Discuss traditional rhythms, singing etc
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By djembefeeling
#34552
JBM wrote:Gaudette, Pascal. "Jembe Hero: West African Drummers, Global Mobility and Cosmopolitanism as Status." Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 39, no. 2 (2013): 295-310.
In this article, Gaudette takes international renown djembefolas as an example of a priviledged cosmopolitan status and, it seems to me, puts that in the context of unequal power distribution for the sake of the special issue of the journal at hand. he delineates a model of local, regional, and international or rather intercontinental mobility as steps on the way to the unprecedented success of formerly low status djembe players to heros and role models of at least a part of West Africa.

The model of the hero who leaves the region to gain wealth, abilities, and status abroad and, finally, to return in glory is given in Soundiatas example. It is an integral part of Mande culture, at least for the horon, to go on the adventurous journey tunga (cf. Zobel 1997: p.50). For djembe players this is new. This is possible because djembe playing has gained status in parts of our society for being the radical Other to our alienating modernity: "The fetishisation of African rhythm and of the embodied practice of African hand-drumming as a way to escape or relieve Western alienation forms a core part of the instrument’s appeal for its Western practitioners. It
confers upon the instrument and its players an aura of prestige that, ironically, was until recently completely absent in the drummers’ birthplaces" (p.299). Thus the transfer of status is completely paradoxical: while we are looking to gain prestige for doing something exotic or traditionally rooted, the djembefolas try to gain access to the modern world by which in turn they gain status.

Another passage in the article is revealing and worth noting: "Students of the jembe are on a quest for the authenticity of musical expression, and so a workshop not only with a source
musician, but also in Africa, is a privileged moment in the learning process. For ‘firsttimers’,
the trip to Africa serves as a kind of rite of passage that marks a change of status within their own community upon their return" (p.302). Considering that such a workshop is hardly authentic and the fact that so many modernizations of the instrument and the way to play it had to take place, as Polak has shown, in order to find its way to us, its strange to think about how things work here.

Something odd strikes the reader in this article, though. As a common practice to protect the people he writes about (sometimes not exactly in their favour), Gaudette changed names and sometimes places, although it is soon pretty clear to the reader, that "Fadouba" is Famoudou. Having been in Conakry in the winter of 2005/06, I remember having met the author at Billys workshop in Simbaya and, later, in Sangbarala. Nice to read this article of him some 8 years later...
User avatar
By djembefeeling
#34554
Cohen, J. (2012) ‘Stages in transition: Les Ballets Africains and independence, 1959-60’, Journal of Black Studies, 43(1): 11-48.

Cohen describes the prerequisites for the success of Les Ballets Africains in the United States, how the path was paved even decades before they arived by African Immigrants, African Americans, and political activists alike, what lead to their founding, mostly within the French colonial system, by Fodeba Keita, how they where percieved in the U.S. and, more important how this private troupe became the most important of all of Guineas National ensembles and how that in turn changed the program played.

Of primary interest for me was the example of Kakilambé. President Seckou Touré saw one of the primary effects of Ballets in the education of the masses towards a modern, revolutionary socialist population free of the old animistic believes that tied with the old structures of power. Sometimes, destroying the symbols of such power like masks together with threatening and browbeating those working with them and their kins with violence was just one side of the measures that were taken by the regime. The other was to sacularize those symbols, rites, and rhythms via the National Ballets in public and ridiculize them on stage. While the Maninka fared well under the regime of their kin Seckou Touré, "some animist-inclined minority populations came to be treated as adversaries of national progress because Touré’s government considered their cultures to embody primitive backwardness, darkness and secrecy, ethnic and religious
separatism, and/or economic stagnation" (p.31), such as the Baga and the Loma.

The Kakilambe performance of LBA was thus eminently political, to finally destroy the powerful masked spirit of the Baga. Interesting to know that we still participate in that business today. Another example of how the "traditional" culture had to be destroyed in order to come to us and be commodified by us.

Also, an interesting point for me was the discussion of the critical reviews of the shows in the newspapers in 1959/60. Its peculiar mix of modernity and tradition and idiosyncratic artistic ways of Fodeba Keita was never perceived. Instead, three positions where taken: a patronizing one which saw in the members of the troupe primitive though amazing amateurs returning to their homes and living on the money they earned in the 3 months on stage in the Western world, an idealistic one about "ancient" traditions taped into, and critical voices with ethnological background complaining about betrayal of traditions. It seems to me that much of those 3 views on drumming still shapes our discussions on drumming today -- the first outside the drumming community in the Western world, the latter two those within...
Last edited by djembefeeling on Sat Jun 21, 2014 7:17 am, edited 3 times in total.
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By michi
#34556
djembefeeling wrote:Of primary interest for me was the example of Kakilambé. President Seckou Touré saw one of the primary effects of Ballets in the education of the masses towards a modern, revolutionary socialist population free of the old animistic believes that tied with the old structures of power. Sometimes, destroying the symbols of such power like masks together with threating and browbeating those working with them and their kins with violence was just one side of the measures that were taken by the regime.
When I was in Mexico, a few of us were sitting with Mamady in the evening over a a glass of wine and he was telling stories. Somehow, Kakilambe came up. Mamady said "no-one plays that anymore". When I asked why, he said because people "disappeared". When I asked him to clarify, he said that, some time after Touré came to power, there were some stage events presenting dances from different ethnic groups. Some Baga people were invited to perform Kakilambe. On two (or maybe three) occasions, the lead dancer under the mask "disappeared". Apparently, at least one of them was found dead back-stage.

Mamady didn't go into detail about the exact circumstances (and I'm not sure whether he is aware of them; the information may be second-hand for Mamady himself). But he made it clear that the disappearances were due to Touré's regime. When I mentioned the "demystification program", I got very emphatic agreement from Mamady.

Apparently, after that, Kakilambe disappeared from the menu and, according to Mamady, not even the Baga are playing it anymore.

Michi.

PS: The more I learn about the history of Guinea, the more I realise what a monster Touré actually was. It seems that he ranks up there with the very worst of mad dictators who murdered their citizens by the tens of thousands :(
User avatar
By djembefeeling
#34557
michi wrote:Some Baga people were invited to perform Kakilambe. On two (or maybe three) occasions, the lead dancer under the mask "disappeared". Apparently, at least one of them was found dead back-stage.
Pure horror. Interesting info summing up.
By JBM
#34560
djembefeeling wrote:The Kakilambe performance of LBA was thus eminently political, to finally destroy the powerful masked spirit of the Baga. Interesting to know that we still participate in that business today. Another example of how the "traditional" culture had to be destroyed in order to come to us and be commodified by us.
As I told you before, this is one of the points that interests me about the article as well, and about which I am working on toward a publication. Many of the posters on this message board seem to be acutely aware of the violence, symbolic or actual, enacted in the processes of transformation that led to the globalization of djembe performance. When it comes down to discourse around Kakilambe, both on his board and elsewhere, things tend to boil down either to "so-and-so taught it in 4/4 instead of 12/8" or "this is the Senegalese ballet version, not the real thing" or to the "region, ethnic group, ritual type" that is typical of "cultural context" as presented in resources and workshops. Have any of you engaged in discussions with one another, your teachers, students, or fellow players in which people have argued that those who are not Baga should cease from performing/teaching Kakilambe for ethical reasons? Maybe for other rhythms/dances/rituals?
User avatar
By djembefeeling
#34561
JBM wrote:Have any of you engaged in discussions with one another, your teachers, students, or fellow players in which people have argued that those who are not Baga should cease from performing/teaching Kakilambe for ethical reasons? Maybe for other rhythms/dances/rituals?
No, never. For one, this aspect is something I just learned about. I've got to digest. In workshops, of course, there is no talk about that, especially not in workshops in Africa. The setting is like a wellness spa, it's all about feeling good. There's no interest in critic and doubt in the business (even though there would be several apart from the violence prior to globalization, like deforestation and the paradox that we bring the modern world and its desastrous impact on the "traditional" way of living on the very location we want to indulge in "tradition", the kind of prostitution revolving around workshops in Africa due to massiv inequalities in the distribution of wealth and power etc.).

My feeling is, that the notion of "forbidden" rhythms and items aligned with them like Koma and the mask is something that we are fond of and are used by teachers in Africa. There is this nice chill when you have to wait inside the hut, with only ears to listen to and imagination to draw on for the scenery. And it spikes desires to know more rhythms, to put more energy into acquiring the unknown world, to push the frontiers...

Recently, we had a discussion here on the board about cultural appropriation, about the question if we shouldn't leave African drumming or at least performance and teaching to Africans or at least African Americans...

I am not in favour of such ideas, while I think it is important to discuss them. I did study philosophy and pondered many ethical questions just like that for a decade. But I think if you always raise the level of what you should and can do, you will finally end up doing nothing, at least I did.You will come to see that there are troublesome ethical points in almost every action you take. That period really numbed me. The thing is that the drumming community in the Western world is not as such responsible for the violence under Tourés rule. (Originally, so many things, nations, institutions, the legal system, all have been established with utmost violence in former times. Should we abondon them now?) The Baga apparently do not play Kakilambe any more -- what good would it do if we stop, other than helping Touré's final and total victory? So, I will continue to play Kakilambe as I will continue to teach and perform african drumming. And as for talking about critical and problematic things in a workshop -- I did that sometimes and never saw the participants again...

The ideal of learning about and indulging in human culture is something I really enjoyed in studying at different universities. That might have shaped my attitude a lot. For me, culture is a common property of humanity, and ideally not to be paid for. Being a djembe teacher just trying hard to completely live on teaching, this is a somewhat schizophrenic account, one of the biggest paradoxes in my life, actually. I am aware of the other side of the coin and I think it's good to be remembered that such an idealistic notion is naive in that in the given context of unequal power distribution in the world, it can lead to exploitation. Still, the ideal is not bad, I guess, and given the hours I work on learning and teaching and what I get out of that economically, the one I am exploiting the most is me. And I still believe that it is a good thing to indulge into another culture, even though we always have big losses in the translation process. Before I started drumming, Africa was a blank spot in my mind, a continent of only hunger, corruption, and war, that I donated some money for in mercy. Now I see it's an interesting continent with a plenty of cultures and that the Western world is, rhythmically speaking, a developing region of this world...
Last edited by djembefeeling on Sat Jun 21, 2014 2:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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By michi
#34563
djembefeeling wrote:In workshops, of course, there is no talk about that, especially not in workshops in Africa. The setting is like a wellness spa, it's all about feeling good. There's no interest in critic and doubt in the business (even though there would be several apart from the violence prior to globalization, like deforestation and the paradox that we bring the modern world and its desastrous impact on the "traditional" way of living on the very location we want to indulge in "tradition", the kind of prostitution revolving around workshops in Africa due to massiv inequalities in the distribution of wealth and power etc.).
That's a good point. I've been first-hand witness on both my Africa trips to that kind of, let's say, "conflicted" relationship between westerners and Africans (involving both men and women on either side). It's the old story of the westerner and the African "falling madly in love", or something like it. The inequality of such a relationship (and the inappropriateness, in many cases) is blatantly obvious. For one, I find it extremely difficult to, for example, construct a case of genuine love when one participant is 22, and the other one is 45, especially when one partner earns something like fifty or sixty times the average African annual wage in a single year. And I find it extremely difficult to see what a person who grew up in, say, the USA or Australia has in common with someone who grew up in Mali or Guinea and is barely literate. Not that such a thing is impossible, but cultural and educational barriers make it unlikely that such a relationship will last beyond a few years.

Yet, I'm finding it hard to blame one side or the other. The westerner probably deludes him- or herself into having found true love when realistically, the chances of a 22-year old African having any romantic interest in a 45-year old westerner are minuscule. The African probably deludes him- or herself into having found true love too when, somewhere quietly in the back of that person's mind, is the thought of getting a chance to escape from life-long poverty.

It is difficult to decide who is cheating whom here. The westerner buys the young body with wealth and a promise of a better life, and the African buys a better future by providing the body… I have seen dozens of these relationships break up after a four or five years (if that), and I have seen only one or two that lasted more than ten years. (Not that this is unusual. Same-culture marriages in the west don't seem to fare much better.)
The Baga apparently do not play Kakilambe any more -- what good would it do if we stop, other than helping Touré's final and total victory? So, I will continue to play Kakilambe as I will continue to teach and perform african drumming.
Same here. I was a bit puzzled by the original question. What good would it do if I were to stop teaching Kakilambe? All I'd do in the end would be to help bury that awful story. That seems more disrespectful than just about anything else: on top of having been treated so terribly by the Touré regime, I'd be adding insult to injury by helping to make the Kakilambe story disappear, in effect re-writing history. And, all cultural conflict aside, Kakilambe is a cool rhythm worth teaching, irrespective of things that happened while I was barely old enough to walk…
And as for talking about critical and problematic things in a workshop -- I did that sometimes and never saw the participants again...
That's an interesting comment. I'm surprised at that reaction.

I make it a point to teach as much about the background and the culture as I can. Anything that relates to the music and the people behind it is relevant, whether the stories are positive or negative. I've spoken many times about the dark days of Guinea under Sekou Touré in class, and the reaction generally has been one of interest. Certainly, no-one has ever not come back because I told stories about how not everything was milk and honey in Guinea back then.

Cheers,

Michi.
User avatar
By djembefeeling
#34564
michi wrote:That's an interesting comment. I'm surprised at that reaction.
Well, you've got to know that the clientel is changing pretty much these days. In Germany, the wave of African drumming is relatively old and flatened out. Hardly any new enthusiasts and critics of the modern American way of life are attracted by drumming, for probably two reasons: it is no undiscovered land any more, there are so many books, cds, dvds, and notations about it, it has become an industry. and that's what the first generation of drummers tried to get away from in the first place. And it stoped being something new and exotic, but instead has become part of the mainstream culture. There are courses on many schools for the kids these days and drumming is part of entertainment and incentives for companies and conferences.
A massively growing number of students now come from hospital treatment for depression, burnout, and the like. They are looking for something trouble-free and down to earth...
michi wrote: The African probably deludes him- or herself into having found true love too when, somewhere quietly in the back of that person's mind, is the thought of getting a chance to escape from life-long poverty.
I don't think it's only in the back of the mind. We had the discussion on concepts of love in African cultures and the Western world. There is not such a romantic exclusive view on love matters as to "do I marry for love or wealth?" as we supposedly have in our minds (while truly the reasons are often very different than those we think they are for preferences in our culture too, as many studies have shown). See for example Gaudette's article where the character he calls "Kassim" engages in courting with a Japanes and an American woman simultanously by email. That is planful business, though I don't want to go engange in blaming any of the participants.
By JBM
#34566
Some really important and thoughtful responses by both Michi and Jurgen. Jurgen you bring up a really interesting thought that I have wrestled with, both as a performing musician and in my career as a music educator and ethnomusicologist. That is, how do I responsibly negotiate the problematic ethics of performing, teaching, and building a career (at least partially) around this music without becoming petrified by the process of reflection? After years of thoughts and conversations, I am at the point now where I tend toward finding reasons to do something, rather than finding reasons NOT to do them. This is still a part of making choices as both a musician and a person, and I anticipate that my position might continue to transform.
michi wrote:
The Baga apparently do not play Kakilambe any more -- what good would it do if we stop, other than helping Touré's final and total victory? So, I will continue to play Kakilambe as I will continue to teach and perform african drumming.
Same here. I was a bit puzzled by the original question. What good would it do if I were to stop teaching Kakilambe? All I'd do in the end would be to help bury that awful story. That seems more disrespectful than just about anything else: on top of having been treated so terribly by the Touré regime, I'd be adding insult to injury by helping to make the Kakilambe story disappear, in effect re-writing history. And, all cultural conflict aside, Kakilambe is a cool rhythm worth teaching, irrespective of things that happened while I was barely old enough to walk…
Are you fellows stating that you believe that by performing kakilambe, you are honoring the Baga people in some way? I can appreciate the position of "what good would it do", and maybe ( although increasingly less so) "hey, this is a hip rhythm, why should the history really matter". I suppose I am just curious if you (or others) butt into at least some personal dissonance at the possibility that, by performing and teaching Kakilambe, you are re-performing that very same violence that was done intentionally through demasking and staging. To be clear, I am not advocating that you (or anyone else) stop performing and teaching Kakilambe.

I am also curious about why you DO perform it, really. Is it because it is in the standard repertoire that has fallen to us from LBA and others and is common to workshops/players globally, it sounds/feels beautiful/fun, it is easy to learn, etc.?

@Michi - Glad to read that you head into some of the darker edges (and, sometimes, centers) of the historical positionality of the musical performance practices that you teach. I would wager that you are in the minority.

Really enjoying the dialogue!

JBM
User avatar
By djembefeeling
#34569
JBM wrote:Are you fellows stating that you believe that by performing kakilambe, you are honoring the Baga people in some way?
No, I am not honoring anyone while playing rhythms. It's just that the culture surrounding Kakilambe has been whiped out, as it seems. So, even though we unconsciously re-perform what was politically charged when LBA staged Kakilambe, we do not perform a violent act when we play it today. I think those things shouldn't be confused. But if you argue in that manner (re-performing violent acts) one could counter that with the other argument (honoring a lost culture).
JBM wrote:I am also curious about why you DO perform it, really. Is it because it is in the standard repertoire that has fallen to us from LBA and others and is common to workshops/players globally, it sounds/feels beautiful/fun, it is easy to learn, etc.?
Almost for all of the reasons you mention. It is a standard in the ws-business, it is beautiful and one of the easier rhythms to teach. even people with difficulties in 12/8 feelings can play it easily, because they feel it as a 3x4, thus in a binary way. It's songs are beautiful, too. and it's dundun melody really has power...
JBM wrote:Really enjoying the dialogue!
me too :D
User avatar
By michi
#34576
JBM wrote:That is, how do I responsibly negotiate the problematic ethics of performing, teaching, and building a career (at least partially) around this music without becoming petrified by the process of reflection?
There is a way to deal with it that is quite simple: don't worry too much about it. By that, I don't mean to "do whatever and don't care", but to be aware of the fact that, no matter what I do, it will always be wrong for some people some of the time. What I do and don't do is a personal choice. I try to do the right thing and and try to stay on the right side of ethics as much as possible. But exactly what these choices are is a personal decision and, at least for me, the choices can change over time because my judgement changes as I learn new things.

It is not my job to honour the Baga when I'm teaching (with "honouring "someone being a rather vague concept in itself), and I don't owe allegiance to anyone when I'm playing this music. Of course, I do honour my teachers, and I am respectful of the tradition and culture but, no matter how hard I try, I'll be wrong some of the time (see above). So, I muddle on: I do the best I can and I keep an open mind and integrate whatever I learn as I go. And that's pretty much all I can hope to do anyway, so that's good enough, as far as I'm concerned.
Are you fellows stating that you believe that by performing kakilambe, you are honoring the Baga people in some way?
No, not really. They happen to be the people who came up with this rhythm, that's all. I do tell students what I know about the rhythm, the Baga and their history, and I don't leave out the ugly bits. But I don't believe that I'm "honouring" (whatever that means) the Baga when I do that.
I can appreciate the position of "what good would it do", and maybe ( although increasingly less so) "hey, this is a hip rhythm, why should the history really matter". I suppose I am just curious if you (or others) butt into at least some personal dissonance at the possibility that, by performing and teaching Kakilambe, you are re-performing that very same violence that was done intentionally through demasking and staging. To be clear, I am not advocating that you (or anyone else) stop performing and teaching Kakilambe.
I don't see how or why teaching Kakilambe would be doing violence to the Baga. Honestly, I just can't see the concern here. It was the Baga who, after all, agreed to publicly perform Kakilambe on stage. The consequences of that decision turned out to be terrible, as it turned out. But I don't see why that should mean that I shouldn't be teaching the rhythm.
I am also curious about why you DO perform it, really. Is it because it is in the standard repertoire that has fallen to us from LBA and others and is common to workshops/players globally, it sounds/feels beautiful/fun, it is easy to learn, etc.?
Interesting question. The main reason for me is that I like the rhythm. In particular, I like Kakilambe because it is one of those rhythms that give equal space to the 4-pulse and the 6-pulse simultaneously. Being able to perceive both pulses is important for making progress with this music, so I think it's a good teaching rhythm.

There is also the aspect of teaching a repertoire. Kakilambe is part of a "standard" repertoire. Almost every much West African master I have studied with has taught Kakilambe at some point. So, to me, Kakilambe has become one of those rhythms that "one teaches". This also relates to your point above: if my teachers have no problem teaching Kakilambe, why should I?
@Michi - Glad to read that you head into some of the darker edges (and, sometimes, centers) of the historical positionality of the musical performance practices that you teach. I would wager that you are in the minority.
One thing I lament is the general ignorance of many teachers when it comes to awareness of more than just the actual notes of a rhythm. This music makes a lot more sense when placed in its historical and cultural context, so I try to pass as much of that on as I can.
Really enjoying the dialogue!
Same here! :)

Michi.
By JBM
#34579
michi wrote: It was the Baga who, after all, agreed to publicly perform Kakilambe on stage. The consequences of that decision turned out to be terrible, as it turned out. But I don't see why that should mean that I shouldn't be teaching the rhythm.
Are you confident that the people who first performed Kakilambe publicly were Baga? Do you know of any staged performances prior to LBA? Is there any sort of evidence of that being the case? Cohen (in the 2012 article cited above) shows that it was definitely performed in 1960 by LBA. In that performance, and still today (probably as a result), the Susu name "Kakilambe" is used as opposed to the indigenous "a-Mantsho-ño-Pön". That leads me to believe that the Baga might not have been complicit (or, at least in control) in its staging.
michi wrote: It is not my job to honour the Baga when I'm teaching (with "honouring "someone being a rather vague concept in itself), and I don't owe allegiance to anyone when I'm playing this music. Of course, I do honour my teachers, and I am respectful of the tradition and culture but, no matter how hard I try, I'll be wrong some of the time (see above).


I agree that "honoring" is a nebulous concept. Also, I think that everyone can understand and relate to mistakes being made in the process of trying to "honor" or be respectful, and being wrong some of the time. I sure can. Still, I wonder, which or whose tradition or culture is being respected in this particular case?
User avatar
By djembefeeling
#34606
Patrick R. McNaughton, The Mande Blacksmiths. Knowledge, Power, and Art in West Africa. Indiana University Press 1988.

I am completely thrilled about this book after just reading the preface and the first chapter "Blacksmiths in Mande Society". Part of my thrill derives from the fact that things now start to connect after reading several books and articles about related subjects. I can see that Clemens Zobel must have been inspired for his book by McNaughtons monography, at least one can read Zobels book as a supplement to McNaughton's, analyzing the jelis art as another example to the one given of a nyamakalaw group in Mande society. This first chapter at hand is excellent, so much that I just ordered my own copy of this book. I think it's a must read. He writes in a manner showing competence and in depth knowledge about his subject. There's a certain danger to this style in luring you into a sense of "that's how things really are" which is very different from Zobels, who is always demonstrating his doubts and tentativeness of his findings. But McNaughton writes in such a dense and thoughtful way that you cannot help yourself as to believe this guys fundamental insights and decades of aquaintance with the subject and professional research.

Topics he tangles are the social stratification of Mande society into nobles and freeborn, craftsmen such as blacksmiths, and slaves; joking relationships; the conflicting social ideas of fadenya and badenya, father childness in favour of competition, something highly valued in Mande society, and mother childness which provides the necessary balancing forces of affection and loyalty; sorcery and, most interesting, the nyama that is supposed to be the most fundamental force in the universe.
The examination of the different forms slavery could have had is especially revealing given the discussion we had on this forum in the thoughts on wolosso. Slaves could suffer a great deal, especially when they where sold to recoup the loss of the creditor more quickly and became goods in the vast overland trade networks. But they could also win back their freedom by creating a strong feeling of camaraderie with the master or by working diligently. Sometimes people even became slaves voluntarily in order to win security and economic prosperity they wouldn't have any access to otherwise, as is said to be the case in the period of the Kaarta and Segou states. Some of them became so important and powerful that they did have slaves of their own (p.2f.).

The different nyamakalaw groups are considered to be seperate races, siw (the "w" at the end is a suffix for the plural form pronounced like "ou" in "you"), "who live with the Mande and are indelibly incorporated into Mande life" (p.3). They even like to strengthen this characterization of themselves by the horonw sometimes, for it serves their interests well as it guards their monopoly. Given their extreme power by having access to the powerful energy of the nyama, they are feared and respected at the same time. Since it is dangerous for any usual human being to deal with those spirits, it can be useful to have professionals knowing how to manipulate and direct them toward good ends. For that, nyamakalaw must have an extraordinary amount of nyama themselves, which in turn makes it potentially dangerous to be in any proximity to them. At the same time, they could also use their abilities to harm people. Thus, talking about them with disrespect is part of an everyday routine seperating the horonw from the nyama -laden groups, and excluding them from direct political power is the checks and balances needed within Mande society. Ambiguity and ambivalence is typical for the Mande as they see the world and in their social and political organization of the world: "as students of Mande culture, we are stuck in the middle of ambiguity" (p.10).

This is interesting for me since I recently read that ambiguity and ambivalence is also prevalent in the organization of Mande music. And the extreme power that is thought to be embodied by some of the nyama can be felt in the rhythms of the drums. This makes me wonder if the reason for us in the Western world to usually perform those rhythms so poorely compared to the indigenous people is deeply woven into our different texture of perceiving the world. While our philosophies are dominated by the Judico-Christian ideas of monotheism where tensions are finally resolved in one source, Mande are, even in the face of a growing influence of monotheistic Islam, still perceiving the world much in a dualistic way of oposing forces. I think much of what is needed to be a good drummer could be inhibited in our culture from early childhood for the need of social control and by the ideas by which we perceive the world. To learn drumming the Mande style is much more than just to learn an instrument, it is in part a reprograming of deeply rooted notions of the world. As a teacher, I struggle a lot with repgrograming the way rhythms and patterns are automatically perceived here.

Another point McNaughton writes about evokes some losely connected associations. The secrecy prevailant in Mande society. The more important a knowledge is, the less people are willing to talk about it. Our and reasearchers open questions "startles the Mande because it violates their own procedures for transforming knowledge" (in this case of sorcery, p.12), it is perceived as the "height of immaturity, indiscretion, and outright foolhardiness". Interested individuals in Mande culture learn rather indirectly by observation and listening, gradually learning where to find the appropriate knowledge and, by showing themselves worthy of that knowledge by their discrete persistance, their knowledge ultimately grows exponentially. This is usually very different from the way students here want to learn rhythms, I cannot exclude myself from this: always trying to get as many rhythms they can and playing solo djembe early on. The notion of being worthy of knowledge is almost absent in our culture today, especially when you sell that knowldge to students paying for it in contrast to a master and his associate. One result of this, in my opinion, is the relative laziness of students to think about matters by themselves. I'd be very interested about other differences in the way we learn from the Mande way of learning and perceiving.

edited: just received my copy... :D
What might be of most interest to the djembe drumming community is the question of what connects numus to the djembe, or to put it more openly: were numus the first djembefolas?
This is still an open question and probably will remain so, but in this light it is very informative to read about what McNaughton has to say about rhythms or rather rhythmic work of the numus. Working the bellows is a most monotonous and strenuous work which is done rhythmically to overcome the tiring effects as much as possible. Every numu has his own favorite rhythms, the same is true for when he is forging the iron. McNaughton tells us about the astonishing crispness with which those rhythms are performed and reports on a guy who could reproduce every rhythm by acclamation (p.24ff.). It is not a big stretch to think that both the rhythmic training on the bellows and the hammer as well as the resluting physical power of this strenuous work would qualify for working the drums as well, I think...
Last edited by djembefeeling on Sat Jun 28, 2014 9:40 am, edited 6 times in total.
By JBM
#34613
djembefeeling wrote: I am completely thrilled about this book after just reading the preface and the first chapter "Blacksmiths in Mande Society".
I also found this to be an interesting and valuable resource.
djembefeeling wrote: Interested individuals in Mande culture learn rather indirectly by observation and listening, gradually learning where to find the appropriate knowledge and, by showing themselves worthy of that knowledge by their discrete persistance, their knowledge ultimately grows exponentially. This is usually very different from the way students here want to learn rhythms, I cannot exclude myself from this: always trying to get as many rhythms they can and playing solo djembe early on. Teh notion of being worthy of knowledge is almost absent in our culture today, especially when you sell that knowldge to students paying for it in contrast to a master and his associate. One result of this, in my opinion, is the relative laziness of students to think about matters by themselves. I'd be very interested about other differences in the way we learn from the Mande way of learning and perveiving.
I'm not sure that I agree with your speculations and conclusions here. First, I think that the "notion of being worthy of knowledge" is very much a part of US society. For example, people in the United States are required to "earn" security clearance in order to have access to the operating procedures of corporations or businesses. They are also required to prove themselves worthy of security clearance in military, intelligence, or government agencies. At a more literal level, we are required to apply for, and be accepted to, university. While I have never lived in Western Europe and don't presume to have a firm grasp on cultural formations there, I would guess that many of these examples (and others) apply there as well.

Also, I am unsure of the "relative laziness of students to think about matters for themselves". This seems, to me, to be greatly complicated by the expectations regarding authenticity and the prestige attached to recognized pedigrees within the global djembe performance community.

Regardless, I second your statement that this is a great book, and really appreciate your commentary. I wonder, too, how much of McNaughton's analysis would ring true for contemporary Mande people. Things have changed an awful lot since 1988!

Cheers,

JBM