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Program will look at contrasting styles of African worship music

March 24th, 2022

John Janzen with ngoma drum and organ

John M. Janzen will present the next Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum program at Kauffman Museum, April 3 at 3 p.m., based on two items he chose for the museum’s special exhibit.

The program is April 3 at 3 p.m. in the museum auditorium, with Janzen speaking on “Drums or Organ: Contesting Musical Styles in African Christianity.”

Kauffman Museum is located at the corner of North Main and 27th streets on the Bethel College campus. The current special exhibit is “The Magic of Things: 5 Continents, 25 Centuries, 125 Years of Collecting.”

Some mask requirements have eased at Bethel, but due to the impracticality of social distancing, at the April 3 program, face coverings will be required indoors regardless of vaccination status.

For “The Magic of Things,” Janzen selected a portable Estey reed organ and a ngoma drum from Zimbabwe. These two instruments represent contrasting musical styles in central and southern African Christian music.

Colonial-era missionaries used the organ (harmonium) to establish choral music, highlighting a single beat line, melody and harmony.

The ngoma drum is commonly used in traditional rituals that feature call-and-response singing, multiple instrumental polyrhythms, a “hidden” beat, improvisation, song-dance and spirit possession.

The lecture, illustrated by video and audio clips from Janzen’s research on central African religion and healing, will unpack the ngoma-inspired church music that has come to dominate congregational singing in central Africa today.

“I will address two questions,” Janzen said. “What makes this African musical tradition so unique and powerful? How have the two traditions clashed, intertwined, and blended?”

As a cultural anthropologist, Janzen has been a leading figure on issues of health, illness and healing in southern and central Africa since the 1960s and has dedicated much of his career to providing a better understanding of African society.

He is a former director of Kauffman Museum (1983-91) and the Kansas African Studies Center at the University of Kansas, and the author of Ngoma: Discourses of Healing in Central and Southern Africa, published by the University of California Press.

Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum programs are open to the public with free admission that includes the special exhibition and the museum.

The program will also be recorded, and available for viewing the week following the lecture on the “Kauffman Museum at Bethel College” YouTube channel (linked from the museum’s website at and uploaded on the Kauffman Museum Facebook page.

For more information on “The Magic of Things,” the associated public programs and current COVID protocols, visit or the Kauffman Museum Facebook page, or contact the museum at or 316-283-1612.

Regular Kauffman Museum hours are Tues.-Fri. 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 1:30-4:30 p.m., closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission to the special exhibit and the permanent exhibits – “Of Land and People,” “Mirror of the Martyrs” and “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture” – is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-16, and free to Kauffman Museum members and children under 6. The museum store is open during the museum’s regular hours.

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