Mama Africa Festival 2010

I was debating whether or not to go the Mama Africa Festival for a few weeks and it was only when the deadline for workshop registration came around, that I actually pulled my finger out, panic’ed and booked as many workshops via text message that I could.

Sabar Dancer
A Senegalise Sabar Dancer

I live near Nice in the south of France, so a 4 hour Trip in Italy wasn’t going to be too difficult for me to manage, and it’s not every day that such talented teachers nad performars are in the same place at the same time, let alone so close by.

I planned to leave at 6:30 am, but waking up at 7:30, and jumping into the car in my pyjamas didn’t take away from the beatiful early morning light on the mediteranean landscapes. My first experience of Italian driving and trying to make my 11:30 Sidiki Camara workshop mean’t I woke up pretty quickly.

So here’s me an Irish Man, living in France driving through Italy looking for the drum and dance of Africa. There’s something very special about driving through forests and small Italian mountain villages, following big green Mama Africa signs and overtaking Fiats, and arriving way too easily to the thunder of drums and smiles of faces.

I had only missed perhaps half of Sidiki’s workshop, but managed to catch up on the first 3 solo phrases I had missed. I was really glad to have mostly made it, because Sidiki is a great / patient teacher with clear material.

After the class I wandered around a bit and found a nice quiet place to pitch my tent and met a couple of Senegalese and Italian neighbours.

Then I sat down to my first ever Harouna Dembele workshop. I was really excited, having seen a bit of Harouna and Parisi (his previous band) on you tube.

This particular workshop had been relocated to the main eating area (after rain the previous night) and there was plenty people around, including Dartagnan and his band. As such the workshop ended up being about 40% performance. He is certainly an extremely impressive player and there was plenty of whooping and crowd pleasing.

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

Day 2 (Saturday)
I woke up early to make it to my 9:00am workshop with Harouna. I say early because I had spent some meeting the locals the night before… We learn’t Chologo, from Cote d’Ivoire, which I had never heard of before. I really sweet dundun melody with a spacious dundunba part.

With barely enought time to say ‘Alora’ and say ‘….un cafe late pour favouri’. I was off to the first
xasonka dunun workhop. I was “lucky” enough to to arrive in time to get a proper “Jeli dundun”, which meant I spent the next 2 hours trying desperately to do the bell in my hand, the Jeli dunun style.

I immediately made plans to arrive late the next day as the material itself was already crazy difficult without trying to figure out this damn fangled bell technique. Even with a normal bell, I would have struggled to pull some of the phrases off, and I would have considered myself to be a fairly competent dundun player before.

Not only that, I was bemused to find that I was probably one of the weakest dunun players in the whole class anyway! It was a level 2 (of 2 levels workshop), but dang them Italians can play!

That night an improptu dundunba re-inforced that thought, as I saw the best fote djembe playing I’ve ever seen….

I really felt like a child in a candy shop all weekend. There was the great classes taking place all day, with djembe players like Harouna Dembele and Sidiki Camara appearing out of nowhere to rip it up for the dancers.

My friend Enrica was equally in heaven as she did 5 hours of dance on Saturday, and why not, no better time for dancing with such amazing energy and music everywhere. I had never before seen a dance workshop that had a balafon and Harouna, and them Burkina calabash drums and 40 people playing Sangban.

The performance on Saturday night was pretty Epic, as a lot of the drum, dance, balafon, Kora and singing teachers came together to give a really strong performance.

They called themselves “Guinea”. I’m not clear how long they (and how many of them) played together before, indeed I’ve seen other videos calling them Wamali, but they seemed to be led by Dartagnan who plays with Ba Cissokho (previously Circus Baobab).

Plently of full on Guinea Style warra warra, on a beautiful stage, to a very appreciative crowd.

Untitled from James Farrell on Vimeo.

It’s a special thing to see so many people with a common passion come together to appreciate such a rich musical and artistic culture.

2 people from to different countries, neighter African, can come together, and even though they can’t understand each other by verbal communication, they can play diansa and connect in a way only this music can allow.

Thank you Mama Africa, I am sure a lot of volunteered time made the magic happen. May you double in size again next year, I’ll be there and you should be to!

ps – thanks to Raica for the amazing photos!

Monette Marino Keita’s eagerly awaited debut albumn, “Coup d’Eclat”, is launched on the 1st of April.

Monette Marino Keita‘s eagerly awaited debut albumn, “Coup d’Eclat”, is launched on the 1st of April.

Monette is a world percussionist from the US, who has studied rhythms from Latin America and West Africa. She is also heavily influenced by funk and rock music and has transposed traditional rhythms onto western instruments to create a new category of music she is calling NuAfroBeat.

Monette is well known in djembe circles, as being a screaming djembe player and Mamady Keita’s wife. She can be found on many videos along side Mamady and tours and performs with him regularly.

This is Monette’s first solo project and she wrote all of the music on the album, and the cd was arranged and co-produced by Allan Phillips.

“Coup d’Eclat” is an instrumental explosion of funk, latin and african inspired rhythms and melodies. She he has figured out a way to weave all of these styles together creating a fresh new sound which has been described as if you were to put Santana, James Brown and Fela Kuti all on stage together.

Monette has brought together the most talented musicians to accompany her on guitar, keyboards, bass, saxophone, flute, trumpet, kora and steel drum. If you like upbeat, funky, rock, latin, african and especially percussive music then you must have this CD.

Monette was featured on FOX 5 Morning Show with Arthel Neville on March 15th.

Check out this clip of king of Matoto.

An mp3 album can be downloaded at amazon:

You also purchase it from CD baby

Sibo Bangoura launches his new album in the Vanguard

On the 27th of October I went to the CD launch of Sibo Bangoura’s new album, Keyim Ba in the Vanguard in Newtown.


Strategicly located in Newtown, mid-way on my daily 370 bus ride home, I felt like every effort was being made to enhance my experience and I hadn’t even walked in the door yet.

Even though I haven’t been in Sydney very long, I’m already beginning to pick out a few familiar faces.

Declan Kelly was the opening act and I pretty digged what he was doing. His music seems to be heavily percussive. His buddy on stage was playing a sweeet Bougarabou, while he swapped between the Guitar and djembe. It was his singing that really made the difference though….

His style is kind of chanty, simple and a tad repetitious. I’m sure he’s been heavily influenced my African singing in his music…

Declan did a good job of warming up the crowd and there were great cheers as Sibo took the stage.

Sibo started off with a few words of welcome and thanks and told the story of how the album was recorded and how it wouldn’t be possible without his friend and mentor Boka Camara.

He explained how he felt joyful at the successfull completion of the project, but sad that Boka would would never hear it.

We were then treated to a 1 minute video clip of Boca playing during the recording of the album, followed by a minute’s silence in memory of him.

The first track of the night was the first track off the new album Wule (it’s not right to lie of talk behind someone). Malin Sylla did a great job on the vocals while playing Kora, while Aicha Keita’s voice in the chorus really helped rock what is a totally catchy tune.

I have only since listened to the album, but it would seem that all, if not most of the tracks were from the CD.

I think it’s a safe enough bet that Zaouli is one of Sibo’s favourite tracks and he really rocked out on it… It’s the fastest Zaouli I’ve ever heard and the breaks were not ones I’m familiar with. Sibo says it took him a week to learn the last break and that this rhythm is really one that makes him think of Boca…

Throughout the night Mohamed Bangoura was a great right hand man and was handing out slaps and tones like it was nobody’s business.

As usual (around Sydney) Mory Traore and Aicha were dancing their socks off and later on Rachel Bangoura and her students came out to dance some Soli…

On Keyim Ba, there is an adapted Sabar which is a rhythm of the Wolof in Senegambia. We were lucky enough to have it performed by some real Sabarians Papa M’Baye and Tias M’Baye.

All in all it was a great night and I felt lucky to have so many quality musicians on my bus trip home on Tuesday. More of that sort of thing!