It is really quite common for djembe lovers to travel to West Africa between November and March. The weather tends to be best around this time of year and it coincides with the winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
There are many options for those thinking about making the trip. Due to package tours, the cheapest flights are often found from London to Banjul, in The Gambia. Big operators like Air France also operate from Paris to the Ouagadougou, Bamako, Dakar and Conakry starting from about 700 euro.
There are several options available to you when embarking on such an adventure. By far the easiest option available to you is to go with one of several extremely well organised tours.
This is often a very good option for even the most ardent of seasoned, independent travellers. West Africa poses some unique challenges and can be overwhelming the first time you land and it’s easy enough to find yourself in tricky situations.
Paying rent and staying in a compound is definitely an option, but there can often be many unexpected surprises and additional expenses that you didn’t see coming. Likewise agreeing a price with a teacher has been known to not always be the end of the conversation.
This is often understandable when people circumstances or the situation is taken into account, but for some people this can become stressful.
Some feel that it’s easier to just go with a tour, that way you know exactly what you’re paying for and you can have a pretty good idea what to expect.
Going with a tour and usually a known teacher you benefit in many ways:
- Less stress – everything is generally organised for you, from airport transfers to food
- Local knowledge – The person will likely be able to give you good advice about tuition, buying instruments etc
- Performances – Tours visiting compound are usually an opportunity for local artists to perform and teach. As such you can usually look forward to an array or artists and plenty of friendly people around.
- Knowing what you’re paying for
- Less uncertainty, especially if this isn’t the first year of the tour.
If you decide that a tour is for you then there are many things to further consider. These include:
- Group size – smaller is better. If the group will be split, which group are you going to be in and who’s going to be teaching it?
- Food – if you are a fussy eater this may be a consideration for you. One of the benefits of an organised tour is not having to worry about food. You may end up worried anyway if you don’t take a liking to the food you’re getting though. I distinctly remember this being an issue for many people on a tour I was on in Guinea.
Many tour operators specifically mention food and it’s worth asking about if you think could be something that concerns you.
- The teacher – the styles of teaching and playing can vary hugely from teacher to teacher. Make sure you know the teacher or have at least spoken to somebody who have studied with them before.
- Style – leading on from above you may want to consider the style of djembe you are interested in working on. There is a big difference between the way djembe is played in different countries in West Africa
- Where – As with style, where you want to be is an extremely important consideration. Besides the obvious, it is worth considering if you would like to visit the villages or whether you would just be happy to stay in a capital.
Many tours offer trips to the villages and these can be an amazing opportunity to see the culture in it’s traditional setting, and experience life in the village for a while.
- Authenticity – some people have a preference to go to a source who will teach them original phrasing and parts. I can tell you that it is very different learning dundunbe from Famoudou Konate who’s from Hamana (where the rhythm is from) and learning it from Harouna Dembele from Burkina Faso. This may or may not be of concern to you.
- Language – Most West African countries are ex-French colonies, so French is spoken by people there much more than English. This can be quite a barrier to getting to know local people, and it may be something to consider when you decide where you would like to go.
The Gambia and Ghana are both English speaking, but neither is traditionally a djembe playing country. There is plenty of music and culture in these countries though. There are plenty of Guinean djembe players living in the Gambia, some tours to Ghana have been known to bring djembe teachers from Burkina Faso and other countries specifically for tours.
Ghana itself has a fantastic culture of drumming of it’s own. From the Ewe drumming to the Kpanlogo of the Ga people.
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If you’re interested in making the trip you have a wealth of options. From independent travel, to tours and even something quite in the middle, like the djembe hotel.
Be sure to check out our article on drumming study tours in Africa, which include a break down of some of the best djembe and drumming tours in Africa. We have also managed to negotiate quite a few serious discounts for people who book a tour and mention djembefola.com.
Any questions, comments, criticisms? Maybe you’ve been to West Africa, and think I forgot to mention something? Let us know in the comments.
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