Mama Africa 2012 – 5 Reasons you should go drum camps and festivals

For those of us in the Northern hemisphere, summer is here and for anyone in Europe that means that the Mama Africa festival 2012 is fast approaching. For Europeans it’s not too late to book flights or drive and have a summer holiday that you’ll love.

If you’re not in Europe there are a number of djembe and drumming Festivals on around the world. You should see if there’s on near you! These reasons apply to any drum camp or festival.

1) Workshops with some of the best djembe players and drummers, dancers and musicians

Dance class - Mama Africa 2010

This year the teachers going include:

You can see a list of all artists here.

One thing I loved last time is that you have some amazing drummers playing for the dance classes with really talented dance teachers and participants. Watching the dance classes is a great way to chill and soak up the atmosphere…

Harouna Dembele Solo, Mama Africa Festival from James Farrell on Vimeo.

2) Breathtaking performances every night

There are also performances each night from some great bands like Harouna Demebele‘s Parisi and Ba Cissokho.

Wamali – “Guinea” at the Mama Africa Festival 2010 from James Farrell on Vimeo.

3) Meet great people, who love what you love

Make new friends and be inspired by the skills and enthusiasm of those around you. The best part of Mama Africa is meeting other people who share your enthusiasm about djembe, drumming and dancing.

4) Try something new
These festivals are the best time to try something different. Every want to try balafon, flute or Ngoni? There are plenty of opportunities and workshops around that you can take advantage of.

How about some Sabar dancing or drumming

5) Where better to relax and have a great holiday!

Where better to take your holidays and unwind than beautiful Tuscany in Italy?

I will definitely be going to Mama Africa again (maybe even this year if I can convince my friend to come with me). If Mama African is too far away from you, perhaps there is something similar on close to you.

What camps and festivals are you looking forward to this year?

A Tribute to Paul Engel

The '80s-'90s Famoudou Konaté Ensemble, with Famoudou Konaté, Paul Engel, Fanta Kaba & Silvia Kronewald

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 ( 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.)

The best of djembe in 2011

The end of the year is arriving and many of us are going or know people going to Africa. Whether your finalising plans or fighting your jealousy, it feels like a good time to look back on some of the highlights and happenings that stand out in the djembe world in the last 12 months.

Mamady and Famoudou during the Grandmasters tour

Whether you wonder about whether global interest in djembe is declining or not, djembe, dunun and even some traditional dance moves made it’s way onto American idol this year.

Though not everyone was impressed, perhaps a tip of the hat in the right direction, or even a mention of what them things were that those guys were banging on, might have pushed those search numbers up a little?

I just hope that Remo didn’t get a mention in the show credits.

It feels to me that this year has been one for a bit of controversy, there have been disagreements between drum producers and exporters from Africa and Indonesia, but at least people began to talk about the effects of the djembe industry on the environment.

Most seem to agree that djembe’s themselves are a very small cause of deforestation compared to other industries, such as wood export and furniture. A lot of criticism has indeed been levelled at China for wiping huge quantities of wood in Guinea, before regulations were reviewed which brought an end to this.

China’s response? Stone djembes, which I’ve heard from several people actually sound quite good (considering they’re made of stone).

Tam Tam Mandeng certification has been discussed before, but earlier this year the association caused a stir, when they announced their intention to release a Tam Tam Mandeng grading system, for students who are studying with Tam Tam Mandeng’s instructors.

It doesn’t seem like participation will be compulsory and the details haven’t been hammered out yet, so it’s perhaps to early to read too much into it. Indeed I know highly respected people who think that this is a good idea, and I can understand how it would motivate some ‘goal oriented’ people in a positive way.

It will be interesting to see how this is organised and begins to manifest in 2012.

For me it though, it was perhaps 2 of the greatest living djembefolas, who were at the heart of the most memorable moment of the year.

Mamady Keita and Famoudou Konate finally managed to pull off something they had wanted to do for a long time. A sell out tour of the US, teaching side by side, sharing their love and their philosophy and experience of this music to a few lucky students.

Their message:

The djembe is the symbol of joy and that between djembefolas you must have repect, and not be jealous of each other.

Here’s a full transcript of that message.

I really feel like there is a lot of escalating energy in the djembe world at the moment, and I can’t wait to see what next year will bring. We definitely have a number of exciting projects here at that are going to blossom this year, so if you’re not already signed up to our newsletter yet, make sure you do so now, to get the latest articles / videos and news first.

This is just my take on what have been memorable this year. What did I miss? Do you have enduring memories or experiences you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!

PS: Special thanks to Bernd (who shares the djembe in Arizona) for the use of his awesome photo. You can see more of Bernd’s work on his Fine art photography website.

Stunning African Drum and Dance Calendar for 2011 African muisc, drum and dance Calendar 2011

In case anyone missed it have launched our African Music Calendar for 2011. It’s a mostly oriented towards African drumming and dancing, but the shots are beautiful to appreciate in and of themselves, plus there was shots of Ngoni, Balafon and other things.

In fact I would say the general focus of the calendar is on people rather than instruments.

If you like what we do at and you want to support us, this is your opportunity. In addition 30% of any profit will go to ‘Les Voies du Monde‘ who are based in Nice, France and are looking to build an art centre in Burkina Faso.

Please do help us to spread the world, and click here for more information or to buy a calendar yourself.


Mamady Keita relases Hakili a new CD / DVD

For anyone that missed it Mamady Keita and Sewa Kan has released a new album and DVD on the 21st of October. The album was released to mark 50 years of music. Mamady and Sewa Kan have been touring in Belgium for most of the last month (November). The final date on this tour is on the 5th of December in Tournai, Belgium.

I’m really surrised and disappointed that they haven’t come to France yet, but hopefully they will soon.

Mamady Keita Hakili album cover

If you’re lucky enough to be in the right country you can listen to this album right now on deezer.

It is not yet available on Spotify, but since the rest of his catalogue is, I guess it’s just a matter of time. For those of you who are continualy upset at not being able to access content because you are in the wrong country you might want to check out proxy services like those provided by Ace VPN.

Overall the album is a bit more melodic than Mamady’s previous albums.

The opening track Hakili, starts with a nice break and then all guns blazing, with plenty of balafon and Kora backing it up.

Then the second track, Saran Kenyi, surprises us with some saxophone action. Some traditionalists aren’t too happy about this, and there have been people complaining. I’m not too surprised, sinced it’s not the first time we’ve seen a saxophone on stage with Mamady. Who could forgot the “Lai lai ko” riff for djole on Mamady’s Mogabalu DVD. It doesn’t need to be said that Mamady can do what he wants anyway, and I’m glad that he’s happy to push a few boundaries.

I usually prefer live recordings of djembe music to studio albums, and I like that this album was recorded live. You really get a bit of a loose, live party feeling with this CD, compared to his previous studio albums.

There’s some spine chilling fluting on Sundjata Fasa, then it goes into some farely normal kora and then into a really familiar melody, though I don’t know the exact song. Then the song develops into some pretty Jeli type praise singing with a little call and response with the crowd. All this is backed up by some really nice balafon, flute and Kora.

Over all a really nice break from those noisy djembes that are always banging on 😉 until the last minute that is, when we are reminded that this is after a celebration of a djembefola.

The last track Matoto starts with a nice long break, and loads of great solos with really cool dunduns too. This may not be enough to appease some who wish the whole album was like this.

All in all, I like this CD, it’s very different to other Mamady cds, and I think I’ll be enjoying for a while to come. It nearly doesn’t seem fair to compare it to classics like Wassolon, but it’s certainly not likely to go down as a classic.

The DVD can only be bought as a part of a DVD cd box set at Cristal Records.
The album is available on iTunes and Amazon:

You can also get a real flavour of this concert here.