Discuss traditional rhythms, singing etc
By Djembe04
#36077
Hello everyone,

I've seen that Mamady Keita teaches that there are only 12 rhythms with traditional solo phrases, because there are only twelve rhythms with traditional dance steps, he says.
but I have heard from many masters that this is not true.

Could someone tell me more about this?
By JSB
#36079
I Completely agree with You, Beerfola.
Who could know everything and make such definitive statements?
I spent the past month with Sega Sidibe; He told me that even himself - considered by all the drummers I met as a real master (there are so many so-called masters that this word ends by losing its meaning) cannot play half of the rhythms one could find in Mali only.

Almost all rhyhtms support the dance, whether for festivals, ceremonies, masquerade, farmer work, specific castes. Each region, each ethnic group has its own way to do it, according to its own spoken language, and local custom. In all these occasions, dancers perform specific steps.
Some rhyhtms are rich in phrases because the dance is rich in steps, especially those rhyhtms played for entertaining women.
Some other rhyhtms are "poor", both in steps and in phrases (usually when they accompany "serious" events).

If you want to go the other way, we can find even less than 12 rhyhtms: Sega Sidibe teaches the three "fathers" before any other rhythm: Dansa, Suku (aka Soli rapide), and Denba (aka Maraka). All the others derive from them and these are the rhyhtms with the most phrases.

I'm working right now with Sega on a tutorial DVD to show how the solos can work with the steps, because I can see that many people in the West have no idea of it.

PS: even in french, "original" is often understood as "created" instead of "of origin". "Traditional" would be a better translation.
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By djembefeeling
#36080
It is always good to double check things that are said about the rhythms.

12 - a dozen - as a number is aesthetically appealing to us and very convenient for a curriculum. It would be a very unlikely coincidence that there are just 12, don't you think? Just for that I would bet there is not that much truth in it.

See for example how the same guy that beerfola provided some links from explains Mamady Keitas created rhythm "bonya":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUzFioFnDLQ

He says "bonya" means "respect", a fundamental human respect that we got distracted from by different things in modern life, one of them being the quest for prestige. So I looked up this word in my textbook dicitionary and found "bònya" meaning "being or getting bigger" or "size, volume, magnificence". How does that fit with "respect"?
The things the guy says Mamady said about this fundamental human respect certainly appeal to the audience, seeing themselves as members of a drumming community as if they are a big family where love is prevailing instead of fierce competition as in much of the professional modern live. It seems they are told what they want to hear.
Perhaps "bònya" can also have a derived meaning as a kind of respect for all who are grown up, who are "adults" and full members of the community -- opposed to the children, who are not. But given that the Malinke have organized their social life in strong hierarchies, I would guess it is not that simple. "Bònya" as "magnificence" reminds too much on the concept that respect is derived from the magnitude of a person. And the "bigger" that person is, the more respect should be shown to him (for men are fundamentally more respected anyway).


The word "traditional" is not as clear as it might sound at first. What is tradition? Mostly, it is said today, tradition is an invention made by people with a political agenda trying to define for a group of people what they should acknowledge as their shared cultural foundation. And tradition is valued as tradition mostly when the context in which those cultural habits originated have been (almost) lost.
MK, it is repeatedly said, was trying to establish himself as the true guardian of tradition so as to dominate the international market for djembe workshops. He found that tradition was a catch phrase for the people in Germany where he started publishing his knowledge. It is likewise important in Japan and the USA and perhaps a bit less in other modern industrial societies that do have lost their own rootedness in a "traditional" way of life and look at such an imagined alternative life with much nostalgia. Some critical voices even say this (doing African drumming) is basically a commodity bought by the people in the Western world in order to consume a borowed identity as a role play in order to please the ego and establish domination over those "primitive" societies in Africa as if to say: "see, we can be just like you, but you cannot be like us".

Anyway, the picture of "traditional" solos and dance steps is getting more complex when you know that there is no such thing as a curriculum for all Malinke villages and towns, a unified culture as is created in nation building. There was much effort by Guineas first president Seckou Touré to establish such a national culture with the creation of the ballets, of which Mamady is one of the most prominent figures. But it is very conflicted that the figurehead of ballet drumming claims to be the figurehead of "traditional" drumming as opposed to the ballet style as well.

Sometimes, a rhythm is played and/or danced and/ or called different in even the nearest neighboring village. Additionally, even within a village knowledge can get lost or reshaped from one generation to another. Is there only one way to accompany a dance step that fits the step? Is there only one way to interpret a dance step that fits the basic rhythm? No, there is always space for invention, like Tiriba is said to have been a dancer known for an oustanding way of performing the dance to the rhythm with that name. So, in the end, "tradition" is always in a state of flux. If you say "traditional" you should rather point out that what you do has been done by those individuals at this location around that time.

To be clear: nobody in the world has a complete picture about these things. So everybody can claim things are like this or that. But if we could make a survey through the times and all the different villages, how many different ("traditional") ways of soloing and dancing to rhythms would we compile? Hundreds or thousands?

As to the way things are in Mali, I guess MK speaks for Malinke culture only when he claims there are only 12 rhythms with original dance steps and solo phrases. But I remember Daniel (known as "Afoba" here on the forum) as being very sceptical about the idea of specific solo phrases for rhythms in general. In Mali, we find some unified and common ways of doing things due to the establishment of a shared urban culture in Bamako. Even there, the styles of soloing to specific rhythms varies much in different djembefolas. I guess it is even more pronounced in different villages apart from the capital.

I am looking forward to the DVD, Jean Sebastian, and I am sure we can learn a lot from it. As we can learn a lot from Mamady Keita. We just have to keep in mind that what we learn is just one of many perspectives on a complex thing, just a snippet of the complete picture.
Last edited by djembefeeling on Sat May 30, 2015 4:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
By Djembe04
#36082
Thanks to you all!
I learned a lot from the reactions,
especially that "traditional" is a difficult concept.
As to the way things are in Mali, I guess MK speaks for Malinke culture only when he claims there are only 12 rhythms with original dance steps and solo phrases.
I don't agree, that Mamady speaks for the Malinke only, because the solo originals comes from all parts of Guinea as well as Mali.
By Djembe04
#36083
If you want to go the other way, we can find even less than 12 rhyhtms: Sega Sidibe teaches the three "fathers" before any other rhythm: Dansa, Suku (aka Soli rapide), and Denba (aka Maraka). All the others derive from them and these are the rhyhtms with the most phrases.
Thanks for the information.
Mansa Camio, form Baro, has the same theory, but then for the rhythm Dununbe / Kon.
So every drummer is thinking differently about it.
And I totality agree with you JSB, that Sega Sidibe is a true masterdrummer in his region.
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By djembefeeling
#36084
Djembe04 wrote:I don't agree, that Mamady speaks for the Malinke only, because the solo originals comes from all parts of Guinea as well as Mali.
Makes me curious: what rhythms is MK talking about? Can you give me the names?
By Djembe04
#36085
Here are the rhythms:
Dansa
Kuku
Yankadi
Soli Rapide (Sega would say Soukou)
Garangedon (I don't know how to pronounce this, but if you give the name to the pronunciation the correct name is Garankedon or Garankefoli)
Mendiani
Kortedjuga
Soko
Soboninkun
Djabara
Soli Des Manian
Wassolonka
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By michi
#36087
Of these, Dansa, Kuku, Yankadi, and Soli Des Manian are not Malinke rhythms, as far as I know.
"MK, it is repeatedly said, was trying to establish himself as the true guardian of tradition so as to dominate the international market for djembe workshops."
I don't believe there ever was a plot for world domination ;-) Historically, I suspect what happened was that Mamady liked to teach. Moreover, he is a very, very good teacher, and he has natural didactic abilities that most other African teachers lack. He was able to come up with a systematic approach to teaching that was suitable to a western mindset. In other words, his teaching was really successful.

I imagine that there was an economic motive for teaching too. Back when Mamady started publishing, there was virtually nothing else in existence, and there was much demand. Mamady simply filled a niche that was crying out to be filled. Little wonder then that he kept doing more of it. He has published more teaching materials than all the other masters put together, and we are all the better off for it.

Mamady is definitely very serious about preserving the tradition. But I have never seen him trying to claim that he is the only "true guardian", and Mamady pays deep respect to masters that have preceded and followed him.

Michi.
By JSB
#36088
michi wrote:Of these, Dansa, Kuku, Yankadi, and Soli Des Manian are not Malinke rhythms, as far as I know.
Koreduga (bamana), Wassolonka and Sogoninkun (Wassoulou) are not Malinke rhythms either.
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By michi
#36089
JSB wrote:Koreduga (bamana), Wassolonka and Sogoninkun (Wassoulou) are not Malinke rhythms either.
Are you sure about that? I've been told that the Bamana and Malinke ethic groups are very close to each other, so close that they can be considered the same group. According to Mamady, these rhythms are played by the Malinke too. (Wassolon is where he grew up.)

Cheers,

Michi.
By JSB
#36091
michi wrote:
JSB wrote:Koreduga (bamana), Wassolonka and Sogoninkun (Wassoulou) are not Malinke rhythms either.
Are you sure about that? I've been told that the Bamana and Malinke ethic groups are very close to each other, so close that they can be considered the same group. According to Mamady, these rhythms are played by the Malinke too. (Wassolon is where he grew up.)

Cheers,

Michi.
From our distant point of view, they are close. All the people living in this area are close, by definition. :)
But in terms of local customs - and music and dance is part of it - each group - nearly each village - has its own tradition. If You consider the Kaarta and the Khasso for example, they are both populated by a mix of Soninke (Maraka), Bamana, Djula, Fulani people in various proportions, but they were distinct kingdoms and have distinct folklores, exactly like what we observe in traditional european culture, for example.
There are also variations inside the Malinke area itself.

(I live in Britanny (France), an area of about 150x80 miles, and there were two main languages - french and "breton" with local variations important enough to hinder people from the north, west, east, south to understand each other, and many different local dances and songs and stories,etc..., even if it seems to be the same thing for a newcomer).

The major part of the Bamana don't play the djembe; the bamana rhythms played in Bamako are even named after the instruments used to play them (Bara, Bonjalan).
Koreduga was not originally played with the djembe to my knowledge.
The dances are also different. The Bamana seem to favour collective dances much more than individual ones; that's why the rhythms may be "poorer" in djembe phrases, as the phrases are created after the steps.

The Wassoulou is also a very specific region. It was settled by Fula people a few centuries ago. The four Fula clans are the Diallo, Diakite, Sidibe and Sangare. Even if they adopted the agriculture, the language (very close to the Malinke) and the instruments (nomadic Fula people use light instruments like the flute, calabash,...), they kept their cultural singularity.
To summarize, everything they play is different...and tricky.

The vast majority of people who go to learn djembe in Mali don't leave Bamako, so they may go back home with the impression that it's all the same. Having studied both Malinke and Wassoulounke rhyhtms with Sega, I can tell You that Malinke and Wassoulounke music cannot be merged or confused.
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By michi
#36092
Thanks for your perspective!

Sometimes, I get the impression that trying to unravel all this is a bit like seeing a glass of water some time after someone has dropped a drop of milk into it. You supposed to work out, from the swirls of milk in the water, exactly where and when the drop hit the surface of the water… :)

I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that the "boundaries" of these rhythms have changed significantly over time, both geographically and ethnically. Who knows, there could have been a rhythm much like Koreduga that was played by people other than the Bamana a long time ago, and the Bamana adopted it at some point.

The flow of cultural influences and people is much like the drop of milk in water: ever-increasing entropy ensures that, once enough time has passed, the origin of the milk becomes unknowable…

Michi.
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By djembefeeling
#36094
JSB wrote:Koreduga was not originally played with the djembe to my knowledge.
Garanké wasn't originally played on the djembe, too. Strange concept of original solos for djembe which didn't originate in djembe drumming. Seems like an arbitrary list to me, and I wonder why MK choose those 12 rhythms above others.
michi wrote:I don't believe there ever was a plot for world domination ;-)
Put it that way, it sounds funny. But if you put all the actions together like the publication of CDs, the textbook, DVDs, wokshop curriculae, the establishment of drumming schools with certificated teachers around the world, and - last but not least - the manifesto, MK did all things necessary to dominate the market.
michi wrote: I have never seen him trying to claim that he is the only "true guardian", and Mamady pays deep respect to masters that have preceded and followed him.
And I did never hear BP trying to claim they do care more about profit than about the environment. People do not always tell in public what they really want. In public, hardly anybody in Africa (and elsewhere) would not pay deep respect to the others. To be clear, I do not want to do Mamady Keita bashing here and say that his teaching is worthless and that he does only care about himself.
I really love some of his stuff. But it is good to contrast his charming character sometimes with a critical perspective. The more influence someone has on a community, the more critical one must be. And it is certainly wise to look at this list of 12 original solos with a critical habit. Because to all the things we gained by his teachings and publications, there are many misunderstandings because of his profound influence on the international djembe community. There should also be some critical distance if someone would try to establish Sega Sidibé as the ultimate Malian djembefola, the only one acknowledged by all the others. :D