videos were written and produced by students at Stonehill College in the Advanced Newswriting and Reporting course, taught by Prof. Maureen Boyle. Students were supplied with iPads for the semester thanks to a technology grant and partnership with the Stonehill technology department. All of the student videos were shot on iPads and edited with the iMovie iPad app.

The Heart and Beat Behind the Dukpah African Drum and Dance Troupe

By Kevin Kalunian

            David Kaipu’s hands make contact with the skins of his different drums, giving a special meaning to each note played. Each drum’s tone is as distinct as a singer’s voice, and that drum voice has a wide dynamic range.
Kaipu, a member of the Board of Trustees at the Messiah Baptist Church, 80 Legion Parkway, Brockton, Massachusetts, is a West African master drummer, dancer, choreographer, and director of the Dukpah African Drum and Dance Troupe. The troupe offers drum classes every Saturday at the church.                                                                                     
Kaipu, who worked at a bank and auditing office in his native Liberia, now makes his living in HVAC, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning services, at Boston University, but drumming remains his passion.
            Deeply etched into the culture of Kaipu’s persona and his African drums are rhythms and syncopated memories of his native Liberian heritage, and family legacy.
            “I started playing the drums when I was 22 years old, and have been playing ever since. I have been playing all over America. I do this out of passion,” Kaipu said.
            He focused on the variety of voices the drums have when struck differently by his hands, and those drum voices become music to the ear.
            He said there are linguistic connections shared with drumming as a form of communication. Those significant sounds created on the different types of drums, and their meanings, all have relationships to the spoken word.
            “Africans use the drums to communicate,” Kaipu said.
            In 1979, Kaipu first began playing the drums publicly. He was the head of a culture troupe in Liberia, called Bassa, and he was a dancer.  However, one day the bass drum player did not show up so he volunteered, and got stuck playing the bass drum.
            “Of all the African drums, I specialize mainly in the bass,” Kaipu said. “Recently, I started to practice the sankpah. People here do not call it the sankpah, which is the real name that we call it in Liberia. This drum, in Liberia, is the sankpah. In Guinea and in the United States, it is djembe, (JEM-bay). Africa is so huge and everyone has their own way to call the different drums.”
            African mahogany woods are denser and used to make drum shells because those woods are stronger. Some instrument makers use fiberglass because it is an even stronger material. Modern drum makers use synthetic skins, and a tuning key. Kaipu tunes his sankpah by adjusting ropes connected to the animal skin drum head.
            “The sankpah is the most complex of all the drums, and the best use for the sankpah is for solo drumming,” Kaipu said.
            The drums are the rhythm and heartbeat of any musical group that includes them.
            “In our native language we don’t say the drum sounds, we say the drum’s voice, because it’s a voice,” Kaipu said. “When you play the drum you make the drum talk. You are not making the drum to sound, you are making it talk, and the drum is the star.”
            He cups his hands and strikes the sankpah. He creates a “voice,” and then repeatedly strikes the drum.
“It says ‘budder, budder, budder, budder, budder, budder,’” Kaipu said.
Kaipu then strikes the drum repeatedly and alters his fingers.
“This one answers, ‘oh yea oh, oh yea oh, oh yea oh, oh yea oh,’ you know, so it’s a complete conversation, it’s a complete song the drums are singing,” Kaipu said.
            In the culture of African drumming, the sankpah is the director. It tells the other players what to do, and when to do it.
“The sankpah directs the dancers,” Kaipu said. “The master drummer and the dancers give cues to one another. Then, the drummer tells the drum to direct the dancers to do something else.”
This is a similar relationship to a conductor and an orchestra during a concert.
Musical and artistic talent runs in the Kaipu family.
            “My mother and my grandmother were dancers, not instrumentalists,” Kaipu said. “One of my brothers was a drummer, and my mother danced when he played. This was something that I was born to do. It’s a legacy that I want to carry forward.”
He struck the drum twice quickly and it made two discrete tones.
            “Every sound that is coming from the drum, is coming from inside me, whatever is in me is being expressed here in the drum,” Kaipu said. “So if I feel ‘dun-ka’ in me, then ‘dun-ka’ comes out of the drum…‘dun-ka’.”
            Each type of drum has a different role or special purpose, either as a musical instrument or for communication.
            “The Dukpah is a very large drum,” Kaipu said. “You cannot sit to play it; you have to climb a scaffold.”
            The Dukpah is a communication device. Its message reaches into the different villages, like Morse code, or in modern times, the cellular telephone.
            “If something is happening, like maybe the death of a chief, a tribal war, or to get other villagers involved, they’re going to play the Dukpah,” Kaipu said. “Everyone that hears the Dukpah knows that something is happening because it just doesn’t get played for nothing. It is not for socials; it is for emergencies like an alarm. That’s what Dukpah means.”
            During a recent class, his wife, Cynthia Phillips-Kaipu, an accomplished vocalist, a member of the choir at the Messiah Baptist Church, and a drummer, sat next to him. Under her watchful eye and guiding hand, their grandson, Kamah Duwana, drummed with  a keen interest.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          He played intensely, and is a regular student at the Saturday afternoon class. 
The 4-year-old boy followed the natural lead voice created by his grandfather’s sankpah. Kamah is one of the youngest students and has been observing the class for over a year, before picking up the drumsticks.
            “When he picked up the drumsticks he was automatically in rhythm,” Phillips-Kaipu said.  “Our instructor would give a beat of 1, 2, 3, 4, and he would repeat it, 1, 2, 3, and 4.”   
The child, on this day, followed the master drummer’s lead. Then he became tired.
            “He takes instructions, and if he can do it, anybody can do it,” Kaipu-Phillips said. “It’s in you, you just find your rhythm, and he’s found his rhythm.”
            Kamah nodded his head yes, when asked if he was enjoying himself.         
People ranging in age from 4 to 54, and older, take the drum class.
            “We have been working in the House of Messiah for probably five to seven years,” Phillips-Kaipu, a business partner in the troupe, said. “Our organization started with teaching young people how to play the drums and how to perform traditional West African dance, specifically from the town of Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa.”
            The Dukpah organization started with the encouragement of Rev. Michael Walker, pastor at the church.           
            “Through that encouragement, and that of many elders, at the church, we put together classes and we started our first African Jam dinner show, and it was dinner, and a show,” Phillips-Kaipu said. “We taught folks about West Africa and its relation to the United States. That’s how we sparked Dukpah African Drum and Dance, an education and entertainment organization, whose funds are raised and given back to entities such as the church, brain cancer research in Carver, Mass., and also some work in the local schools in Taunton and Brockton.”
            Kaipu and his wife are passionate about their music, their dance, and their church.
            “I am a Christian, and the Bible says God loves a cheerful giver,” Kaipu said. “I work for a living, and by the grace of God, I am able to make my daily needs. If I can raise money from drumming, I will help other people, rather than keeping everything for myself.”
            The church pastor praised the couple’s work.
            “David and Cynthia are very giving of their time, and their services that benefit the church directly and indirectly,” Walker said. “David goes far beyond the call of duty. He has a real generous spirit and attitude, and is just a good congenial soul. He is a very good man.”
            The organization had six dinner shows, with the next performance scheduled for April.
“It is dinner and a show,” Phillips-Kaipu said. “We educate folks about the drums, and then we tell the story of the relationship between Liberia and its origin to the slave trade in America’s history. That’s the goal, give back, teach, burn some calories, have fun, and at the same time educate.”
            TheDukpah African Drum and Dance Troupe has open practices at the church every Saturday afternoon from 3 to 5 p.m. The sessions are free and donations are welcomed.

 photo by Kevin Kalunian
David Kaipu leads the drum class with his sankpah with Cynthia Phillips-Kaipu, and Kamah Duwana following his solo. 

photo by Kevin Kalunian
Kamah Duwana plays the bass drum, following his grandfather's lead.

A gio war drum in poor repair.
Historical photograph

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