DJEMBE "The village therapist" Djembe repertories draw from many
different sources. There are widespread core Maninka rhythms and dances
such as Dundunba (one of the most widely recorded jembe rhythms),
Abondan (Abonda) is a rhythm from the Baoule-people from the Ivory Coast.
It is probably a very old rhythm that was played when the King went out
to ride (on the horse). The story goes that boys and girls danced in honour
oif the King. After that dance the King held a speech. Nowadays Abondan is danced in a circle.
as well as more geographically limited dances such as Soli (Maninka of Guinea), Dansa (Xasonke of Mali) and Sunu (Bamana of Mali).
Many other rhythms played on the jembe are adaptations from other kinds of drums played by neighboring ethnic groups within single countries,
such as Kuku from the southern Guinean forest region, which is popular in Guinea, but unimportant in Mali.
Some of the Djembe Rhythms
The word "Dalah" is referring to both a pond and a rhythm. The
rhythm is played in honoring the women-fishers. Only the men use boats
for fishing so the women have to enter the water with their nets and have
to face all kinds of dangers.
Diansa (Dansa, Yansa, Djansa) is origianally coming from the Kassouke-people
from Southern Mali (Kayes-region), Originally it was a competition dance
for the young men; nowadays a populair rhythm, played all over West Africa..
In Mali in earlier days, only two bass-drums were used. A third pattern
was added and its logical that different kenkeni-patterns on different
occasions were improvised.
Dumumbe origines from Hamana, Siguiri and Kankan.
The Dunumbe is called the "Mother of all dunumba-rhythms" (about 20): the dance
of the strong men.
Djagbe is the name of a Malinke-rhythm from Guinea that was originally played at the ending of
the Ramadan. A rejoicing happening where men and women dance together in this
circle-dance. Variations on Djagbe excist in the
Kouroussa-region (Guinee) as Djagba and in Mali as
Fankani is a rhythm of welcome; it's played at
Djole (Jole, Yole), is a mask-dance from the Temine-people from Sierra
Leone. In the tradition it is played on square drums in different sizes;
the sicco�s (or sico�s). The mask is presenting a female although it is
carried by a male during the dance.
Kakilambe is a mask-dance of the Baga-people that live in the coastal area
(Boke-region) of Guinee. Origianally it was played on the Baga-drums that
are simalar to the djembe.
"Kakilambe is a very important mask of the Baga people,
that appears only once a year. The spirit of the Kakilambe is revered
as the protector against evil entities. He appears to make important
declarations about the present and the future. A priest of the
Kakilambe is like a translator, since the mask doesn't talk directely
to the people. It's a big day when the mask appears. Everybody comes to listen.
Slowly the mask emerges from thge forest, together with the priests. The people
have gathered and are waiting. When all of the people bow, the mask grows to a
height of five meters! It holds a string for each individual family of the
village, and the other end is held by a member of each family.
rhythm gets fast, the priest and some of the older men dance around the mask.
The priest receives the information. Then he gives the musicians a sign, they
play a break, and then the rhythm is played slower and softer. Afterwards he
passes on the information given to him by the mask
Kakilambe, the terrifying god of the Baga, is nothing more than a memory
causing a few shivers in the minds of the elders. But for centuries he
ruled the life of Bagatai; he was the lord of the waters, of rain, of wind
and of fire.
Every seven years he came out of the sacred forest, his
arrival announced by thunder and the calls of the fetish priests, to appear to
the terrified people and, speaking through the local soothsayer, addressed the
First, he showed his anger against those who had behaved
contrary to morality and virtue, by making himself small. The people, lying
prostrate on the ground to show their repentance, asked for his forgivenss and
swore to obey him.
"Kelyo! Kelyo! Kakilambe! Kelyo!" (Get up, Kakilambe, rise!)
Then Kakilambe, reassured that he was
still lord of the children of the Bagatai, just as he had been of their fathers
and their fathers' fathers, and swelling with joy, grew big again, and predicted
seven years of happiness and prosperity. Then, accompanied by songs and dances
of joy and gratitude, he disappeared for another seven years.
So, "for seven
years the land will be prosperous and the women fertile" Kakilambe has
said so. But, whether the land would in fact be prosperous and the women
fertile, depended on the primary power of the men, and of the SENGBE (sacred
drums). The man dances, showing his strength, his virility, his confidence and
his determination to work with respect for the customs of their people. And, as
a start to the favours Kakilambe has promised his people, the goddess
of fertility suddenly appears: Nimba with the enormous breasts. The men
shout with joy, the women and the girls soon to be married bring offerings and
"O Nimba ! The belly without
child, is like a cinder in the desert wind,
like a leaf in a bush-fire.
Nimba ! goddess of fertility, o Nimba ! you who make the sap
rise in the dust
Here are my breasts, let them be the same as yours
is my belly, that the sap of the Baga may continue to rise"
And, in a vibrant frenzy, the men and the women of
the Baga are united in complete communion, certain that they are protected by
The Baga are only a very small etnic group and there are no more
than about 32.000 Baga living in Guinea. Kakilambe is called "a-Mantsho-`no-Pon" by the
Baga and is "the supreme male spirit of the Sitemu subgroup" (of the Baga).
The word Kakilambe is actual a word in the
Susu-language meaning "Reaching as high as the copal tree".
There are dozens
of songs to the Kakilambe-rhythm; this one is the welcoming song:
Welcome to the Kakilambe-mask!
Mai'm bo, mai'm bo mama, mai'm bo Kakilambe
Fula Fare (Yoleli)
Fula Fare (Foula Fare
Yoleli is the
dance of the Fula, the Peuhl. The name "Fula Fare" in Susu means "Fulani dance".
The name the Fula use for this dance is "Yoleli".
"The Peuhl are a nomodic
people living in an area streched from the north of Guinea to Niger. The cattle
is walking free and has to be rounded up for the night. De shepards believe that
by playing, singing, drumming Fula Fare the animals are easily assembled".
"Yoleli, it is a rythm played at the "dennaboo" (naming ceremony),
which the Fula celebrate on the 7th day of a newborn's life. A big feast is held
early in the day. After that a sheep or goat is sacrificed. An elder blesses the
child and announces the name, to much cheering. Nowadays the rhythm is also
played at weddings and other celebrations"
A Malinke-rhythm from the Kankan, Kouroussa and Siguiri areas in
Guinee, is one of the (about 20) dunumba-rhythms. The dunumba-rhythms are
traditionally only danced by men: "The dance of the strong men".
The Kadan is a dance for the bilakoros (non-circumcized children). "Kadan"
(liana bracelet in Malinke) is both the name of these anklets (6 to 8 in
number) and of the dance. The bilakoros are the specialists in this dance,
which pople come and watch like a show. The anklets clink agianst each
other, while the (solo)phrases of djembe, dundun and sangban correspond
to the steps.
I yo dala oo-ee, san da la oo, I
yo ya na dja bilakoro jee don da
Bafa bilakoro !, kanti da dinda ..here come the bilakoros, dancing the
Kadan... Kassa Kassa (Cassa) is a harvest-dance of the Malinke-people in
East Guinea. The word means granary. During harvest-time the farmers go
to the fields, that are sometimes far away from the village. A camp is
made for as long as neaded. Some women come to prepare the meals (and to
sing). During the day the drummers play Kassa to support the workers in
the field. When the harvest is completed there is a big party in the village,
Another custom that
is connected with this work is that a girl (the prettiest in the village) hangs
her shawl on a stick at the end of the field. The worker who reached this shawl
the first (while working) spends the night with the girl. This meeting is not
supposed to have a sexual character, for if the girl would get pregnant, the man
would be beaten in public.
Illawuli woo konko daba, kondon
Illawuli woo konko daba, Kolankoma senekelalu barama
up farmer, the meal has arrived, wake up farmer, the meal is here
E yahe, e koutountama he, e yahe,
e mandinkono e (2x)
I ni war le no kor solor, I ni war le nama se nene
The men of Hamana, the birds of Mandin
My brother, I call you
to work on the field
It is my proffession; it's the best work!
Koreduga / Kotedjuga / Komodenu
This rhythm originates from the border area from Mali and Guinea. Of course
there are some differtent interpretations of the basic idea of Koreduga
/ Koredjuga / Kotedjuga.
It�s a rhythm where the dance is performed by jesters and clowns; people
who adorn festivities with their beautifull costums and perfomances with
humor, acrobatics and mimic art.
Komodenu is the name of a song, from the Wassolon region, that has got
it�s place in this rhythm. Komo means fetisj and Komodenu refers to the children
(or students) of this fetisj. When Komo get�s out, the woman and children (who
are not alowed to see him) stay at the homes.
E Komodenu, sisa bora
Taa wulida komo so la, sisi bora Tamaninko
Hey, you children of the Komo, see the smoke rising from Tamaninko
the fire started in the house of Komo, see the smoke rising from Tamaninko
Originally Kuku (Koukou, Cucu, Coucou) is a circle-dance for the woman,
celebrating the return from fishing. To the Beyla-and Nzerekore-area, (situated
partly in Guinea partly in the Ivory Coast) there was once a Malinke-migration.
The Malinke mixed with the local people here and formed the Konianka (,Konya,
Konyagui or Manian, as the Malinke say) who now speak a Malinke-dialect.
This was where the rhythm originally comes from. The rhythm was only played
by one low-tuned djembe (see djembe-pattern 1) and one very large solo-djembe.
Only later, out of this djembe-pattern, the patterns for the bass-drums
Nowadays Kuku is
very popular all over West Africa and played on many occasions. Because of this
popularity the rhythm is known with lots of varietys in the different areas that
it's played. Two songs:
Lauginabee, ee ewontang,
langina bee, o ma la guinee borima,
>peace for us, peace for the people from Guinea
O ya, itee Kuku
Yes, play the Kuku for me!
Macru (Makru, Makuru) is a Susu-seduction-dance. This dance is often played
in the combination with Yankadi, where Yankadi is a slow part, and Macru
a fast part of the dance. The first song (Baga Gine) is about the lust
to dance among the Baga-woman.
A boron ma, ma boron ma, eeh, A
boron ma, ma boron ma eeh,
A boron ma, ma boron ma, ee-laila Baga Gine, fare
boron ma woto kui eeh
Will you dance, or will you not dance
?; The Baga-woman even dances in the car !
O lee, O lee-lee-ko, O
lee-lee-ko,....................O lee, O lee-ko
Waya, Africa waya,......Waya
Africa waya, .........O lee. O lee-ko
The old Mandingo-dance Mamaya (Mamayah) was very populair in Guinea during
the 1940 - 1960 period. Traditionally it was a very stately dance, that
was performed in a club or a group where one was part of. Dressed in gouba's
and embroded shirts, male and female dancers could express their beauty,
while dancing in two circles (men in outer circle, women in inner circle).
Dance-steps were made in a majestic way and a handkerchief or decorated
stick was used as an attribute. The rhythm started with the singing of
a Griot and/or music made with the Balafon, Bolon or Tama. Mamaya is traditionally
without an echauffement. Mamady Keita and Famoudou Konate have their own
interpretations of Mamaya, but the melody compares.
The Soninke, living in the Kayes-region in Mali, are neighbours of the
Malinke and Bambara. The Bambara-people call the Soninke often "Maraka"
(and the French say "Sarahule"). When on festivities by the Malinke
or Bambara also the Maraka-people were invited, in hounour of the guests
the Marakadon (with the rhythm Marakafoli), the dance of the Maraka, was
performed. Some sources claim that the rhythm Tage, (Tague or Take) could
be the original Mali-rhythm that inspired the Malinke and Bambara for playing
the Marakadon. More information about that rhythm could confirm or deny
In Mali normaly only two Dunduns are
used. But the Malinke-people added an accompanying Sangban-pattern.
lyrics of the song below are dedicated to a king and a princes. It is a reminder
to the responsabilitys that they have for their subjects. As their subjects
affirm their dependance on their rulers they also express the wish that their
rulers will treat them well, for in their traditional society their leaders
exercised almost every right over them.
Iee djoundjouba le, sora kassi da
Eee Mogolou, Danga sirala, sora kassi dah,
Mogobe ni igna souma
Anta Famah, anta djonty moden, anta
Anta Famah, anta nissitigui
Anta Famah, anta djelitigui moden, anta
Anta Famah, anta
baatigui moden, anta
Ah, it is an important matter, the
eldest son has ceased to weep
Oh, people, the eldest son wept on the road to
Every man has a chief who cures his eyes (=who is the source of his happiness)
Our Famah, (King)the grandson of the slave master, is very much
ours; Our Famah, grandson of the owner of the cattle, is very much ours;
Our Famah, grandson of the master of griots*, is very much ours.
Mendiani is a Malinke-rhythm, played in the areas of Siguiri, Mandiana,
Kouroussa and Kankan. The dance is performed by virgins (age 7 - 14). There
is a special costume for this dance. The men carry the girls to the "dance-floor"
in the village. There the girls start dancing. Many villages have got their
own "Mendiani"; the girl, for that period the best dancer. When
she gets (too) old a successor is pointed out; she learnes the mendiani
from the elder, at night, outside the village.
Moribayassa is played and danced if a wish is fulfilled The person whose
wish was granted, dresses in a funny way, where the (old) clothing is a
mixture of all kinds of pieces that really don't go together. He / she
dances around the village for a number of times to express the joy about
the wish being fulfilled. Children follow and sing the chorus. After the
village has been traversed, the clothes are left outside the village at
a cross-road(or burned under a tree).
When a woman experiances great problems like illness in the family of childlessness she can (only for once in her life) take a vow:"When these problems are over I will dance the Moribayassa"
Moribayassa he Moribayassa,
Moribayassa "name" nada, koanye yassa fo, Moribayassa ka yassa ko, Moribayassa
ka yassa mu, Moribayassa ka yassa don, Moribayassa ka yassa fo,
Moribayassa he Moribayassa, "name"
has come to play the Moribayassa , it's the Moribayassa that we play, we have to
wash the Moribayassa , we have to dress the Moribayassa, we have to dance the
Moribayassa, we have to play the Moribayassa.
N' Goron / Toubala Kono
N' Goron is a rhythm of the Senufo-people that live in Ivory Coast and
Burkina Faso It accompanies a dance that marks the end of the virginity
of the girls.
Senefoli, a Malinke rhythm, means farming rhythm: sene (farming) and foli
A dance to do at the occasion of harvesting the rice.
Sobonincun (Soboninkun, Sobonincu, Sogonincun) is a mask dance. In different areas in West Africa. The antilope-mask (sobo= antilope, ni= small, kun=head). The dance is performed by a initiated person to the secret of the mask and a specialist in dancing skills and balance. This specialist often travels from village to village to to this dance, that is usually danced after harvest. The dance is presented on a big sieve that is normally used to sift grains . The dance can last several hours and is rewarded with food and gifts. In Mali there is a connection to the "Banama ciwara antilope mask" and in the southern parts of West Africa it is connected to the "Pourou society" a secret society for the initiation for the Senufo people, living in Ivorycoast, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Sofa / Limbadji toko.
- Sofa is a very old Malinke Rhythm that, according to some, takes you
back to the time period in which warriors (in Malinke "Sofa")
road horses. These warriors had large plate-shape drums (tavela ), that
were also used for the sending of messages. When Sofa was played, the horses
with their warriors "danced" on the rhythm Sofa was also played
when a great warrior or hunter in the village passed away .
- The rhythm was played for the warriors on horseback. It was supposed
to support the brave and strong men who went to combat, as well as a praise
them for their succes and bravery when they came back. In the old days
it was accompanied by a Bolon, a string instrument. The Bolon was played
by "Griots des Guerre" (war - griots) who knew the story, the
song and the praise of the war and warriors since generations.
- Other sources mention the another meaning for Sofa:
it was played in honour of the king.
- Limbadji Toko (Fatala; Gongoma Times), is for some a Sofa -variant. It
is a rhythm that is played at funerals (of warlords) and refers to people
with a lot of perseverance. Limbadji is a word from the Baga-language.
Kelemansa bon na kolon te, Nankamah
Mosso be te kelemansa den sodon, N'nanin Bolonfo le
N'anindiya lemaa, Woula djan na kani magni, Yeee warabah ma naa?,
mankan, Ye warabah le koo, Mankan ye warabah le fee !
Allah ta Allah bali
koo tee, Nankamah ini woura!, An nani djya lema, Belbele ini woura!
The house of the warlord is empty! Good evening to you Nankama.
any woman can give birth to the son of a warlord
I, I have come to play the bolon, I have come full of hope,
distance is bad for friendship, it
is not good to humiliate he who is popular
Has the wildcat not arrived? It's
really he, the wildcat who makes the echoes resound.
We are talking about a
famous nobleman, the wildcat who makes echoes resound
For Allah noting is impossible, Good evening to you Nankama
We have come full of hope,
Good evening to you, giant!
Soko is a rhythm of the Komanko-people in the
Faranah-region. Nowadays it's played often in the whole North of Guinea. The
rhythm accompanies the dance of the bilakoro (they who are not circumcised yet).
In some regions it's played during the months before cicumcision, elsewhere it's
played the day before initiation after the heads of the bilakoro have been
shaved en presents have been given.
Soli (and also the Wassolon Soli) is a rhythm of the Malinke-people from
Guinea. It accompanies the rite which preceeds initiation (and circumcision)
of boys and girls. Playing this rhythm occasionally starts about three
months before the ritual. The frequency of playing rises uptill ongoing
during the last night before initiation. This night the man and women dance
all night long. Even though circumcision is practiced more often in the
hospital than in the village these days, (and carried out before 40 days
of age instead of around the age of seven) the significance during the
transition-period remains. Apart from Conakry, the capitol of Guinea, in
the countryside you will never hear the rhythm without the appropriate
rites. There is a slow version of soli, the soli -lente (Balakulanya),
where also the elderly people can dance, and a quick soli; the soli-rapide
Although circumcision is considered to be mutilation nowadays (and I,
Paul Nas agree with that) the rhythm soli is beautifull and very nice to
play. The song below can be heard in the Sousou-language or (as you will
find here) the Malinke-language. The lyrics are about Sangba (orSamba)
an orphan boy who is raised by near family. The child is treated badly
and has to do the most unpleasant jobs in the house. One day the child
walks through the woods and comes to a cabin. It bangs on the door and
begs to die here as it don't want to go home. The first line sung by the
solist is answered by the choir. The solist breaks this repeating by singing
the second line that is answered by "aya" Sangba, Sangba, dyidan
dabide n' kassu Baba woulu kiridi ya ....aya
The Sorsornet is a rhythm of the Baga-people. Accompanied by a song of gratitude expresses young girls gratitude to their mothers. It's supposed to be sung in the moonlight.
M'baraka felenkoee, N'doro mamuna
M'baraka feleko n'gayo n' gaa, N'doro
n'tapelindoee, n'tapelindoee zinezagona banganiee
Thank you mother, for giving me
Don't worry; I will soon join my
Sometimes this song, which is very diffecult to
sing properly, is simplyfied. The meaning is probably slight different
Balafele ko hee, Balafele ko na,
Balafele ko nayoma, Balafele ko hee
is from the Laduma-people, from the Boke- and Boffa area in the West of
Guinea. Through the years Tiriba has been given different meanings. In
the oldest period Tiriba was a great dancer who performed with a group
of percussionists. Dancing in a special costume he was called "the
Tiriba" . This Tiriba-dance is no longer danced, but the rhythm is
played very often. Later the rhythm got popular with initiations, as girls
became woman; a dance where mothers and their daughters dance together.
Toro, a Malinke-rhythm from the Siguiri-region in Guinea is traditionally
played after the initiation of boys. The children have been together in
a camp for three months an learned the rules and regulations to live as
an adult. Some time after the circumcision a great fire is made and the
Toro is played. In the earlier days not the djembe but another instrument,
the Wassamba was used. Toro fo n'doni, Toro fo itoro fo nyomaye
>Toro fo "name", Toro fo itoro fo nyomaye
Play the Toro "name", there is no one
better than you in playing the To
Warba (or Waraba) is a popular dance of the Mossi-people from Burkina Faso.
Origianally it was accompanied by the Bendre, a gourd-drum with a sheep-skin.
This instrument (in the Youla language also know as Bara used to be played
at the court of the Naba, the Mossi chief. It was often used as a announcing
instrument when important messages were announced (play a few lines alternating
with the actual announcements). Nowadays it�s more cool to use the djembe
instead of the Bendre. Beside this instrument there is the Wiga, (the Mossi-whistle),
the Lounga, (the Talking drum), the Dundun and the Kiema (the Mossi iron
castangnette). You can use the sangban and the kenkeni for playing the
Lounga-pattern. In the dance the accent is on shaking your bottom, and
alternating lifting one leg and the other with this shaking. This Warba
I learned during my last stay in Burkina Faso in the village of Latou,
near Koudougou. I learned it from Hyacin the Yameogo, the artistic leader
and manager of the orphanage with it�s musical/dance/theaterperfomance
group: "Troupe Lenga" Takonani Takonani , a malinke-rhythm is
one of the (about 20) dunumba-rhythms. The dunumba-rhythms are traditionally
only danced by men: "The dance of the strong men". Takonani means
"to take for times", which refers to a dance step.
This Soli rhythm is danced and played at the circumcision ceremonies. It
comes from the Beyla- and Nzereko area, that is partly in Guinea and the
Ivorycoast. To this area there udsed to be a lot of migration by the Malinke.
The ethnic groups mixed into the Konianka ethic group (also called Konya,
Konyagui or Manian, as the Malinke say). The lyrics of the song below have
a symbolic meaning: The adressing of the hunters means that no man let
any provocation go unpunished (Hawk, can't you see it!?).
G'bengbe de n' ni ikana sisse taa! Koi ma aye waah Ai ma aye? Donsolou,
Ai ma aye waah You, hawk, don't you take your prey! Can't you see it? Did
you see it? Hunters, can't you see it? Kononari Kononari is a Malinke-rhythm
for the female. Kono is a bird in the tree (ri). In the accompanying song
women (and men) are worned for arrogance because of their beauty.
Musu kenya kenya, i ta di ya le ke yu Allah b' I la Sunguruni kenya kenya, i ta di ya le ke yu Allah b' I la,
Musu kenya kenya, i ta di ya le ke yu Allah b' I
kenya, i ta di ya le ke yu Allah b' I la
Beautifull(young), beautifull woman, God gave you the beauty
Many people in the djembe community are talking about �Guinea Style�, �Mali Style�, �Senegalese Style�, etc. It seems that separation has arisen in our community through an overemphasis on regional differences. We need to remember that this music is �Mande Style� in the end. Everything came from Mande. Guinea, Mali and Senegal ,Burkina Faso,Ivory Coast.were all part of Mande. I have noticed a growing division in the djembe community based on what country style you study.
Djembe is one. Differences in rhythms result from the traveling of peoples and cultures. Each rhythm has its own history and place of origin. It is important to discover the complete story of each rhythm and understand how it has evolved through its different travels and different tribal integrations. This stuff can seem pretty complicated at times, but it is important for us to remain calmly on the path continuously open minded and forever learning.
The djembe is the drum of unity. Its purpose is to unite people in happiness and harmonious community. This is why it�s old Bamana name is �Jebebara�- �Unity Drum�. Division has no place inside the djembe. The djembe welcomes all.
I always emphasize the value of good accompaniment. Accompaniment is number one. If a djembe player cannot play really good accompaniment solo is not possible. All good soloists have exceptionally good sounding accompaniments. Theoretically one should be able to recognize a Master djembe player from the sound of his accompaniment only. One should temper ones soloing ambitions on a rhythm if one doesn�t have the accompaniment clean yet.
So many people these days are so eager to play solo that they want to skip accompaniment. I have played with people so many times where they played a weak and cheap accompaniment just so they could save their energy to solo. When you play accompaniment you should put your heart and soul into it. If you do this the soloist will have the support he needs to play well. If you give the soloist this respect he will give you the respect of a good accompaniment when it is your turn to solo. We should all be supporting each other and not be so anxious to solo. We cannot be like the man who wants so badly to run that he cannot tie his shoes. Do not be jealous of another djembe players soloing. If someone is soloing well, be happy and enjoy it � that�s what it�s all about.
If someone really can�t control themselves and they just want to solo, i let them go. This is his chance to relax and enjoy playing a sweet accompaniment. When they are finished they will come back down to earth and then he can have a chance to solo himself. A master will never fight for the chance to solo because he simply has nothing to prove. Bitter competition and jealously has no place with the djembe. Masters do not compete, they joke and have fun with each other.
How many drummers make a good ensemble? 3 djembes and 2 dunun players? Hmmm� How about 4 Djembe accompaniments and 1 soloist and one dunun player who can play really well?
Determining how many drummers can play in a dance class can be a difficult issue. Some people prefer that beginners do not play and only the advanced drummers can play. They set an upper limit of djembe players, say 3 or 4 maximum. This can work at the expense of trampling on the ambitions and desires of the novice drummers.
I can play with a large group of drummers at all mixed levels. I can have 4 or 5 beginners playing accompaniment and 1 advanced student playing accompaniment. I would only pay attention to the clean accompaniment, even if he had only one. I would play with that accompaniment and completely ignore the quieter out of synch accompaniments of the beginners. He said that way the beginners get the chance to have the experience drumming with the advance students which can inspire them in their studies. A master needs to have this skill � selective hearing. All he needs is one good accompaniment and the ability to tune out the rest. It is important for the djembe player to transcend and not be bothered by �the small stuff�.
My Sungalo Coulibaly (May his soul rest in perfect peace) has told me many times that, "If you try to force the djembe, the djembe will force you.". . You cannot force a rhythm to happen. The spirit with either accept and allow a rhythm to be good or the spirit will hold back. Sometimes you may really want to play a rhythm right, and it may even be a rhythm that you can normally play very well, but for some reason that day the spirit says, "No!". We have to understand and respect that each rhythm has its time and place and we have to be more conscious when a rhythm just isn't going to happen. Many people will keep playing a rhythm for up to 30 or 40 minutes even though it is obviously not working. I never saw this in West Africa. In Africa if the rhythm isn't working out the drummers stop and move onto another song or rhythm. We need to understand that we are not deciding which rhythms to play, instead we are listening to discover and follow what the spirit demands
A true djembe master is humble. I have never met a master drummer who was not humble. I have met good drummers who were arrogant but never a master. To get to the level of being a djembe master you have to be humble, kind and respectful to everyone. A master has to open his heart to all people and life. This is a very important piece of information for anyone on the spiritual path of djembe drumming. You cannot play the djembe well without opening your heart. All of the masters will acknowledge this fact. Some people may feel this is a nice idea but in reality it all comes down to raw talent and how many hours you put into the practice of the drum. I beg to differ here.
I have never met a djembe player with a bad attitude who I can consider to be a master drummer. I truly believe this to be an impossibility. The djembe is a �clean� drum. The spirit of the djembe is clean. One cannot play djembe well without the spirit. The spirit will never come into a dirty vessel. If you are truly a good person and you are kind with everyone � you have a chance to be a master djembe player. All that is left is that you dig for the truth, study and practice a lot. It doesn�t matter what color your skin is. God made different colors because variety is beautiful � look at the rainbow. The djembe is a drum of Unity not separation. It brings people together in friendship, happiness and healing. This is the power of the djembe that truly attracts people.
Masters are humble. People should all recognize this fact. It is not just a �nice� quality of a djembe player, it is a requirement. Negativity and bad feelings have no place inside the djembe. If you have some sadness or anger about something, you must always drop that when you sit down to drum or stand up to dance. After you are done drumming you can go back again to your problems. Don�t disrespect the djembe by bringing your negativity inside a drum which is by nature clean and peaceful.
People play djembe for a variety of reasons. Some play for fun. Some play because they want to show off. Some play to attract a mate. Some play because they just love the sound. The fact is, the djembe is a very powerful drum with a deep and mysterious history. Many people are hitting the djembe these days but very few are actually playing.
There is a difference between speaking with the djembe and just making noise. Anybody can get excited upon hearing the powerful arrangement an ensemble of djembe accompaniments with dunun can make. Many will release this excitement in a wild solo without any clear direction. People often describe these type of soloists as �rippers� or �shredders�. This type of soloing is in direct contrast with the tradition of djembe playing. This �shredding� solo style has arisen out of the many ballets and performance groups as they tried to impress non-African audiences.
In Africa, especially older generation Africans, are more impressed by soloing that actually �speaks�. What does this mean? Well, in some cases it actually means that the soloist is actually knowledgeable enough to actually be speaking specific Bamana sentences with the particular solo phrasing. Other times, �speaking� simply means that the soloist is communicating and talking with the rhythm. In other words, the soloist is placing his/her solo in certain prescribed locations dictated by the structure of the rhythm being played. This is what Africans mean by �traditional soloing�.
Many claim to be learning traditional solo by simply glueing rigidly structured phrases one after another or at will when they want to show that they know some traditional solos. This cut and paste approach to traditional djembe soloing always fails. It is awkward and doesn�t have any flow to it. Each rhythm has its own language and linguistics. It is important for the serious student to explore this concept and try to learn the unique language of each djembe rhythm. Only then can the solo be complete and whole.
In the past, speed was only one skill or facet of being a good djembe player. Today it has become one of the most important criteria for judgment of a djembe player. Most rhythms today are played much faster than they were in the past. Traditionally, all drumming begins with singing first. The drummers slowly blend into the rhythmic structure of the singing. Little by little the spirit of the rhythm builds until the rhythm picks up tempo and the dancing begins.
Today, especially in the West, we begin rhythms with a �break� and immediately begin drumming at an accelerated tempo. This does not allow for the building of mood or feel - spirit. This is why many times the drumming can only go so far. With the djembe you must always �knock at the door� first before entering into a rhythm. No one likes when a stranger barges into your home without knocking. The same is true for the djembe. It is important to build the spirit through a gradual progression from song, to slow drumming and then to a higher tempo.
Speed and strength have become the new code words defining a good djembe drummer. I believe much of this has come from the �wow factor� that makes so much money in a Western world of excess. It is hard to shock a Western audience these days. National Ballets and Dance companies from West Africa were forced to play harder and faster. This is what Western audiences wanted � this is what made money. Talent and musicality had taken a back seat to speed and muscles. Thus began the Diaspora of the djembe into the Western world. This was our model and the model for future djembe teachers going to America and Europe in search of money for their families.
Djembe too has become yet another commodity in a modern world of ever increasing commodities and goods for sale. In the business world, quality is not the issue, the bottom line is what sells. If we are willing to eat shit, there will always be someone ready to sell it to us.
How much money do you have to pay a master to teach djembe? If you paid the master $100 for an hour long private class should you get more than if you paid him $30? Can knowledge of the djembe be bought?
Djembe knowledge can only be passed from Master to student through respect. The Master respects the student who respects him. Master djembe players can see what a students real intentions are and they also observe how their students treat others. A Master will purposely hold information from a student who is not clean.
There is a lot of confusion in the djembe communities surrounding rhythms called by slightly different names or rhythms with the same name with a slightly different rhythmic structure. There are a lot of different dynamics contributing to this issue.
Firstly, some name differences are on account of different tribal accents. For example, the Malinke say, �Soboninkun� whereas the Bamana say, �Sogoninkun�. This is the same rhythm just a different accent. The confusion arises when people conclude that the rhythms are different because of the name difference.
There are also many variations of the same rhythm under the same name across different areas of West Africa and across different ethnic groups. This does not mean that the rhythm is �different� in an "all or nothing" sense. It simply means that the different tribe or area has placed their own accent or style on the rhythm. The fundamental rhythmic essence should remain.
In the West, people tend to take a reductionistic approach to everything they encounter, breaking down the rhythms to their intricate details while losing sight of the gestault whole.We, Africans, tend to see gestault connectivities between rhythms and cultures where as we tend to point out and get confused over the differences in the details. In general, I believe it is better to try to focus on the commonalities between the same rhythms played in various areas or by various tribes rather than having our understanding blocked by perceived discrepancies. When in doubt as to whether a rhythm played in a slightly different way or called by a slightly different name is the same, often times the dance step will help to determine similarity of origin.