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Mini-Guinea Singapore, Sep 2010, Day 1-4

Permanent Linkby michi on Tue Sep 14, 2010 2:51 am

A quick update on the Singapore camp...

I got there on the morning of the first session and met Mamady outside the venue. He looked a lot more lively and happy than he did last time I saw him at the end of April. He's smiling a lot and the spring is back in his step. Good to see!

About 48 people are attending the workshop. Not all of them will be there for the entire time--some people are leaving early, others are arriving late. So far, numbers seem to be stable in the high fourties.

Day 1

Mamady did the usual thing of spending the first day with everyone together, to sort people into intermediate and advanced groups. He did four rhythms in the first two sessions: Liberte (4/4), Djansa, Garangedon, and Saranken. Saranken is one of Mamady's compositions. "Saran" is the name of a woman, and "ken" means "beautiful". Mamady explained that he wrote the rhythm in homage to everything that is beautiful in women. Not the beauty on the outside but, as Mamady put it, the beauty that "is in the heart".

At the end of the session, Mamady split the groups into 26 intermediates and 22 advanced players. He said that there are only three or four people here whom he really would call "advanced". Comparing with the standard of playing last May in San Diego, I'd say that there are fewer people here whom I'd call "near beginners", and fewer people with "two left hands". At the same time, there are also fewer advanced players, and the distribution seems to be strongly bunched in the middle, with the median at what you might call "early intermediate level".

In the evening, Mamady started teaching the pyramid. Saranken is the first rhythm in the pyramid, with a short intro. At the end of Saranken, there is a long break that goes on for a little over two minutes. Mamady said he first played that break for a pyramid in 1973 (which puts it in the Ballet Djoliba days, as far as I know). The break is technically quite easy to play, but sounds interesting and surprising. Quite a lot of fun, actually.

Day 2

The intermediate class started the solo original for Djansa. People were struggling a bit, especially with the rolls in the fifth phrase, but mostly got there.

The advanced group did Zaouli 4. A well-chosen piece, given the skill level in the class--the break is technically simple, so you don't have to be a speed wizard to play it.

The pyramid class continued to work on the break and finished that. The second rhythm in the pyramid is Sunu, with a really surprising transition from the end of the break into the rhythm. There are a few small breaks at the beginning of Sunu that are easy to play and effecdtive (and only took a few minutes to learn).

Day 3

The intermediates finished the solo original for Djansa and moved on to Kono. Kono is another one of Mamady's compositions. "Kono" means "bird". Mamady told a story where he was walking through the bush and heard a bunch of birds singing up in a tree. The rhythm was inspired by these bird calls. Mamady said that, after a while, the birds changed their song, making a different rhythm, and he was trying to get closer to have a better listen. Unfortunately, there were a lot of dry leaves on the ground and, as he moved, the noise from the leaves frightend a lizard that took off, making yet more noise and scaring the birds away; as a result, Mamady never captured that second rhythm.

Kono is a 4/4 piece with an interesting djembe part. Easy to play, but effective. At the end of the session, Mamady added a ballet-style arrangement for the rhythm with an intro and a few breaks. Just before the end of the session, he played quite a long solo. I have a recording of this but, due to my connectivity problems, posting the sound clip may have to wait until I get back home.

The advanced group worked on the solo original for Soboninkun. A lot of people were struggling with this, espcially the feel of the phrases toward the end of the solo, which progressively shorten and then end up crossing the bar. We didn't quite finish the solo original--the echauffement is still missing.

The pyramid class rehearsed the break once again (which is coming together nicely and is starting to sound quite good). The third rhythm in the pyramid is Sofa. Anyone who has learned Sofa from Mamady will know the ballet-style arrangement for it. I was a little surprised to see that Mamady put four binary rhythms back-to-back in the pyramid. That's the first time I've seen him do this. I guess he'll continue to surprise me as I study with him...

Day 4

No drumming today, but the first day of the djembe conference. About twenty of us spent five hours talking about djembe-related stuff, such as drumming circles, teaching, what can be done to retain students over long periods, how to help them progress, and the merits and demerits of formal gradings. It was an interesting session, partly due to the number of Chinese people present who didn't speak English. A few people helped out with translating and we ended up with a lively dialog.

Watch China over the next few years! It looks like the Chinese are taking to the djembe with a vengeance and, like the Japanese, tend to take it very seriously, working on their skills with a lot of dedication. I expect the standard of playing in China to rise rapidly over the next few years. If the djembe really takes off in China, we could end up with more Chinese players than the players of all the remaining countries put together...

We ended the session with a viewing of the "energy transfer technique", which got a good laugh and a big round of applause at the end :-)

Day 5

The day hasn't really started yet. At 1:00pm Jeremy will do a djembe reskinning demonstration. Should be fun to compare technique and exchange tips with another drum maker. From 5:00pm to 7:00pm, Mamady will do a Q&A session. I'm looking forward to that--when Mamady gets going, all sorts of interesting facts come out, and I learn something new every time I listen to him.

The pyramid class will run from 7:00pm to 9:pm today.

3 Comments Viewed 120755 times

Re: Mini-Guinea Singapore, Sep 2010, Day 1-4

Permanent Linkby bubudi on Tue Sep 14, 2010 7:13 am

nice one! i think the chinese students would have particularly got a kick out of that energy transfer video! i've no doubt china will produce a lot of good djembe players.

i'd love to hear saranken and the pyramid break after it. also, if you don't mind summarising some of the points in the conference about teaching issues. thanks in advance.
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Re: Mini-Guinea Singapore, Sep 2010, Day 1-4

Permanent Linkby michi on Thu Sep 16, 2010 12:59 am

I'm still having technical problems with the PC here. For some reason, uploads to the forum don't complete, so I haven't been able to upload sound clips. I'm currently installing the latest version of IE8 in the hope that this will help.

Also, I'm somewhat short on sleep because it's been all late nights and early mornings, which makes it tough to keep things up to date here. Also, I can't get to the computer in the afternoon break, so it's either early morning or very late at night when I can post stuff. Will do my best to get those sound clips up eventually.

Teaching topics revolved mainly around what we can do to retain students long term, so we don't lose them after a few months. There was a fair bit of talk about the merits of a formal grading system. For some students, this provides a challenge and an incentive to keep moving ahead and to study in a more focussed way than they would otherwise. Kelvin here has developed a voluntary eight-step (I think it's eight) grading system to give his more keen students "something to chew on".

I can see how something like this can help motivate people. At the same time, I have concerns. For one, some people are not playing djembe to continuously improve and to achieve as much as possible, but simply for the fun and social aspects. Second, I'm concerned that it might create a class system:

    "What's your level?"
    "I'm level 3."
    "Oh, I'm a level 7, I won't bother playing with you."
The comparative and competitive aspects of a grading system raise concerns for me. To me, making music is first and foremost about artistic expression and the joy of creating, and no grading system will ever capture someone's musicality (only a person's skill level). So, one, I'm worried that a grading system will not capture what I consider most important and, two, that it might put people off rather than encourage them.

I'll have to give this more thought...

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Re: Mini-Guinea Singapore, Sep 2010, Day 1-4

Permanent Linkby michi on Thu Sep 23, 2010 3:08 am

bubudi wrote:i'd love to hear saranken and the pyramid break after it.

I posted a recording of the pyramid rehearsal in the Media section. Saranken is the first rhythm.


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