I drove from Brisbane towards Coffs Harbour on the Saturday, staying with friends overnight near the half-way mark. Not a nice drive because it was pouring with rain. The entire east coast of Australia was covered by dense clouds, and it had been raining steadily for two days already.
On the Sunday morning, I drove through more heavy rain and, having looked at the weather report, which predicted at least another week of more of the same, I decided that I wasn't going to risk staying in a small two-person tent for the whole week without extra protection. So I stopped at a camping store in Coffs Harbour and bought a 4x5m tarp, six poles, rope, and pegs to provide some additional protection from the rain. It set me back almost $200 but, by the end of the week, I was glad I did it…
When I got to Bundagen, most people had arrived, and it was still pouring with rain. A number of people had given up on the idea of camping and the community had made the school hall available for people to sleep in. I decided to brave the weather and put up my tarp and tent. Mohamed "Bangouraké" Bangoura was kind enough to help me get the tarp up, which involved getting very wet for the 20 minutes or so it took to set it up. Fortunately, both of us had good wet weather gear, so it was tolerable.
By mid-afternoon, we started the first drum class. Epizo was assisted by Bangouraké, Sibo Bangoura, and Malin Sylla. The classes at Bundagen take place in a huge (about 12m x 20m) marquee that Rebekah hires for the event each year, erected in a large grassed open space in front of the community hall. Unfortunately, by the time the marquee was set up, the ground was already completely water-logged. For the drum class, that wasn't much of a problem but, the dance class that followed was another story. By the end of two hours of thirty dancers having done their thing, there were large patches of ground that had completely turned to mud, and most of the dancers were mud-spattered up to their hips. There were plenty of jokes going round about mud wrestling…
That was the last time the marquee was used—despite opening all the sides to allow for air flow, the ground did not dry out anywhere near enough during the week to consider using the space at all. Having lost our practice (and performance) space, we did the only other possible thing and ran the remainder of the camp in the community hall. Conditions were quite cramped in there but, with lot of good will from everyone, we managed to make it work in the available space, even for the performance on the Saturday night at the end of the camp.
The rain really provided a challenge for everyone. This was by far the worst weather for Bundagen in its 15-year history. For the first 48 hours, the rain never stopped and was heavy at times. There was a lot of local flooding in the area, and two sections of the Pacific Highway were closed for several hours during that time. The Bellingen Carnival was cancelled for the Sunday because the rain turned the site into a mud bath and made it electrically unsafe.
For the remainder of the week, it rained most of the time. A number of people got flooded in their tents and had to relocate. The leeches were out in force too, with quite a few people carrying multiple bite marks. The heavy showers during the nights also made it difficult to sleep due to all the noise. Fortunately, due to the permanent cloud cover, it didn't get too cold, which was a blessing.
Numbers were down a little from last year: about 53 people or so doing the whole camp, four or five of them doing both drum and dance, and a number of people staying for only part of the week. The largest drumming session I recall had 31 drummers, and largest dance session 32. For the final performance, we had about 50 people, about half dancers and half drummers.
The drummers learned four rhythms, each with intros and breaks:
Koteba is a 4/4 rhythm. Epizo taught two accompaniments, the first of which I hadn't come across before:
Koteba Djembe 1:
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I've come across the second accompaniment before (can't remember which rhythm), but it's also an uncommon one:
Koteba Djembe 2:
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The dunduns were played ballet style, so I don't have separate parts for dundunba, sangban, and kenkeni. Here is how Malin played the dunduns:
Koteba ballet dunduns:
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The dancers did Mendiani, Mane, a sabar rhythm, Jondon, Sunu, and Jelidon, all of which included breaks and/or stops. In his usual style, Epizo sort of taught these "on the side" to the drummers, during dance class, which made for quite a learning curve.
Epizo's teaching style is the same as always, but he's softening a little bit more each year Still, he is a demanding teacher: especially from the advanced drummers, he expects concentration and 100% commitment, which got harder and harder as the week went on, with everyone short on sleep… I admire him for dedication though. Every year he teaches this camp, he works incredibly hard, putting absolutely every last ounce of his energy into it and manages to inspire people to reach deep. His style is very different from most other teachers, harder and more demanding. Still, there was plenty of laughter during classes, with Epizo cracking jokes and clowning.
The final performance and party were worth it. The performance went well, without any serious glitches, and the party afterwards truly rocked. We ended up jamming until 2:00am, with the crowning highlight being a short performance by Malin and Epizo on djembe. Those ten or so minutes were truly worth it. I consider Epizo one of the best djembe players in the world. His musicality and technique are absolutely world class.
Overall, this was a great camp, despite the challenging conditions. I'll most likely be there again next year. It's in a beautiful location (usually with really nice weather), and the people are wonderful. If you possibly can, be there for the next one, it really is a great holiday as well as a great camp. Oh yes, the food prepared by the community is simply awesome—it's almost worth attending just for that