My copy also arrived in the mail last Friday.
keep me posted when the book arrives, let me know what you think!
O.k., here is my review of the book:
After the reading I was puzzled: what is this book about, what did the author want to tell me? Coming from reading Eric Cherrys book on Mande music, I can tell it certainly is not a book written in a thorough scientific manner, but rather in a romantic or poetic spirit. But then, there are those informative and analytic passages... It is hard to label this book, for sure.
Leaning on the text itself for what the book is about, the confusion is just growing: „a celebration of Malinké music as well as an attempt at chronicling just one of the many ways in which humans have created meaning and expressed themselves through culture“; „part travelogue, part sketchbook“, „a musical and visual journey up the Djoliba river in Guinea to explore ancient music traditions, as well as to understand the challenge that face a country 'balancing between the world of its ancient traditions at the frontier of modern ideals and influences'; and, last but not least, “a unique and valuable resource for musicians, educators, and travel enthusiasts alike.” At times the author seems to push too hard, when he denotes the book might even help to preserve the culture of the Malinké for the people in Guinea (pp. 67-69).
So I thought the author himself might have been confused about the purpose of his book. Perhaps there where just all these sketches and notations and some stories to tell that could somehow fit into a book, even if constituting a cacophony of means and aims. But going back and reading again and again, I realized that this is a polymethodic approach, just reflecting the poyrhythmic music of the culture this book is about.
The author is melting his 6 years of 3 months long trips to Guinea into one story of a round-trip from the capital Conakry to the heartland of Mande music in the Kouroussa region with Famoudou Konaté and his entourage, depicting his experiences and feelings in sometimes poetic and lively images. Sketches, drawings and occasionally photos of landscapes and people help the imagination, so do notations of rhythms he talks about. He takes us with him on his trip, so that we can take part in his experiences. Woven into the fabric of the story about the trip are background information on the experiences so that we can understand them in their context. We learn about the history of the people, the Sundiata epic, the clash of modern western ideas and equipment with tradition in Guinea, the religious and social composition of the Malinké, and some of the important feasts and masks in the villages. The trip ends in a nightmare with the author returning to Conakry just as the big strike in opposition to Lansana Contés regime hit the capital, with no chance to leave the country and almost completely out of resources. This is quite a story and – at least for me- the climax of the 6-years-in-one trip account. At the end of the book we find the section of 12 rhythms notated in the fashion of Mamady Keitas and Uschi Billmeiers book.
The complete book is beautiful and done with love and accuracy. I think it will be great for djembe enthusiasts from the United States who have never been to Guinea, for it'll probably meet their expectations. It is a story of hardships, adventures, and personal growth, of beauty, miracles, friendship, rhythms, and a culture rooted in ancient traditions (I couldn't count the many references to old age, ageless, ancient traditions and the like), all embedded in an enchanting and optimistic spirit. Well, it is meant to be a celebration, and this spirit is what many people seek when they enter into djembe-classes, I guess.
For me, though, the book is a disappointment. I like it more concrete and to the point. Solemn words do not suffice for me. Foremost, the musical output is very small compared to the long time the author spent in the area. 6 years of 3 months sum up to an astonishing one and a half years in the country. But we are mostly presented with just 12 rhythms in their basic forms, no djembe solo phrases, hardly any variations of the duns – with the exception of Konden and Mendiani. It seems that most, if not all, notations derive from Famoudous teaching, which most of us know anyway. Accordingly, some misinformation is carried here too, such as that all Dundunba rhythms start with the basa-tin bada ba signal. I also doubt that the signal sssSS.oooOOOS is unique to Konden. It would have been so interesting to learn about the variations of rhythms and traditions in the different villages of the area, but in the text the villages are nameless, not even Sangbarala, the obvious destination of the trip, is mentioned once, let alone the names of other drummers than Famoudou (villages and drummers are only generally mentioned on a map and a list in the book). If we take the high ambitions of the author seriously, we should preserve the rhythmic diversity of the area by capturing it on tape and notation before this knowledge is gone for good. But the book is all eyes, not ears. IMO, at least the rhythms in the book and the corresponding songs should be captured on a CD that comes with the book.
As I said, it is supposed to be a celebration and I cannot really demand a celebration to be more critical, but I have an uneasy feeling about it. The book provides some interesting knowledge for readers interested in going to Hamanah themselves, but as a celebration it repeats lots of stereotypes about a rough, but meaning-full live in Africa without the burden of time-consuming modern world gadgets and obligations, about friendship and hospitality. For my own experience in Guinea was striking how poor and hungry people where, how desperate to leave the country and to do almost everything for that (as almost everybody asked me to help for in Conakry), how quickly people died from one day to another, people you did some drumming with the day before, how friendship and hospitality was often connected to hopes of me helping people come to Europe, how drummers where even willing to give me their little children to take them with me to Europe or their wife for a night, how strenuous life was when you had to bargain everything time and again. I remember how people changed when the international djembe-tourists came to the courses, how everything was staged and almost as natural as Disneyland. When the author writes that “Soli
is the family of music that accompanies the all important rites of initiation of the young boys into adulthood, which culminates with their circumcision”, he is silent about the girls initiation which culminates with their excision! I know, that is not exactly attractive for most of the students and might bring some problems with their willingness to drum such rhythms, but we should paint the picture with true colors if we start painting, I guess. When the author asks himself about the ethical implications of us going there and changing things he comes up with the feel-good story that Famoudou, Mamady, and Mansa alike provide, that our interest in their music keeps tradition alive for the youth in Guinea. I am more sceptical about that. I'd rather know than feel good...
One of the two feasts described by the author was staged, as he himself suggests. But what about the Tabaski feast? I don't know enough about it. Does it start with Dundunba till afternoon, does the Balanen mask dance in the evening and does Konden Diarra come shortly after that and back again in the night? Or is that staged, too? Or is that just due to the narrative technique of melting the experiences of several different events, again?