Discuss traditional rhythms, singing etc
Badenya - Fadenya, and Westafrican Rhythm.

Before I start discussing this subject, I would like to adress some issues. The working title is put in very general, broad terms, and I am not sufficiently versed into all the knowledge necessary to proove all my points - I doubt that I ever will. That is why I say I am trying to understand this music.
I did read some literature more or less related to Westafrican culture and music, but lately I am just too busy to catch up. I started to dig deeper and deeper into the kamelen ngoni, and the work as a full-time freelance instructor for djembe drumming got very time consuming.

Nevertheless, I feel I do have to start expressing and discussing my thoughts about what I see as an "essence" of Westafrican drumming or at least parts of it. For many years, I did struggle to find a final perspective from which I felt comfortable to understand the music I do like so much. For a year or so I think I did find that perspective. I just didn't take the time to properly develop that perpective. This will take me a while and I just want to ask you not to criticize my theory too harshly yet. Give me some time to develop my thoughts here. For every theory building has a developmental time where it is too fragile to be hit with full guns, as Imre Lakatos did observe. Nevertheless, I am open for suggestions on the way and invite comments on the topic that will allow me to follow this inquiry and develop my train of thoughts.

Jürgen Werner, djembefeeling
Last edited by djembefeeling on Sun Apr 17, 2016 11:17 pm, edited 4 times in total.
Religion did and often still does shape the view on our world. For the Mande today, this religious view is mostly a complex texture of animism and Islam. But even though Islam has a tradition of hundreds of centuries in that region, there was a time when the Mande religious view was solely animistic. And even though we do not exactly know for how long the Mande play the music the way they do, we can safely say that the roots of their music reach far beyond the time of Islam.

I think that their music has it's roots in animism. In animism, the world is full of life forces like spirits, and those forces usually have to be manipulated or interacted with in some way to provide a certain level of security to live in that world. The term animism has a history of putting "primitive" cultures as a mere primary stage in human development, but nowadays it is still used to describe religious world views where "self-identity ... is based on their relationships with others, rather than some distinctive feature of the self" (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animism).

For the Mande, forces and spirits interact within a more or less fragile equilibrium of badenya and fadenya. In their most direct meaning, ba-den-ya is the mother-child-hood, the relation of the mother to the child, while fa-den-ya is the father-child-hood, the relation of the father to the child. But the more proper way would be to see them as relationships of the children of one mother and the relation of those to the children of the other wifes of their father. Badenya in this way is an ethical call for the children of one mother to demonstrate absolute solidarity with one another and with their mother, while fadenya encourages competition and rivalry between the different wifes and their children of one father. The children are believed to get their physical and moral power, their barika (blessing), from their mother, while they get their name and social status from their father. Consequently, it is widely believed that you can judge a mother by observing her children or vice versa as it is expressed for instance in the song bele bele: Denkè nyana, denkè tienna, i bè i ba le bòlò - whether a son is felicitous or spoiled, it is in his mothers hands (see Brigitte Lehners dissertation, Vienna 2002, pp. 94-96). But the sometimes fierce competitive mode of relation is not meant to be destructive. Such overzealous behaviour is detested and called fadenkonya, the father-child-jealousy. It leads to egotism and destruction of the social balance.

On the next, more abstract level, badenya is the solidarity among members of one clan and fadenya the competition among different clans. There is even solidarity among certain clans and solidarity between a clan and some species of animals. On yet another, cosmic level badenya is the force that holds the world in its orbit, that makes that the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, that ensures the seasons and holds everything in the place it always inhabited. You can say badenya is the force of conservatism. Fadenya, then, is the force of change and interference in the world, the spice that makes it interesting.

For the individual, it is not always easy to follow a moral code of behaviour with this set of two - in a way - opposing forces. You can always be scolded for leaning too much towards the badenya or fadenya side of things. Women and daughters are usually supposed to live a life of badenya, while sons, especially the oldest son, should focus on challenging and outplay the father. Many people expect him to go on the great adventure toungati and return as a respectable and wealthy man, like Sunjata Keita did before he founded the famous Malian Empire. But every individual has to maintain his or her own balance of the two forces. The right balance is up for interpretation in the specific moment, which puts both a lot of pressure on the individual but opens up the opportunity to negotiate for ones aims at the same time. The right balance of powers has to be found again and again in every specific moment, mostly by negotiating and relating to the others involved.

Those others are not only the current members of the family or village or neighbourhood. The spirits of the ancenstors are also important to be adressed. Even though their bodies dissolved, their spirits did not. They demand to be adressed properly. Everyone is supposed to honour the ancestors by imitating and pursuing their way of life, the tradition. By doing that, they can continue to live among the actual members of a family. If you do not honour them, the spirits can haunt you and harm you with their energy (I guess this is also why it is such a desaster for women not to have children. The ancestors can not continue to live among people and thus haunt and harm those women. Anyone trying to help them in their misery is then risking to be haunted by those spirits likewise). But as former representatives of the clan they do not oppose new ways and improvements also. The clan should grow and enlarge its opportunities.

For badenya and fadenya are two forces which are meant to be in a balance for a beautiful structure of the world, the cosmos, and on a human level to secure the survival of societies. Imagine a society only driven by badenya, for example. It would freeze in its solidity and couldn't adapt to changes of any sort. A society driven only by fadenya , on the other hand, would be self-destructive for sure. That means that an important focus in life is to maintain the balance of these two forces. This objective does permeate every aspect of Mande culture, I think. And it is a fertile way to understand Mande music in general and drumming in particular...
Last edited by djembefeeling on Mon Apr 18, 2016 6:41 am, edited 3 times in total.
Mande drumming is, I will argue, an ongoing process of maintaining the balance of badenya and fadenya by permanent negotiation with the other players and the audience - and, more important, by constantly challenging the beat with alternative structures, particularly of what is in Cuba called the son clave.

These two elements, the beat and a challenging structure, represent the force of the conservative, eternal same of badenya and the provocative, mocking force of ever changing fadenya. Thus, the forces that structure every aspect of Mande life naturally permeat their music likewise, perhaps even more so in order to reflect and exaggerate those forces for its cathartic effect on the society. Consequently, the force of fadenya usually should prevail in Mande drumming.

It has often been said that disorientation is an essential part in (West-)African drum music, that African drummers have the utmost fun in trying to throw you off-route, and the absence of an expressed beat has disoriented numerous researchers as to the importance of the beat. But is has also often been stated that this music is music for dance and as such beat driven. I first realized it is something bigger by the reading of Eugene Novotney: The 3:2 Relationship as the Foundation of Timelines in West African Music.. On p. 232, where Novotney reports on the moral and life-guiding teachings of C.K. Ladzekpo. He shows how those musical exercises in contradicting the steady beat with cross-rhythms is an exercise for life, which is lived successfully when you stick steadily to your goals without being thrown off by things that get in your way like cross-rhythms. The way is not to focus exclusively on one or the other, but to integrate the disturbances successfully in your life.

I think it is even bigger than that. Contradicting the steady beat with cross-rhythms and other alternatively challenging structures is a life exercise in maintaining the balance of power, with some cathartic exaggeration of the challenging part, for life in Mande society is or at least used to be so strictly hierarchically organized with lots of stress on the badenya side of things.

Nevertheless, most rhythms are essentially composed of both sides, the challenge of fadenya, and the steady beat of badenya.
Last edited by djembefeeling on Mon Apr 18, 2016 6:47 am, edited 4 times in total.
In most cases, the challenging structure is the son clave of some form, I will argue, in others the rumba clave or structures derived from it. It is not always that direct and obvious, but you can learn to see it when you start looking for it.

The son clave is a two part (consists of two cells) structure that already embodies the two forces of badenya and fadenya. The first part is called tresillo . As the ternarizator already explained, it is supposed to consist of 3 evenly spaced strokes in a given time, here of two beats. Because the binary form does have 8 pulses in that space, a binary tresillo is a bit odd:


But the three strokes are as evenly spaced as possible in that grid. Anyway, the structure of the tresillo (which has a stroke every 3 pulses) is a big challenge for anybody focusing on the beat (which repeats every four pulses), as you can see with beginners of this music trying to clap the son clave. Especially the syncopation-like structure before the second beat drives those beginners mad. They either clap it one pulse before or after.

The second cell of the son clave, the happy end, is very beat and off-beat in its structure:


together, we have fadenya and badenya taking terms:


To complete the picture, the rumba clave differs only in one place - the third stroke has a delay of one puls:


Historically and thus more recent to their African origins, son and rumba clave were not at all as separated as they are today - both used to be played on Rumba in Cuba, the son clave even being the dominant one. I tend to see a blend of both as a kind of Ur-clave, with the third stroke being in a blured space ahead of the third beat:


Hidden in these structures is, in a way, the complete suspense of every good story, including the story of our lifetime: starting in unity, digressing early and ostensibly, living in an ordered kind of rebellion against the order (off the beat) for some time until we finally end in unity, again. That is the script of a good story, repeated with every single cycle again and again.

It is no coincidence that the most important binary bell-line in this Malinke drum music covers the son clave:


In the tresillo part of the clave, we have the second and the third stroke doubled with pick ups. That is the most common. By the way, the second stroke is called bombo in Cuban music, because it is most often played by a drum with this name, while the second is called ponchè for the same reason. Those two strokes are very important. The second cell of the son clave is here enlarged to the complete set of on- and off-beats.

But there are other ways of covering the son clave. Tresillo can be covered with xx.x.xx. or xx.xx.x, likewise, and tresillo can be overlaid on the second half. Tresillo has a special power against the beat and results in this suspense that provides drive to any given groove. So, often it is overlaid on the second half. See for instance the commonly played second accompaniment on the djembe: b.oo..s. that is pure tresillo with a doubled bombo. Even the beat centered passport accompaniment s..ss.oo covers tresillo.
Or see the accompaniment for Sogoninkun for the second tresillo structure: oo.s.bs. or the accompaniment for Makuru: bo.ob.s.b.o.b.s. for the third structure (this time not overlaid).

As a result, we can find these different, but related bell-lines are covering the son clave:




There is yet another structure, in a rather abstract way, derived from the son clave, as David Penalosa explains in his marvelous book The Clave Matrix: Afro-Cuban Rhythm, its Principles and African Origins. The decisive difference between the first and the second cell of the son clave is the bombo, because only the bombo is on a double-off pulse. In an abstract accentuation of this difference, the first cell is often covered by only double-off strokes against the structure of beat/off-beats in the second cell:


This structure is completely symmetric when you place the axis in between the two cells. Here, fadenya and badenya are in perfect equilibrium. But for a timeline it cannot stand as it is because of the two empty pulses from the fourth beat to the first. We can fill that gap in two ways, both result in a different type of breaking the symmetry. We can put an additional stroke on the first beat which turns the equilibrium towards the badenya side:


or, more common, we put it on the last pulse of the fourth beat, providing an extra double-off and thus turning the equilibrium towards the fadenya side:


Note that these two bell-lines are the usual ways of playing echauffement on the dundun. Note also that the first, more badenya like version covers the rumba clave:


Another version of the rumba clave expanded to a bell-line is:


The second half of the clave, the happy end part, can also be varied. Within the x.x.x.x. structure of single strokes three of them could be alternatively covered by two sets of pairs, which is always an allowed variation. The first stroke on the third beat is usually not varied; it is the important first stroke of the beat/off-beat cell. So alternatives are x.xx.xx. (tresillo again) or x.x.xx.x|x with the first beat of the next cycle included.

With this already rich set of variations we can cover most of the structures played on the duns. Add, for instance, the fadenya-sided abstract bombo accentuation of the tresillo with the first variation of the happy end and you get the dundun for Kassa:


Or combine the rumba clave first half with the second variation of the happy end and you get the sangban for Denabendunun (Wadaba/Lafe), the bell-line of which has a good drive and is called the cascara in Cuba:


I think all we need now is simply to overlay the first cell of the son clave with the happy end side to get the simple beat/off-beat structure:


Some rhyhms, like Soliba (a most useful rhythm for getting to know the happy end well, but tricky since it starts with that!), tend to this badenya centered structure, as you can see in the sangban:


The beats are covered by the muffled strokes, but the happy end is accented by the two open strokes. This is a very conservative rhythm, and you can point to it and claim this is in no way clave music. But then you would completely miss why variations with the sangban on this rhythm are played as they are. In the basic version, it is true, there is only on-beat/off-beat going on, the tresillo part being overlaid by the second half of the clave. In the variations, however, the hidden strand of fadenya emerges again. Let's just have a look at the three variations Mansa Camio teaches in his book with Niels Fleurke:




We understand these variations only when we know that the hidden strand of clave music is still underneath the simple on-beat/off-beat structure of the basic version.
Last edited by djembefeeling on Fri Apr 22, 2016 9:11 am, edited 11 times in total.
JSB wrote:I like this kind of approach.
:D thanks for the encouragement!

If we have a look at the dundun in Mansas Soliba, we can see his basic version as a mixture of rumba clave first cell and tresillo like second cell:


But we have to understand the second half as a common variation of the happy end cell where the last three strokes are expressed in two sets of pairs. Then we do not wonder why he gives as a variation for the dundun:


because he just returns to the common structure of the second cell with this variation.

Another variation of his cannot surprise us, again, for it just exhibits the abstract double-off fadenya structure of the first cell combined with Mansas second:


To cut a long story short: in the patterns of both sangban and dundun we have an ongoing and always interesting negotiation of badenya, represented with the beat/off-beat structure, and the different fadenya challenges of the first cell. Both instruments negotiate the two forces for itself and with the other instruments in a complex, permanent, and vivid communication.

As a stoic background for that, the kensedeni usually marks the beat and holds everything in its place. (Everyone who considers playing the kensedeni as boring does not see this important role of it and does not listen to what is going on with the other instruments and their play between badenya and fadenya.)
Last edited by djembefeeling on Wed Apr 20, 2016 11:54 am, edited 1 time in total.
What about "through the lens of" ?

I find your approach extremely relevant and enlightning !

I love to play (among others)
.o.o.o.oo.o.o.oo when I'm the dunumbafola, but so far I was not able to integrate it in a coherent theory. Thanks for that !

Your idea is also useful to understand the structure of woloso, if seen as quaternary, right ? :

ternarizator wrote:What about "through the lens of" ?
Might work. What do the native speakers think would work best?
ternarizator wrote:I find your approach extremely relevant and enlightening !
:dance: :dance2: :dance2: :dance2: :dance2: :dance2: :dance:
ternarizator wrote:Your idea is also useful to understand the structure of woloso, if seen as quaternary, right ? :1...2...3...4...oo.ø.ø.oo.o.ø.ø.
Right, I thought about Woloso in this way, too. It is not always clear where players put the one, but I think for above reasons it must have been in this order originally...
Last edited by djembefeeling on Fri Apr 22, 2016 9:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
Where does the solo-djembe fit in the picture? To describe it in the cultural metaphor, I would say the soloist is like the oldest son. He is expected to lean heavily on the fadenya side of things, but still needs to find his own balance of the two forces by negotiating them with the other players, with the audience, and especially the dancers. The dancers of course would expect mainly phrases that do support their steps, so there is not plenty of room for going wild. But as soon as the djembe turns more into concert music or ballet, the fadenya portion is getting bigger naturally. It is a modern development but was already enclosed in the original layout, I think.

When Gabriel Daly, a Hamburg based djembefola from the Ivory Coast, explained to me how I should handle the echauffement he told me to "cut across". With that he meant I should repeatedly relocate the point of focus or balance while playing the chauff. Example given:


In the same manner, you need to cut across with the soloing. You should provide fresh points of view every now and then, changing the point of focus and balance, go back and forth from fadenya to badenya. If you lean to one side only, your soloing will get stale. The exact share of either element in your soloing is up to constant negotiation between what you feel like and what your technical accomplishments can express on the one side, but also between you and what the audience and the other players are expecting.

Sometimes, fadenya and badenya are bound together in one larger cycle like these two. The first measure is some version of a 3 pulses versus 4 pulses (the beat!) movement, the second measure is a beat-centered pattern of some sort (all four beats or just the two front beats [1 and 3]):



Ibro Konaté comes to my mind with patterns like this, perhaps Famoudou as well.
Anyway, here you have one important structure of soloing in nuce: taking turns of challenges to the beat and the beat.

Notabene: it is amazing how much the structures of our music sometimes still fit with its Latin American diasporic counterpart. See the first, beat-challenging part of the last solo:


The first five open tons do constitute a pattern that is something like a pseudo bossa nova pattern, a pattern that is more easy to play for beginners. Its 3 against 4 movement first starts on the one and somehow ends on the four. I do know this pattern only in one other variant:


and that is exactly the structure of the original bossa nova "clave" (some call it the bossa nova clave, but Antonio Carlos Jobim explicitly said it is not a clave).

The 3 versus 4 is the most important and most often used displacement. Others are 5 v 4, 6 v 4, and 7 v 4. They create some very spicy suspense and for most of our listeners very nice disorientation and confusion as to the place of the beats. With patterns like this you go on the great adventure toungati, and when you return, you return as a respectable player! And sooner or later you are expected to return and fit into the orderly fashion again...
Last edited by djembefeeling on Fri Apr 22, 2016 9:22 am, edited 1 time in total.
What is getting more important for me lately in soloing is the element of mediation. For that let us turn back to the animistic strand of Mande culture.

Central to the animistic belief is that many entities are supposed to have a spirit, nyama. The spirits can mean you well or can harm you, depending on their mood and how you handle them. It is simply dangerous to deal with them and you rather turn to experts to deal with those for you, usually to the nyamakala, craftsmen like blacksmiths, leatherworkers, and griots, who have strong spirits themselves and can deal with the involved spirits without harm.

Badenya and fadenya as opposite forces are understood in the Cartesian context of our own culture often as a dualism. In dualistic models of the world, mediation has a central role. Many stress that in animism the two forces are not seen as antagonistic, that this is a projection from our cultural background. Still, in the Mande culture the element of mediation has a central place.

Lets say you were fond of some girl in your village and want to marry her. Well, that didn't really count. But lets say your father wanted that you marry her. He wouldn't send you or would go himself to her or her father - no way! Words are a dangerous thing, powerful nyama live in or accompany them. It is too dangerous to address a topic head on. Your father would probably send a brother to some respected person in the village, a respected old man, a blacksmith or in most cases the griot, who would in turn go to the younger brother of the future brides father and so on. As a safety measure, you have a number of mediating positions on the way from you to the other to negotiate things.

Teaching the technique of tone and slap, I do observe often that in our culture we do have a bias as to how to approach the djembe. We hit it head on, right with the fingers on the skin. But this usually doesn't result in proper sounds, because the djembe is a membranophone and the membranes vibrations are produced and killed at almost the same time with that kind of approach. It can also be harmful for your hands and joints. I tell those students to lay their hands on the rim/ bearing edge and let the fingers drop on the skin by themselves - but that is most often of no use, because our bias that we should approach the djembe head on is so strong that we cannot help it. Then I tell them all about the mediative character of the Mande culture and that they should go to the "griot" (i.e. the rim or bearing edge) and ask if he would mediate them with the skin. Surprisingly, this often really helps. After that likeness they usually get it.

So I would say that the djembe as an instrument already is a reflection of the mediative character of Mande culture (although I know that the Malian slap, for example, is a bit muffled by purpose).
Last edited by djembefeeling on Fri Apr 22, 2016 9:33 am, edited 3 times in total.
The element of mediation is also very important in soloing. Those "griots" in soloing are what Rainer Polak calls so felicitously "Schnittstelle " (place of the cut) in German and "interface" in English. This is so apt because in Bambara they call those patterns tigé (cut), and their function is to cut and connect at the same time. Often, you can hear people playing wild solos that do not seem to have a beginning nor an end. They spit out what comes to their mind in that moment. But to speak properly and with sense, you need to have pauses, emphasis, and some flowers of speech. In written words you need punctuation and paragraphs. Those give some structure to your utterance.

Interfaces are calls, for example. The most often used is the cascara phrase:


how is this cascara? see, the tone-flam in the beginning is a contracted pair:


Mansa Camios way of playing this call is:


just because the cascara is the underlying structure of this call.

But this is just one of so many interfaces.
Last edited by djembefeeling on Fri Apr 22, 2016 12:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Jürgen wrote:Interfaces are calls, for example. The most often used is the cascara phrase:


how is this cascara? see, the tone-flam in the beginning is a contracted pair:


Mansa Camios way of playing this call is:

Which handing do you use for flam ? (and also, are you right- or left-handed ?)

I'm not telling you are wrong, for I have already seen african drummers using this "before the beat" tone to play this call, but I once asked the question to MK about flams : which stroke is regarded as "on the beat" ? He said it is the first one, and actually, as a right-handed drummer, he plays his flams "rl" (at least for the call), except for flams beginning with a bass, which he plays "lr", considering the bass as a prebeat (like in Koreduga and Lekule). Personnally, I tend to play "rl" all the time (if possible), and I think none of the two strokes are on the beat, but one slightly before and the other slightly after, the flam itself being on the whole "on the beat". I do so when using Percussion Studio and by ear it works for me... I think it is a western cultural bias to systematically consider flams as "prebeat and beat". It's the way students learn fanfare drum in Europe (a.o.), but not necessarily relevant for djembé music. It maybe could be another topic... (maybe already dealt ? I have not checked)

Another question : what about ternary rhythms, and especially the shifted ones ? As the beat is displaced, the relation with it is deeply changed, don't you think ?

ternarizator wrote:Which handing do you use for flam ? (and also, are you right- or left-handed ?)
I am right handed and play it just like you do.
ternarizator wrote:I once asked the question to MK about flams : which stroke is regarded as "on the beat" ? He said it is the first one, and actually, as a right-handed drummer, he plays his flams "rl" (at least for the call), except for flams beginning with a bass. (...) I think it is a western cultural bias to systematically consider flams as "prebeat and beat". It's the way students learn fanfare drum in Europe (a.o.), but not necessarily relevant for djembé music.
Exactly! Daniel also told me once that he thinks prebeat flams in djembemusic are nonsense. I do not consider the first note of the flam as prebeat. I just want to show the matrix that generates the well-known signal. Rainer Polak made me aware that flams can be contracted pairs.
ternarizator wrote:none of the two strokes are on the beat, but one slightly before and the other slightly after, the flam itself being on the whole "on the beat". I do so when using Percussion Studio and by ear it works for me...
this is funny! I do exactly the same on percussion studio and there it sounds right. I don't do it in playing the djembe, though. But in general I think it may sound good when you play slightly ahead of time as a soloist...
ternarizator wrote: what about ternary rhythms, and especially the shifted ones ? As the beat is displaced, the relation with it is deeply changed, don't you think ?
Yes, I do think so. I didn't want to get into deep water here. I discussed the ternary rhythms of the dja family before on the other thread:

music-and-drumming-f5/generating-bell-l ... t5452.html

but the shifted rhythms are shifted and thus the relation changed. Since they are not textbook, I will not discuss them here. I want to paint the picture as clear as possible for making my point(s).
Just one thought: the dundungbé is supposed to be the mother of all dundunba rhyhthm. When we take into consideration its historic social function, the violent and sometimes even deadly challenge of the generation of the baratiilu by the baradomolu or the challenge to face enemies in war, we might not wonder anymore why even the beat started to migrate into a challenge. This is almost pure fadenya!
Last edited by djembefeeling on Fri Apr 22, 2016 10:24 am, edited 3 times in total.
Jürgen wrote:Since they are not textbook
Do you mean "Since they are not textbook cases" ? You know my english is not so good, but I try my best...