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 djembefola.com 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.

Be a part of the largest show on earth (djembe’s may or may not be included)

The London organising committe of the 2012 Olympics have announced that they are looking for 10,000 performers for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

You can find more information about taking part in the Olympics here.

Here’s the application form, but be aware you should be a resident of the UK and be available for a number of rehearsals, check the website for details.

Study Drumming in Africa

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:

  1. Less stress – everything is generally organised for you, from airport transfers to food
  2. Local knowledge – The person will likely be able to give you good advice about tuition, buying instruments etc
  3. 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.
  4. Knowing what you’re paying for
  5. Less uncertainty, especially if this isn’t the first year of the tour.
Performance in Famoudou's house
Performance in Famoudou's house

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.

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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Mohata – African drumming in Darling Harbour

Today Celine and I went to the 21st birthday of Darling Harbour. I love Australia and one of the reasons is the amount of fantastic free cultural things that are put on for the public.

It’s always great to get in some free culture and today was especially good because Mohammed Bangoura (Bangorake) was playing along with his group Mohata.

Mohata

As usual we came across Mory and Aicha, who are everywhere in Sydney. There were a couple of other drummers who I hadn’t seen before. I solid, strong Dundun player and another djembe player who’s name I didn’t catch… Something Camara (please let me know).

What a pleasure to be able to see things like this for free, right in my adopted back yard!

Check out the video for a taster….

Isaiah Chevrier plays djembe on Oprah – November 17th

American people wil be able to check out Isaiah Chevrier playing djembe on Oprah on November 17th.

I’m not 100% clear, but it sounds like it will only be the video being played, rather than the young guy himself playing…

Good chance there’ll be some discussion on djembe and djembe music surely, so I’d be watching if I could!

Try not to Inhale

This is the first case I’ve head of, but another person is in care in hospital after inhaling Anthrax from the a goat skin while re-heading a drum.

Read all about it on new scientist below:

Anthrax Djembe Skin

We must aggrevate the risk by virtue of the fact that we are shaving the skin with a razor blace and loads of dust and fibre come off during this phase….

I wonder how many people in Africa die mysteriously from this condition every year?

Weekly Djembe Performance in Dublin Ireland

Come down and check out Dublin’s hottest djembe players rip it up.

Afo presents a shake your booty boogie on down evening every Wednesday at the Turk’s head.

Afo Percussione event poster

Costs will be 5 euros on the door. With the fantstic DJ Marina Diniz direct for Brazil!

Be there or be a rectangle….

James

Djembe group in Dublin – Afo

A bit of self promotion, since I was pushing Wassa Wassa the other day I had better give a nod in the general direction of the group I’m wish.

I play djembe and dunduns with Afo in Dublin.

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