- Fri Apr 13, 2018 9:28 am
OK, I’ve formulated my thoughts in more detail
1) The building blocks of the system are "rhythms". It seems the curriculum was made by taking rhythm list from the "Life for the Djembe" book and trying to arrange it in levels.
This is problematic, because the building blocks of the djembe/dunun music are patterns. Most rhythms have easy and challenging parts. This is to some extent address this by splitting the djembe and dunun learning paths in the first three levels, but I think it is not enough.
This building of curriculum from rhythms has led to some strange choices. Like, ternary rhythms are introduced in the dunun part of the curriculum with Garangedon. While kenkeni part is not that difficult, the dundunba is a two bar cycle, and the sangban is mostly off-beat. Not the best patterns to start off IMO. I think the simple on-the -beat kenkeni should be the starting point in learning the dundun (and maybe even before the djembe).
2) The choice of rhythms is debatable. Too many similar binaries, some culturally important ones not included, some popular dance class rhythms also not included. Also, there are a couple of inconsistencies - Balakulandjan and Sunun are in the djembe, but not in the dunundun curriculum.
3) The repertoire is too broad. Consider this - to complete the beginner's stage (levels 1-3), you need to know parts of 24 rhythms. In djembe curriculum this means 29 accompaniment patterns, and in dundun - 54 patterns. Learning this many patterns can be distracting from other important things, and give false sense of “knowledge”.
4) At the same time the material (just like the "Life for the djembe" book) is too shallow. It does not mention the echauffements, blocages, dundun variations, solo accompaniments and phrases, swing or “feel” … perhaps you’re supposed to learn all that later. Intermediate and advanced levels have the 12 “solo originals”, but not the other things.
5) It does not clearly say which parts are invented, and which – traditional. In fact, some of the listed accompaniments are more like lead djembe ride (aka solo accompaniment). Many of the kenkeni parts are invented as well (the bell on kenkeni – completely), as has been discussed on this forum before.
6) Very basic cultural information is given for each rhythm, but does not describe in much detail how actually each of the festivals occur - songs, dance etc. Last year there was an announcement that there will be a dance curriculum, but no further details are known.
7) The curriculum is meant to teach traditional rhythms, and the TTM academy, with its DRTM manifesto, is intended to preserve the traditional culture. Yet, one can wonder, which tradition is it, exactly? By now African ballet is also a tradition. The instructor testing requirements also include 10 breaks and teacher testing requires arrangement of “a pyramid arrangement of at least 3 traditional rhythms”. All the videos released so far are either from workshops or stage performances.
It might sincerely be MK’s understanding of what “culture” is, as he has been a performer all his adult life. The professional ballets lifted the music and dance to new levels of technical virtuosity, so in some sense they are the pinnacle of his country’s culture. I might be wrong, though, as I don’t know him personally.
Unfortunately, the modern civilization has lost most of its participatory traditional musical festivals and rituals, and the general public consumes professionally created music as passive audience. So, in a way, this curriculum is just a realistic (and business minded) response to these trends. The beginner levels of djembe curriculum seem oriented towards people who go to djembe classes as a form of recreation, and need variety of material to maintain their interest. Once past certain beginner-intermediate level, people want to perform before an audience (because that’s what musicians do, right?), and TTM system gives them some material for this: 10 breaks, 12 solos, but it is debatable whether that is "traditional".
To wrap-up, I sincerely agree to what djembefeeling said 7 years back – that an internationally recognized system might help in raising the quality of djembe music, so that it is taken more seriously by the general public. However, this particular curriculum has quite a few drawbacks, and an alternative would be really welcome!