This was written by and is being published here with permission of the Chicago Djembe project.
This email is a tribute to Paul Bernard Engel (b. 9/28/1951), the grandfather of the German Djembe Community (http://www.paul-djembe.de) who blessed so many people’s lives –professionally and personally.
Paul Bernhard Engel passed away on June 12, 2012. Everyone — especially younger drummers who hadn’t even begun playing djembe “back in the day” — should know who Paulwas.
Together with his partner Silvie Kronewald, who also died prematurely (in 1997), Paul was one of the first to bring knowledge (even awareness!) of Malinke music to the Western world, introducing European musicians to its intricacies and nuances with a fierce dedication.
In North America, many djembe students and teachers may have seen his name on a classic CD: in the 1980s, Paul Engel was contracted by the Ethnological Museum of Berlin to produce field recordings of the legendary Famoudou Konate on location in Conakry/Simbaya. Since these recordings were released in 1991, along with extensive liner notes and notation, this CD has become a Malinke classic. Known in many English-speaking circles as “the Museum CD”, “Rhythmen der Malinke” was one of the first recorded documents of traditional Malinke music in Guinea.
The six-year period (1986-1991) that Paul Engel and Silvie Kronewald spent working intimately, and exclusively, with Famoudou Konaté (former first soloist for the National Ballet of Guinea/Les Ballets Africains de Guineé) — organizing workshops, concerts, classes and European tours with Konaté and his entourage (Fanta Kaba, Daouda Kourouma, and others) — represented a profound turning point in Paul’s life. Paul was already an accomplished guitarist, pianist and percussionist when he first began working with Konaté — he was well-versed in Latin American traditions, and had become an expert on “Adama Dramé-technique” from extensive study and collaboration with Dramé in Germany, France and Senegal; he had also studied with members of the Tettey-Addy family in Ghana.
But none of these traditions captivated his genius the way the rhythms of the Malinke did.Paul made a significant and pioneering contribution to the worldwide understanding of this music by transcribing Malinke rhythms as they were played by master drummers in Guinean villages–in their entirety, with bass lines, variations, solos — into classical Western musical notation. Paul’s transcription of these rhythms — both in classic Western notation and in the modified notational system he devised to bring them “to paper” even for students of the music who do not read music — represent invaluable documentation of a musical form and musical events that may have otherwise been lost. Paul played a pivotal role in developing the intensive workshop format and pedagogical approach that has since become an international standard for quality instruction in the rhythms of the Malinke.
Through years of annual, extended stays in West Africa and playing at traditional festivals there (with Adama Dramé, Famoudou Konaté, Mamady Keita, Fadouba Olaré, Daouda Kourouma, Noumoudy Keita, and many others), Paul developed an incredible and profound understanding of the music and culture of the Malinke, which he shared freely and expertly with all of his students. In 1986, Paul was the first European drummer to bring students (a small group of drummers from Berlin) to study on location in Conakry, Guinea.
His dedication to the music, to his students, and his expert pedagogy soon made him one of the most sought-after teachers in Germany and Europe. From 1994 to 2010, he offered multi-year training seminars in Malinke music at his compound in Germany. His passion for Malinke music was matched by an intense passion for teaching, and for his students. Paulwas not only a skilled and extremely knowledgeable music instructor and professional musician, he was an extraordinary human being who shared valuable life wisdom as freely and with as much passion as he had for the music. His brilliant ear for precision and perfection in the music was equally open and attentive to his students’ non-musical concerns, and he could always be counted upon to provide genuine and wise counsel. Paulmasterfully combined passion, precision and perfection to a work of art in his relationships to the music, and to the students’ whose lives have been so enriched by his own.
Students came to Paul from all over Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden to participate in Paul’s intensive training program — the first ever of its kind, not only in Europe, but in the world. Many of Paul’s former students have gone on to become professionals in their own right — and there is hardly a qualified instructor or student of Malinke music who does not ultimately trace his/her lineage back to Paul Engel, Grandfather of the European Djembe Community. In almost every German city, there is a djembe instructor who was trained by Paul Engel — but his contributions have benefited international djembe communities — from Holland to Japan, the US, Canada and beyond.
In 2010, Paul suffered a heart attack, then lay in a coma for three weeks and never fully recovered.
Please send positive thoughts, love and rhythms to accompany Paul on his last journey with the drums. Drum for him, if you can.
In loving memory of an excellent teacher and extraordinary human being, and a true friend, we wish him all the best on this last leg of his journey.
(Posted on behalf of Paul Engel’s students and friends in Europe and North America.)