Drummers from Louisiana’s Southern University Marching Band entertained residents in the Algerian cities of Algiers, Bentalha, Sidi Fredj and Tiaret from January 31 to February 5.
For band member Alexander Riggins, a trip to a Muslim Boy Scout camp in Sidi Fredj made him feel at home.
“They were taking pictures with us, hugging us, greeting us,” Riggins said. “It was like we were one big family.” Some scouts are keeping in touch with him on Facebook.
Sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and supported by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in cooperation with the Algerian Ministry of Youth and Sport, the band’s visit to Algeria was the second leg of a North African tour. Before arriving in Algeria, the band experienced the Maghreb’s hospitality when they performed in Morocco.
Riggins said musical tours like this build bridges of understanding among diverse cultures.
“I think it is beneficial because, first, you get to learn a new culture,” Riggins said. “Do something that you have never done before, experienced a different society, a different way of life.”
The 14 drummers are members of one of America’s top collegiate marching bands. With 225 members, the band is a leading innovator of performance styles and plays at America’s most storied venues including the Super Bowl, the American football championship.
Throughout the North African tour, band members engaged with audiences and performed with other musicians. In Morocco, they were joined on stage by deaf drummers, and in Sidi Fredj, Boy Scout musicians joined them in an impromptu performance.
In Bentalha, the group performed to a standing-room-only audience at FOREM, a nongovernmental organization. FOREM provides vocational training for women widowed during an era of terrorist attacks and promotes psychological health for their children and families.
Following the show, the group made a three-hour journey to Tiaret, where they played to a packed house of 600 at a local theater.
The band held its final performances during two half-times at basketball games in Algiers. More than 1,200 spectators watched as the percussionists played complex rhythms with perfect precision.
Lawrence Jackson, director of bands for the university, said the trip to Algeria was a memorable experience.
“I hope that someday we get to go back,” Jackson said. “The young people were so welcoming and happy to see us.”