This is a transcript of an interview with Sidiki Camara, a Master djembefola, from Mali.
Hello it’s James here. I’m here in Italy with Sidiki Camera, from Mali.
Sidiki do you want to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself.
Yes, My name is Sidiki Camera, I come from Mali, originally from the South West of Mali. I’m a musician and I play percussion.
How old were you when you first started playing percussion.
The first time, I was very young. I started around 10, 11, 12, I started to play percussion.
What made you start to play. Did it run in your family or did you just start to play with your friends some day and you liked it,
or you had some kind of feeling that you wanted to play more?
It’s difficult for me to say exactly, where this came from, but 10 years ago I found out that my father was a drummer in the village.
I didn’t know that before. One day I went back to the village and people said to me, they are not suprised to see me play drums, your father
was a very big drummer in the village.
So it was inside you.
So at some point you joined the ballet of Mali.
How old were you when you joined the ballet?
Before that I was playing for the school. We have some competitions between the differenct schools. In the school for eampl we have the part A, b C.
I was playing for my school frist and after that there was a competition between the citries in Bamako, and after that I was playing for the disctrict of BAmako.
There as a competition bbetween all the regions in Mali. THere was a competition was arranged once a year and everyone tries to find to good drummers to play with them.
At this moment they caled me and said they need me to come play solo in this competition. I was playing for the the ballet for the district of Mali.
and long were you playing for?
Many years, many years, but in 86, I stopped that, and I was in the national ballet after this.
ok, and with the national ballet did you travel aroudn Africa and the world.
all different Countries
Yes, I travelled a lot with the national ballet of MAli, I was soloist almost 10 years.
What was life like in the ballet. Did you do 6 hours of training a day
Yes, we were training every day from 9 o’clock until 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and only the weekend we are free.
We were working and we have a salary from the government, because it is the national ballet we have a salary every month.
That was very nice to represent hte country.
So there was a feeling for you and other people of pride to represent Mali.
Was it very competitive? Was there a good atmostphere?
It was not easy. The first time when you arrive the ballet, everyone is open to you, but you must learn all the details of the ballet.
All the number you have to do fo the show. You have to know all the movement of the dance, and then you come to be soloist.
If you don’t know all of this, then you must do accompaniment all the time.
How important is the drumming and the dance together?
In my experience as an Irish person who came to the djembe recently.
My experience is to learn in a workshop, maybe I can play with my friends and have a good time.
Perhaps to me the connection with the dancing isn’t there.
They are together. If we are talking about drumming, we are talking about dancing.
It’s not drumming without dancing and it’s not dancing without druming.
In Mali it is this way, and everybody has to know many different dances and play many different rhythms for that.
Before that, you need to learn with somebody and it takes a long time you have to be patient and to calm down and calm down and be patient.
So in order to be a great djembe player you have to know the dances and you have to know the moves.
You have to know the details of hte dance, how you manage to give the signal, to change to go to the second one, it’s a lot of work,
but we don’t have to think it’s hard work. It can be hard work, and easy. If you are interested, it’s coming to be easy.
So you’ve played with some of the greatest musicians in Mali and Guinea.
Is there any of these bands that you enjoyed playing with the most, or any that stick out in your mind more than others.
It’s always like this, it’s not to choose in the beginning, if you choose you have to have to choose the people who you don’t have problems to be with them.
I have played with many Malian stars and many European stars and American stars. I was playing a lot with them from Malian music, to Jazz music and blues and many different kinds of music.
You like Jazz music?
Yes I play all the time Jazz music
You play drum kit?
I play drum set.
Did you teach yourself?
In the beginning I learnt myself, I learnt very fast. Any kinds of music, I can learn very very quickly, and I was starting and was learning with somebody to develop more technique.
and one time I decided to stop playin the drum set, and I decided, I have to make something more traditional, and I was thinking about african drums, and many different
instrumtruments from africa, and to put something that could represtent drum set, and that was my creation.
So you have your own set up?
Yes I have my own drumset.
and do you use dunduns as well?
No not dundun, only djembe and 2 percussions from Ghana, called kpanlogo, I have 2 of these and djembe + calabash. It’s like a pumpkin, a big one. But I use only the half and I put
a mike inside and I have a symbol and chimes and a small egg and 2 sticks like this, and I have all things and I have tied bells on my feet to represent high-hat.
This is some technique I was developing and to adapt to many different types of music.
It can be blues, jazz reggae and any different kind of music I can have the possibility to use these kinds of instruments.
For Jazz music, do you see a difference in the people when they are playing the music,
I have seen some jazz recently at a festival in Nice and sometime the musicians are so good that it’s difficult to realise how good they are.
And sometimes when I look at it, I feel that they don’t even know that there is an audience you know.
They just play for themselves and there pleasure and then afterwards everybody claps and they only then realise ….
Where as to me African music is more encompassing.
It’s something I can say, people never see like this before and they never think that the sound is going to be like this, and that was my work.
To show people that african music can have a place everywhere. Every kind of music, it’s not only AFrican music that are using African instruments
and it’s like a European instruments, we don’t htink that its onlyh for Europeans. We need to move that in African music.
It’s very interesting because there’s such an interest in the Djembe around the world now, amongst everybody. Japanese people, German people,
I wonder where this will go. There are so many fantastic musicians for sure.
In your travels have you met any non-African djembe players that you were impressed with?
We have many good African drummers, that’s not a problem, but the thing is only to adapt. If everyone starts to think ok, I’m a drummer,
I have to do some different things to adapt the djembe for example to jazz music or the blues or classical music, for example country music, I can have possiblitiy in any kind of music.
So you wouldn’t have a problem with people using the djembe in any other kinds of music?
No I don’t.
The problem is only to know the way you are going to use the djembe, we need to see people respect the djembe.
there are amany peiple using the djembe who don’t respect the djmebe. If for example if you put one djembe here and one piano or for example violin and many people
can pass here, and everyone want to try the djembe, but they don’t want to try the piano.
They are not conscious to think about this instrument you have to repect it.
It’s a lot about education, isn’t it. Most people haven’t seen a djembe before, I would say. Even if people see djembe in the street, they see it played very badly
in my experience.
Do you think that speed is a lot to do with physical strengh or is it more technique or is it the 2.
For me, not really. For me to play djembe you don’t need to pay very, very, very fast. For example, if you play for the dance and you start to play slowly and build up your speed.
Coming to be not very fast, you have to be in the middle, and you can look at the movement of the dance to see it’s a very nice movement and they can go high. Their arm can go very high, but if you change the speed the go very fast.
The arm have to do that it comes only this high…. and that’s why many movements of the dance is changing and many phrases of djembe is changing it’s only about the speed, and this is something good.
people can see you can play very fast. And it’s one time to say “wow, that’s really, really, really fast, I’m really impressed to see that”, but the qualty is not there.
Yea ok, it can get boring I find
…but that does not mean that the people don’t play good. It’s different.
Do you think you’ve seen a change in the playing have gone in the last 20 recent years
It’s the generation. When we start to play we never played really fast like they play now, and I’m not old man but from the people now
I can say it’s not more than 20 years they play djembe, I can say it’s more than 30 years I play djembe. It’s something different in the generation; and it’s difficult to tel them, you need to calm down. It’s like you are telling them ok you don’t play good, you have to calm down, it’s a different way.
But if you go to the national ballet of Mali, still today they don’t play very fast and we have to keep the movement,
and it can be more nice movement and to see the feet to the head and everything can start from the beginning to the last part.
but now if you play very fast and the movement is only like htis , it’s almost jumping, jumping dance.
Why do you think they are playing faster? HAs you playing changed since when you were younger?
It was the same, the moment I started to play I never saw somone play very very very fast, like now. Everybody wants to play very fast to show themselves.
But if you don’t have this energy, it’s not possible to play at this speed.
It’s only that and it’s coming to be a competition between the young people. To say “I’m stronger than you” and it’s only that to say it’s kind of power.
They are young, they have a lot of energy and they need to show their biceps. It’s not bad, it means that the tradition has been through an evolution, but the most important thing is that they don’t forget
the basics, that everything started from the basics.
It they forget about the basics, they can say that they play djembe but they are doing something wrong.
Do you think that with many of the younger players, the way they have learn’t djembe is different to the way you learn’t djembe?
Many don’t know the tradition. Many of them they don’t know the tradition. They learn from weddings and parties, they never ask to know why we play this rhythm. Why are we using this rhythm. They don’t know.
They don’t explain many details (James: when they are teaching) or maybe they can create somethings and then they have something to tell.
But we need to keep the tradition, for me it is like the tradition starts to die.
Are you aware that Mamady Keita has created this Tam Tam Manding School, he has this kind of institution….
Yes Mamady Keita has a school like this. I was making a school too for Malian culture.
When I talked to him about this, he said that the reason is because of what you’ve been talking about, that he saw this problem, that he kept coming across people that don’t have this knowledge, and this was one of the reasons he created the school,
to try to have some kind of control knowing if a person knows something.
Ya, but you know we are thinking differently. It’s a different thinking and different experience, he can think his part this way and I have my thinking too and this is something for me, it’s a real pity, to see the young people don’t protect the too much tradition. Evolution is ok, it’s very very nice, everybody needs to do new things and try new things, but the basics come from the tradition and if we don’t protect the tradition it’s coming to be a very big problem.
In 20 years time we don’t talk about African tradition, in percussion.
How important do you think it is for people with and interest in this music to travel to West Africa to experience the culture for themselves.
It’s very important. It’s not enough to learn African culture in Europe, it’s not enough. you have to go down there and to see how they manage to do the things and they need to know it’s not only the capital. You can learn some tradition in the capital, but it’s not enough people have to go to the village to see the life in the village, and you can understand more.
But in europe, here everything is easy, but if you go to Africa, you can see the diffence, the possibilities we have here, they don’t have there.
In the village life, you can see they live without electrity and in some place it’s difficult to find water.
If you go there, and you can see how they manage to find these kind of things. You start to realise the difference between people. And they are nice people and they are open to see people the new people are coming to them and they are
very happy and come more open to see ok we want to be with them and everybody say hello to everybody, you can say everybody knows everybody.
It’s not complicated, but the tradition from that and is coming very down.
In the village also, the tradition is coming down?
It the same way, the young People they don’t want to stay in the village, they want to go to the capital to have work and they go there, and they have never been in school and they don’t know many things and they come in the capital and it’s very hard to find a place to stay, and to find a job, it’s difficult to find something to eat, and what can you do. Maybe you are going to steel and have more problems and some people they start taking drugs and this is a great pity.
People can think to give help to the people from the village and give more motivation to them. You don’t need to go to the capital, you have to create something and to work in a different way and you can have more things and to stay, but it’s not easy.
So when you do your course in Mali…..you have a course in Mali?
Yes, I organise a workshop in Mali. I start in the capital.
Once week in the capital and in the second week we go to the village, and the people from my workshop, they can help the people in the village, buying the small things they want to sell and to have money and they have food, and people are bringing food and clothes and t-shirts they don’t need anymore.
You know in Europe people when they buy new t-shirts the old one, they throw it away.
But we need that and many people I talk to to keep and bring to them and share with everybody.
You can bring it for children, everything is welcome. It is help for them, they don’t get too much money and if they have to buy the food and the clothes, it’s not very easy.
And to build a school and bring more education.
So if people are interested in coming on your course, they can contact you. (James: See bottom of page for more information on contacting Sidiki).
I make a project, a very nice project to help my village.
It’s a charity?
It’s not a charity I want to help the village (James: more a project), by building a school. All children have to go school, for free, this is something very important. We want to provide medicine and a place that people can go for free
Thats good, it sounds like a great project
Ok, I think we should leave it there, you’re a great man and a great player and thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
James: For more information on Sidiki’s course and his charity work for his village, check out his website.