Discuss traditional rhythms, singing etc
By VagabonTribe
#9620
After about 4 years in Mali studying jenbe and just havin fun hangin with Africans, I started to question what I was doing. Actually, playing percussion with kora and guitar virtuoso Lamine Soumano was the catalyst for that thought. (from Yaya Coulibaly - Bambara teacher in Bamako - the correct spelling of the jenbe in English is that. Djembe is a French deformation of the word and because there is no hard "j" sound in French they are required to put a d in front of it. They mis- interpreted the middle sound - it is virtually impossible to transition from the n to b without closing your lips and implying an m in the word. According to Yaya the m in jenbe is incorrect. I don't plan on changing anyone's use - just an interesting point)

Every time I went back to the US the only use I had for the music was teaching a workshop. What was a white guy in the US gonna do with a bunch of traditional jenbe knowledge? I could sing dozens of songs, knew dozens of phrases to accompany dances, multiple variations of rhythms from numerous ethnic groups and regions, knew what rhythms we were going into when the jelimusso began the song, could layer in multiple time signatures, had developed two clean, unique slap sounds, had carved a bit, knew all the ins and outs of a well-carved jenbe, how to build and maintain the instrument, etc. etc.

I met Lamine Soumano in Siguiri, Guinea while studying with a griot family there, the Kouyate clan - known as the famille Konkoba (you can see a pic of the Konkoba on www.malikan.com). The Konkoba is a jeli manifestation, not to be confused with the konkoba farming rhythm for the jenbe. That is a whole other explanation which I don't want to go into at the moment. Anyway I asked Lamine what he was doing - he said he was coming from Ivory Coast via Conakry and heading to Bamako, he was a cousin of the family and would pass the night there. I asked what he did and he said he was a mercenary - there was a war goin on in IC so I figured he meant he was some type of revolutionary. I didn't know he was a musician at the time. He then explained that he is a musician mercenary, anything, anywhere, anytime. He taught himself to play kora and guitar starting at age 15. His side of the family were orators and his grandfather was the head griot in Bamako for a number of years. He just wanted to play music. He never went to school a day in his life, didn't read or write, just played music. Had been to Europe a number of times as a kora solist for Adama Drama from Burkina, and was the former guitarist/composer for Ami Koita. A very respectable resume.

About 4 months later I hooked up with him in Bamako and we started to play together late at night in his bedroom in Bamako. I'd accompany on calabash and he would play guitar or kora. Every time I would ask him what he wanted me to play he would say, play whatever you want. I would, then he would stop and tell me to play it how he wanted it. This went on for a while until I started to understand the form of Maninka instrumental music.

My jenbe studies had already shown me that most all rhythms fit into 3 family groups. Each rhythm typically has a unique konkoni part, but the jenbe accompaniments are varied, yet consistent throughout the family of rhythms. Each rhythm has unique solo phrases that accompany certain dance steps, but there are family phrases also, general solo phrases that are played in any rhythm from that family. I had already started to recognize that the accompanying ensemble behind the solist would change how they played some rhythms at various times, either under the direction of the soloist or just on their own. Rarely did the soloist tell them to change back to what they were playing. Recognizing the family, not the specific rhythm, became important and liberating. I now had different accompaniments to choose from and no-one would say - no, that's wrong. The dununba has no specific part, yet is complimentary to the rhythm and has certain consistencies throughout the families also. Ultimately the dununba is there to accompany the soloist and compliment his phrasing. The picture became very clear.

Ok, back to Lamine. So I realized there were certain "rules" in playing the music that they follow, even if they can't verbalize those rules. How percussion lines up with the other instruments, recognizing the family of music the specific song comes from, etc. He wasn't interested in hearing a specific line, rather something that compliments the song, typically in the feel of that specific family. Lamine introduced me to some Ivoirian drummers who knew little about traditional Malian drumming, or Ivoirian drumming - they were true musicians - could hear the song and instantly knew how to compliment it. To them traditional jenbe was a different arena. They were percussionists playing in an instrumental ensemble, the needs of which are very different. This was when I changed from a goat to a cowskin on my jenbe - the sound compliments the instrumental ensemble much better, especially indoors. The goatskin jenbe was developed as an outdoor instrument to be played in drumming ensembles. The sound one is striving for in each situation is much different. I then realized that learning traditional jenbe, while fun and interesting, would have its limits for me. But learning to simply play the instrument as a tool of percussion was a really useful endeavor.

Over the past year I have been focusing on my band (www.vagabontribe.com) and kamel n'goni. Haven't touched my jenbe much except to play on a few occasions with two groups here in Mauritania.

I guess I want to encourage people to not feel the necessity to understand every rhythm in its "traditional ensemble form", rather learn to play the instrument itself. Learn about families of rhythms and recognizing how the jenbe compliments other drums or other instruments. None of us are ever going to take over the African corner on the jenbe playing market. Yes, learning the basics of the form is respectful. But if your desire is to play music, in lots of forms, traditional jenbe can be limiting in that it doesn't teach one how to play in the instrumental ensemble.

There is nothing bad about traditional jenbe. I spent almost ten years doing it. But meeting Lamine and other musicians not focused on traditional jenbe was very liberating. Opened me up to a whole new world of music and musicians. Set me down the road to learning the kamel n'goni and composing.

I am reminded of what Sega Sidibe told me when I began to study with him. He said just learn one rhyhtm really well, stick with it for a long period of time, and you willunderstand the jenbe. I told him I wanted to learn Sunu, he said no. I wanted to learn N'grii, he said no. He was the one who turned me onto recognizing the family of rhythms. I eventually moved on to other teachers, villages, and groups. learned dozens of rhythms and songs from all over Mali. Was really building my repertoire. Then I met Lamine (refer to above). After I recognized what Lamine was trying to tell me I finally understood what Sega meant. he knoew I was just some white American and my experience would be limited. Had I listened to him I may have come to the same realizations I made with Lamine much earlier. But I enjoyed all of my experiences so, no worries.

Just wanted to share some thoughts.
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By Dugafola
#9622
I guess I want to encourage people to not feel the necessity to understand every rhythm in its "traditional ensemble form", rather learn to play the instrument itself. Learn about families of rhythms and recognizing how the jenbe compliments other drums or other instruments. None of us are ever going to take over the African corner on the jenbe playing market. Yes, learning the basics of the form is respectful. But if your desire is to play music, in lots of forms, traditional jenbe can be limiting in that it doesn't teach one how to play in the instrumental ensemble.

There is nothing bad about traditional jenbe. I spent almost ten years doing it. But meeting Lamine and other musicians not focused on traditional jenbe was very liberating. Opened me up to a whole new world of music and musicians. Set me down the road to learning the kamel n'goni and composing.
i pretty much agree with everything you posted. thanks for taking the time.

but wouldn't you say that your 10 years of trad. study helped you make the jump to playing in other instrumental ensembles? it seems to me that it'd be the next logical step for someone who has the breadth of knowledge and experience as yourself.
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By michi
#9624
Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts, Rusty!
Learn about families of rhythms and recognizing how the jenbe compliments other drums or other instruments.
The more time I spend with this music and the more skills I acquire on the djembe, the more I see this "larger picture". There is a language in the music, with syntax and grammar, and with quite strong (not strict) rules about what works and what doesn't. At this point, much of this picture is still hazy for me. But ongoing exposure to the music and ongoing study gradually brings more pieces into focus.

I suspect that my initial attraction to this music was that I subconsciously sensed this underlying richness--it touched something inside me very strongly.

I agree with Duga that traditional study almost certainly helps with the transition to ensembles and non-traditional music. I have some experience of playing djembe in a 14-piece band playing roots and popular music. Being able to draw on my traditional learning certainly helped me work out what on the djembe works with a particular non-traditional piece, and it also helped me to recognize the songs where nothing would work and the most respectful thing to do was to remain silent.
I am reminded of what Sega Sidibe told me when I began to study with him. He said just learn one rhyhtm really well, stick with it for a long period of time, and you willunderstand the jenbe.
The story of many masters having played accompaniment only for many years before ever playing their first solo is making more and more sense to me. It's as if there has to be a minimum amount of exposure time to this music. That time builds the foundation and solidity that is necessary to take the next step and make music instead of noise.

As I learn more, I realise how many people only make noise on the djembe. Some people who, three years ago, I thought where good players now don't sound so good to me. They have good technique, are fast, have a rich repertoire of phrases, good sense of time, etc. Yet, they seem to never quite get in tune with the underlying meaning and emotional content of the music. The artistry is missing and what comes out is skillful noise, not music. Somehow, they send a message that indicates they don't really understand and feel what they are doing.

Yet, other people who are technically nowhere near as skilled can make me full of joy. They seem to have an intuitive understanding of the groove and the underlying structure and make music. What comes out is artistry that is deeply satisfying, despite the limited skill set.

I think this intuitive understanding of the meaning of the music is an essential prerequisite for producing art. No amount of skill can compensate for lack of that understanding.

And technical wizardry is definitely not necessary to make wonderful music. Listen to people like Sega Cisse or Mady Keita for examples. Technically, they are not a shade on many players. Yet, they are called masters by many, and I can listen to them for hours without getting bored.

Cheers,

Michi.
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By bops
#9625
Hey Rusty, you bring up some interesting points. Thanks.

In particular, what you said about learning families of rhythms rather than focusing on learning every individual part for every rhythm you come across, and about learning to play with an ensemble rather than learning traditional stuff. I think you're right, from a very broad perspective. But how will a student arrive at an understanding of that concept? One doesn't become a good "ensemble" jembe player without first learning the vocabulary of the jembe. This can only happen by playing all of those traditional rhythms - on jembe and dunun.

I play jembe in a couple of instrumental groups as well as with a dance company. (I also like the cowskin BTW) One of the groups is kamale n'gonifola Tani Diakite's band - you and I have talked about him before - and the other is an afrojazz/afrobeat group. There's no way I could play in these bands without having played for thousands of dance classes and rehearsals, and studied traditional rhythms in depth.

I know exactly what you mean about "knowing what to play" when you hear the n'goni (or kora) line. You don't sit there and think... "hm, would n'gri work with this tune? No, I think maraka would be better." You have to play the tune.

I know a jembefola, a Guinean expat, who has an Afropop band. They play songs by Ibro Diabate, etc. He has played in a few ballets in Conakry, but hasn't been schooled in the deep tradition. It's interesting to see what he plays to accompany the group. It's always passport accompaniment. You know, the band is great, fun to dance to. But I always wonder why he's playing ballet accompaniment over guitar, bass, and drumset. You really have to develop a style for the ensemble you're playing with. That's one reason why Soungalo is my #1... he was the most musical jembefola I have ever heard. He could play both traditional and instrumental music. In fact, he really pioneered a style of instrumental music that is starting to be imitated more and more these days. Have you noticed that?
#9630
Thanks for the comments. Wisconsin cold?

Although studying traditional jenbe can be an excellent training ground, it is not a necessary training. The guys I've worked with from the ivory coast, Senegal, and Mauritania didn't all receive their training in drum ensembles on the streets. They learned to play in the midst of other instruments, drawing on all the same principles as traditional music (obviously it is right next to them every week, how could they not know what the rhythms are). The way one plays the jenbe in the instrumental ensemble is different from traditional jenbe.

I played a bit with Adama Diarra who used to play with Soungalo for a number of years. He speaks very highly of him also. I find the concept of a guitarist teaching you how to play jenbe very interesting, disturbing, and pleasing all at the same time. Some of you may realize that an African guitarist tellin you what to play on jenbe is a wee bit different than someone from the other side of the pond.

I had already played brass instruments earlier in life so had a decent musical foundation before I ever came to drumming. bops, you'll have to come play with our group when we're in the area.
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By e2c
#9632
Some of you may realize that an African guitarist tellin you what to play on jenbe is a wee bit different than someone from the other side of the pond.
imo, this "some of you" thing is pretty elitist. And if you're playing a gig with a guitarist on "this side of the pond" who wants you to do specific things for accompaniment, I'd like to submit that you'd [plural] be wise to listen to them... Your gig (and your pay) could very well depend on it.

Or else you could blow off said guitarist by claiming that you [plural] know more than he/she does and you'll be damned if you'll do it their way - or you could work with them in terms of possibly introducing some alternative musical ideas.

There's more than one way to go about this stuff.

edited to add - I agree with what bops has said in this graph -
...what you said about learning families of rhythms rather than focusing on learning every individual part for every rhythm you come across, and about learning to play with an ensemble rather than learning traditional stuff. I think you're right, from a very broad perspective. But how will a student arrive at an understanding of that concept? One doesn't become a good "ensemble" jembe player without first learning the vocabulary of the jembe. This can only happen by playing all of those traditional rhythms - on jembe and dunun.
I think the kind of versatility bops is talking about can go far toward creating musicianship that has some real depth to it. AFAIK, two of the most important things re. learning to comp well (in any situation, on just about any instrument you could name) are learning to listen to what others are playing, and also having an ear to what your own instrument(s) adds to the overall scheme of things - where lines would fit, where accents and a bit of embellishment would work - and (crucial skill) when to lay out.

As for me, I enjoy doing the "support" roles; I've done rhythm section playing for many years and feel very happy there. Soloing is nice, but to me personally, it's not everything. I realize that not everyone feels this way, and that's fine, though I think skipping this stage (or attempting to) is pretty foolish.

I have friends who play various traditional/classical instruments from non-Western countries. and I know of at least one person who has claimed to be a virtuoso on one of those instruments, but who has chosen to completely forgo the required traditional training. You know what? That person's musical vocabulary - and chops - are really limited compared to those of the people who invested the time (it takes years), money and very hard work involved in going through all of the traditional training. The people who've successfully done that have every right to be able to call themselves masters (there's a diploma process involved), but I don't believe the person who hasn't been willing to follow that path has the same kind of credentials as they do... and shouldn't publicize themselves as such.

The other thing about the people I just mentioned: those with the most rigorous training are actually the best improvisers/composers. ;) And some of them play and write new (avant-garde) music for their instruments. All that says to me that it's more than possible to combine many worlds and approaches when coming from a "strictly traditional" background.

Humility goes a long way too, imo. ;)

peace,
e.
Last edited by e2c on Fri Jan 08, 2010 4:02 am, edited 1 time in total.
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By bops
#9633
VagabonTribe wrote:Thanks for the comments. Wisconsin cold?
Very funny.
e2c wrote:imo, this "some of you" thing is pretty elitist. And if you're playing a gig with a guitarist on "this side of the pond" who wants you to do specific things for accompaniment, I'd like to submit that you'd [plural] be wise to listen to them... Your gig (and your pay) could very well depend on it.
e2c, I can't speak for Rusty, but I didn't interpret his comment that way. I don't think that was directed at anyone in particular... in any case, let's everyone try to be extra forgiving of one another for the time being, as it seems there have been some misunderstandings lately and people have been quick to jump on defense. Again, not directing that at you, just in general, we've seen that happening more frequently over the past couple of weeks. I like this topic of discussion, so let's keep it going.
VagabonTribe wrote:I find the concept of a guitarist teaching you how to play jenbe very interesting, disturbing, and pleasing all at the same time. Some of you may realize that an African guitarist tellin you what to play on jenbe is a wee bit different than someone from the other side of the pond.
I can personally relate to that. I've tried accompanying "singer-songwriter" types in the (distant) past, and it's just no fun. You know... "hey man, can you just give me like a boom cha, boom-boom cha?" African guitarists have a totally different vibe. Many Malian guitarists start out playing kamale n'goni, thereby developing a deeply polyrhythmic style of finger picking and very solid groove.
VagabonTribe wrote:They learned to play in the midst of other instruments, drawing on all the same principles as traditional music (obviously it is right next to them every week, how could they not know what the rhythms are).
That's the key. When I say that you need to start by learning the tradition, I'm referring mainly to non-Africans. If you've cut your musical teeth accompanying singer-songwriter dude, then you'll have some catching up to do in order to capture the feel of Mande music. But if you start out playing karignan, then you're off to a good start, putting the groove deep into your body.
VagabonTribe wrote:I had already played brass instruments earlier in life so had a decent musical foundation before I ever came to drumming. bops, you'll have to come play with our group when we're in the area.
My first instrument was trombone :) Sounds good man, let's do it.
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By e2c
#9634
bops, while i hear you on the negative comment thing in general, i also feel that i presented some ideas to back up what i was trying to say. Neither am I wanting to stop this discussion - far from it, in fact. I think it's an excellent topic.

As for singer-songwriter types, I guess i've been lucky with comping for them; most have either had a good feel for rhythm - and arrangements - themselves or else told me to go ahead and do what i do (and all have given good direction if they wanted a certain feel or accent work). :) i realize that's probably *not* the norm for most folks, though I sure wish it was!

And I think a lot depends on the singer-songwriter's musical background - I've worked with folks who know and love R&B, gospel, and jazz, too. The "singer-songwriter" moniker can mean vastly different things in different contexts. (This reminds me a bit of the way many jazz instrumentalists immediately get defensive and negative when the word "singer" is mentioned... ;) Some of the best all-around musicians I've met are singers, so... to each their own, I guess!)

Equally, I understand what you mean about those who are pretty clueless, if only because I doubt I could ever write a halfway decent ballad.

Cool?

edited to add: I'm very interested in playing W. african percussion in non-traditional contexts (includes ensemble playing), but at this point, I feel that learning trad material is adding a lot to my musical vocabulary, rather than limiting it. I believe this can be equally true for musicians who don't play percussion. (wish i could live in Brazil for while, where most everyone who's interested in music plays a bit of hand percussion! Maybe someday...)
#9635
hmmmm....some unexpected responses.

The point about masters, and traditional training, etc. One of my points exactly was that Lamine never went through any traditional training. He taught himself how to play guitar and kora. Admittedly he plays many griot songs in a very different manner. I've seen most all the members of Toumani Diabate's entourage give excessive props to him for his playing. So this would be one example of someone who hasn't gone through traditional training that has become accomplished and respected.

I very rarely see people label themselves as a "master". Could you direct us to these people so we could get a better understanding of who you are speaking of, or at least be able to listen to their playing, see how they are presenting themselves, and judge for ourselves?

I have a good friend in Oregon who is an instrument builder. Never spent a day in Africa, but makes some of the best kora's around. You can see Toumani Diabate playing a key-tuned kora built by him in some you tube clips - that's the instrument. He also built the kora that Justin from Toubab Krewe plays.

Jarrod Kaplan, who is an excellent drummer and percussionist in Seattle also did not take the traditional path. I encourage you to look him up. He is a fun musician to work with.

if we look at what the guitar has become - there are probably thousands of guitarists in the US who never went through traditional training. I do believe that classical guitar training prepares one for any music they will encounter in the future. But there are plenty of accomplished, self-taught musicians.

I guess Mamady has created the closest thing to having the jenbe become institutionalized and standardized. As far as it becoming a popular instrument for the masses this will be necessary in the future. I don't believe this will hurt Malian culture in any way since the instruments and music have such a deep following already, and there are so many Africans playing and preserving. Will it change? probably. but most every old, former player that I met in Mali said the same thing "today's players play differently than they did". Most all of them are ok with that, as long as they keep the music and dance going and the tradition alive. I was once in the village of Fegoun playing Bonkolo. Sitting next to one of the old drummers, he must have been 75 or so, his hands started to tremble as he was listening to the music, almost as if he was trying to recapture that feeling of playing, but his body just couldn't do it anymore.

One thing i enjoy about forums like this is getting to see how people react to certain things. It is always interesting to see those who are public, those who want to remain anonymous, those who just want to hide behind a screen name and participate without the complications that come with associations. Eventually, everyone gets what they are looking for.

One reason I used "some of you" was because i realize there are many people who have never had the opportunity to play with an accomplished African instrumentalist. In my experience, most African guitarists have a much better developed sense of timing and rhythmic feel. Often what they want to hear is very specifically complimentary. Their ability to manipulate 12/8 time is something never experienced by a lot of musicians in the Occidental world.

I brought a group of 8 women from Idaho and Wyoming (who affectionately refer to themselves as my harem) to Mali one year to play jenbe and dance. Some of them, as well as a number of other students, have been following the recording process we are going through with this CD so I have been posting studio samples so that they could hear the process of what we are doing. Most of them don't have the same opportunities as I have had so we all find it interesting.

I hear what you're saying about time and money to achieve what one sets out to do. This has been an expensive process. Lamine used to get irritated by a lot of Malian musicians. Since he had spent so much time in Ivory Coast and Europe, his playing and recognition of other forms of music is highly developed (I have a great recording of him playing Guantanamera on kora). He felt that Malian musicians were very confined by their experience and needed to go to Ivory Coast to expand their musical experience.

Part of what we are talkiing about also is some people's natural musical ability. The musicians from Toubab Krewe made a series of trips to Mali, Guinea and Ivory Coast. They stayed witn me on two separate occasions to study with Lamine. Yes, they studied with a number of local musicians, but really the majority of their musical training came before that. They learned some arrangements and have put it together in their own style. Every single African musician I have played their music for is amazed, appreciative,and excited that they play so well, speak so highly of their music. Yes they had some experience, but did they go through "traditional training"? Debatable, at the least, I guess.
#9639
Rusty, Thanks for the post.

I have had no formal training till i started learning west african rhythyms and bought a djembe. I played Indian drums (not tabla) for 9-10 years, learnt them by myself or playing with other people and events. I accompany singers, or chorus, where the breaks are based on the songs, tempo changes and creativity is required. When I started playing djembe, I didn;t know much of the rhythyms but could do a free style solo on any rhythym. Maybe it was my understanding of rhythyms from past experience. My teacher several times just nodded at me to play solo when we played in the class.

Anyways, so the point of learning to play more than to learn rhythyms actually strikes more in my case and I can relate to that. I am still going to learn west african rhythyms and want to know them so I dont have to think, but thats a long road. I still enjoy the african connection but use djembe in indian events as accompaniment, playing along with other people with indian drums and its a very interesting fusion. I sometimes blow them away just by the vloume and its fun. It brings a new avenue for me.

Thanks
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By e2c
#9642
I don't see anyone dissing people who have learned to play well without formal training... rather, I'm seeing a number of good points being made about what that kind of training can bring to a person's development and musical vocabulary, among other things.

as for people using screen names rather than their given names, I think that's entirely up to the person who's posting. I can think of plenty of reasons for it, very much including privacy concerns. In my case, I'd prefer to keep that which is on the web under my given name separate from that which is purely personal, and I see nothing wrong in that. Make of it what you will! (I've also had some difficulties with personal information becoming public and concerns over identity theft.)

As for what non-Western instruments I was talking about, and which players, I think that out of respect for all concerned, I would prefer to keep their names out of this discussion. I don't have anyone's permission to cite names, and I'd rather keep things as they are... None of them are involved in W. African music, which is pretty much all anyone needs to know, I'm thinking. ;)
Although I will add that in the case I'm citing, there is rigorous formal training with a very intricate level and diploma process involved - not unlike the "belt" system in karate. Suffice it to say that very few people make it to the point where they are awarded the title (and diploma) certifying them as "masters."

and fwiw, most of what I've done (and continue to do) with Middle Eastern percussion is very non-traditional, but I can tell you all this: I wish I had deeper roots in the traditional stuff, for all kinds of reasons. My ability - or lack thereof- has been formed mostly in the absence of competent teachers. And I'm very aware of some of the limitations that come with that.
Last edited by e2c on Fri Jan 08, 2010 9:59 pm, edited 3 times in total.
By Paul
#9643
Thanks for the post Rusty, very interesting.

I was trained with just a few accomps drilled into me till I was so in it that I just absorbed the solos that were being played

I am as I said previously putting together a group with kamele ngoni, bass etc.. and I am not sure that I want a traditional djembe player at all, I feel they will fill it with passport and guinea style solos phrases. Being on the string side of things now I am acutely aware of possible over kill on the djembe.

If you look at groups like Farafina lilia the guys they have playing djembe in some of the songs are balafon players, the playing is melodic and its not about cranking solos. In fact a very good djembefola jumped up on stage to play wit them and all he did was drown the Kam ngoni and drop in my estimation.

Luckily I play in some instrumental groups that give me free reign on what I do ( in reason).
I agree about guitarists on thos side of the world being a different story, at the end of the day if its their gig thats cool, but the djembe is not just a mini drum kit and I think they are wasting my talents to say just play 'dum tak dum tak'.
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By e2c
#9644
In fact a very good djembefola jumped up on stage to play wit them and all he did was drown the Kam ngoni and drop in my estimation.
Might well be basic lack of experience in playing in this context, no? I think that developing musicianship is a process, always ongoing...

and I also have a big problem with people who only ever play loud, but that's certainly not limited to djembe! ;) (My take: playing at a low volume is a great test of one's real skill and musicianship, just as playing ballads serves that function in jazz...)

And while I do get what some of you are saying re. W. African guitarists, I think it's kind of unfair to characterize all Western guitarists as being deficient in understanding rhythm (and more). Many definitely do lack that; others don't. Again, a lot of it has to do with context and musical background. Although i do agree that very few have the same sense of things as West Africans, or Brazilians, for that matter - but then, I hear something very different happening in most music from southern Africa and am not at all sure that people from there would automatically "get" W. African rhythms, any more than most W. Africans would intuitively "get" the four-part harmony vocal style that's so popular in S. Africa, Zimbabwe and nearby countries... Africa's an awfully big continent, after all. :) (Something that occasionally seems to get lost in the intense focus on djembe here, and on Mande music in general - much as we all love it, it's only one small part of a much greater whole.)
#9645
What a fascinating thread.

I am still so new to djembe, I can't even begin to identify things like rhythmic families.

But for me, the fact that this stuff is completely foreign to me... the fact that I never even heard my first traditional African song until I was in my 40s, is a great reason to spend time learning the foundation. Studying the traditional rhythms is like learning the grammar, vocabulary, syntax. It won't be until I can understand sentence structure, so to speak, that I would be able to get creative and write a novel.

This would probably not be as critical if I had grown up hearing this music every day.
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By e2c
#9646
Excellent points, Rachel - though even if this music was your "native language," you'd still be faced with challenges in wanting to develop as a musician.

Most of us here grew up speaking English; that in itself doesn't mean that we can all write as well as Shakespeare, you know? ;)

I do think there are a lot of parallels between learning foreign languages and learning other (not native to our background) forms of music.... also that that is an ongoing process. I have a friend who has been doing salsa gigs in NYC for many years (decades). He's not Latino, and even though he loves the music and has very deep roots in it, he came to it as an "outsider" and feels that he will never have the depth of understanding that his "insider" colleagues and peers do. My guess is that he's right about that, although that doesn't change anything about his ability to play salsa well.