Discuss culture and traditions
By bubudi
#4391
in this video billy konate demonstrates the way the djembe can mimic speech. here's a rough translation of what he's saying. there's a nice little djembekan at the end.
look, everybody. the djembe is deep. it has its own language and can talk as we do every day. for example, i say 'nankouma'. my name is nankouma. and on the djembe we play (plays: nan kouma). that's nankouma, it's my name. and when you want to call, for example, famoudou (plays: fa mudu). and for example, in our village one says 'nna'. that means 'my mother'. nna (plays muted slap).
By bubudi
#28472
i thought i'd try to revive this thread and see if anyone had other examples of dunun or djembe phrases that had corresponding phrases in maninka. wasn't there a couple in that youtube video called 'foli'?

daniel p should know plenty, i would think.
#28525
an interesting and difficult topic, I guess, especially if we don't speak maninka.

daniel is in Upper Guinea for a couple of weeks, I think, so he cannot chime in. he said something about the meaning of the dununs in Denmusonikelen:
the dundun melody "says" something like (better: the most current interpretation of the dundun melody means) "a young girl's sex". We all leave this out while talking about the rhythm and by using this "name" for it: denmusoni kelen just means "a young girl". Africans sometimes use "denmusoni sen kelen" - "a young girl's leg", which could fit to the melody as well. The whole thing is even "worse", if we consider the first dundunba stroke of the melody a part of the semantic unity, too: it can only be understodd as "i" - so: "you". The whole thing then becomes something like "you little girl's (...)", and that's why it's not often spelled completely.
The interpretations can change, though: In Sangbarala they "invented" the meaning of "yen yenna dyede bara" some years ago and the Sangban blocage was "nfa Musa di tama" (father Moussa is walking a lot, where - in the meaning of "behind which girl" - have you seen him today").
And some people just call the rhythm "Hamana dundun".
I read a german masters thesis by Ulrike Steer, who -- with her husband -- used to organize trips to Mansa in Baro. The title translates into something like: drumming rhythms of the Malinke in Baro and their social context. In chapter 8 she provides some examples of djembe patterns and speech. She cites Mansa for "Bring me 10 plates of rice and 9 chicken, put them there no matter if we are already there or not." She does not provide the Maninka nor the pattern, though. She claims a lot of these patterns circle around food and then gives the example:

1...2...
sttstts.


she claims it says la-kudu la-kudu ba, meaning fishballs, big fishballs.

Another example she gives is for Soro during the work on the field:

1...2...
tt.s.s.s


bidi na na na = you, come closer, but only bent over

I don't know if she got it right and if this is a variation to what Mansa shows in the foli video at 5:28 or if this actually was supposed to be this more common pattern:

1...2...
tt.s..s.


[video]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVPLIuBy9CY[/video]

her last example is particularly funny and interesting at the same time. this pattern has different meanings in different contexts, she claims:

1...2...
ssttss..


it can say kaya kili basa (you dick-balls-lizard) or kana kudu bana (the sorrows are gone). she cites Mansa for it:
"when the barati work and I play this pattern in that situation, they know I insult them and thus incite them to take their work more seriously. But when the hardship of work is over I use this pattern for the dance right after the work and they understand, the trouble is gone. And then, when they dance without having done any work before, its an insult again in order to incite them to dance well. its the situation that changes this pattern." (i.e. the meaning of it)

Then I have some footage of Mansa teaching some french students on video. he teaches the solo accompaniment for Soli:

1..2..3..4..
tts.bs.bs.bs


he says its meaning is dulumba, timba, timba, timba (the elephant has big ears).

I told some people knowing more about the language and culture than I do about all those examples and they were very sceptic. Mansa is not interested in the "scientific" approach. he tells different stories depending on who asks on what occasion. I cannot say how reliable his words on this are. There is also this funny story of a friend of mine who tried to decipher the meaning of the passpart accomp on 12/8:

1..2..3..4..
s.ts..s.ts..

he said he asked many drummers about it and every single one came up with a different answer, one guy had even two meanings for it! He never tried to decipher the meaning of patterns again...
so I am also sceptical about the exact meaning of certain patterns in Maninka drumming. this is not to say there are none, but they seem to vary with time, place, person, and context.

In Kouroussa, Namoury Keita, the assistant of Mamady Traoré, did show me this pattern:

1...2...3...4...
s.tts.b.s.b.....


ko berika be-ri-ka
(thank you very much) which doesn't seem to make sense seeing the repetition in words doesn't reflect in the pattern. they showed this to me after they had much fun drumming insulting patterns after some dudes from the village were passing by. those dudes didn't seem to care, so I don't know if they even understood the meaning of the patterns.

that is all I can contribute to this topic so far...

best, jürgen
Last edited by djembefeeling on Tue Aug 21, 2012 5:13 pm, edited 3 times in total.
User avatar
By michi
#28531
I'd love to read that thesis! Do you have a link?

As to "language" with djembes, yes, there is such a thing as a language, but only in a very limited sense. The phonetic range of the drum is too small to mimic speech. So, any "messages" you send that way are necessarily very simple and context-dependent. In essence, they are meaningless without context and so not a real language in the sense of a human spoken language.

There is a lot of information-theoretical research to back this up too, having to do with bit rates, Shannon's theorem, and a lot of other technical stuff I won't bore you with. What it boils down to is that a djembe language is not like a language such as morse code, which can be used to transmit messages of arbitrary complexity and content. In this sense, calling the djembe a "signalling drum" or "bush telegraph" is inappropriate even though, in the right context and with trained listeners, it can convey simple pre-agreed-upon messages.

Cheers,

Michi.
User avatar
By Carl
#28537
Another interesting component to this information carrying component of music in a cultural context.

For example, if someone hears Soko being played in the distance, there is quite a lot of information carried in that moment. But this has more to do with the cultural significance of the rhythm, than any transliteration of speech to the drum.

I would be interested to hear what players with village experience think about "situationally correct" soloing/rhythm choice as a concept.

for example, if there is a "incorrect" solo technique for a situation, why is it incorrect? What would it be implying that would not be appropriate?

If there is such a thing, it would be interesting to see the "information carrying" implications for the music.

Once again jumping off the deep end...

C
By bkidd
#28539
All of the phrases that I've heard about have been context specific (call for a specific dance, or step, etc.) or used as teaching/memory aids. These seem to be the simplest explanation for any connection between language and musical phrases. Especially given what has already been said and the same instruments being used for different languages (making a universal language association for the djembe more implausible).

Carl, as for "incorrect" solo techniques. I think anything that was counter to dance steps might qualify.

Best,
-Brian
User avatar
By Carl
#28541
bkidd wrote:Carl, as for "incorrect" solo techniques. I think anything that was counter to dance steps might qualify.
Actually, I was thinking more of a connotative implication of solo or dance step. for example, if you played a solo technique that is usually played in one context (say a wedding) but you played it in an "inappropriate" setting (like a funeral).

I personally do not know of any examples like this, I am just thinking about associative meaning in music.

In our culture, it might be seen as "tasteless" to play a funeral dirge at a wedding... or it might seem funny for the same reason.

:-)

C
By bkidd
#28545
Actually, I was thinking more of a connotative implication of solo or dance step. for example, if you played a solo technique that is usually played in one context (say a wedding) but you played it in an "inappropriate" setting (like a funeral).
Good question. I think this depends on whether someone knows the context or not. Part of what's happening in music is that "traditional" phrases that go with specific rhythms are being used as generic phrases that can be plugged into any rhythm. If people don't know that a solo phrase was originally intended to go with rhythms for weddings (for example) and one plugged it into an initiation rhythm, then no one would care. However, some people might give you funny looks or wonder what was going on if they knew.

Btw, as far as I know, the djembe isn't played at funerals. But I'd be happy to learn otherwise.

Best,
-Brian
By bkidd
#28547
Michel wrote:
hocus pocus pilatus pas...... (t.tt.t.tt.t.t...) ;)

Djembefeeling wrote:
you learned that at hogwarts, didn't you? :lol:
that's where all the djembe wizard training takes place. sign me up! 8-)
#28548
bkidd wrote:
Actually, I was thinking more of a connotative implication of solo or dance step. for example, if you played a solo technique that is usually played in one context (say a wedding) but you played it in an "inappropriate" setting (like a funeral).
Good question. I think this depends on whether someone knows the context or not. Part of what's happening in music is that "traditional" phrases that go with specific rhythms are being used as generic phrases that can be plugged into any rhythm. If people don't know that a solo phrase was originally intended to go with rhythms for weddings (for example) and one plugged it into an initiation rhythm, then no one would care. However, some people might give you funny looks or wonder what was going on if they knew.

Btw, as far as I know, the djembe isn't played at funerals. But I'd be happy to learn otherwise.

Best,
-Brian
phrasing for dununba rhythms is an example if you're getting into specifics re: traditional type solo.

some djembe can be played at funerals. depends on what's customary in the village. i think someone posted some info re: nununakabolo. Bolokada has also said that he's played for funerals and that the music usually pertains to whatever profession or association the deceased belonged too.
User avatar
By michi
#28549
bkidd wrote:Btw, as far as I know, the djembe isn't played at funerals. But I'd be happy to learn otherwise.
I haven't heard of the Malinke using djembes at funerals but, as Duga indicated, apparently it does happen at least occasionally.

In Ghana, it's a different matter. Funerals are the biggest bash of a person's life (or, rather, death). Huge party, dancers, drummers, singers, contortionists, the works. Plenty of djembes to be seen there. (Prior to the sixties or seventies, it was Ghanaian drums rather than djembes.)

Cheers,

Michi.