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Djembefola - Djembe Forum •Modes of playing the lead djembe
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Modes of playing the lead djembe

Posted: Thu Apr 21, 2016 6:59 am
by korman
Hi all,

From what I've experienced so far, it seems that there are four modes of operation for the lead djembe player:
1) riffing or solo accompaniment
Lead djembe almost never seems to play the accompaniment (except in teaching environment), so the least intensive mode of playing is repeating a phrase (riff) with slight variations. It happens, for example, when the singers sing the song. Any other occasions?

2) marking the dance steps
When marking the dancer, lead is somewhat restricted in what to play, as the steps will most often be on the beat, or offbeat, and places in between steps can be filled with rolls, flams, triplets etc.
This is the occasion when to play the traditional "solo phrases" taught by djembefolas, as these should in theory go together with the steps (but might not be the case if drum and dance are taught by different teachers).

It seems that these two modes of playing used to be all that a village djembefola would traditionally do.

3) soloing
A situation where the lead djembefola alone occupies the center stage and is totally free to improvise seems to have first occured in ballet, and is what we admire the great djembefolas for. Here the lead player can do anything - stretch or push time, do cross rhythms, displacements etc. Only the feel of accompanying rhythm restricts the soloist somewhat, though in brief passages even that can be contradicted.
This is also the mode where we see visual tricks like hand gestures, playing in unconventional postures etc.

4) djembe kan
This is a free improvisation by the djembefola alone (without accompaniment). Total freedom, but somewhat restricted by need to maintain a steady rhythm, so here ghost notes, taps and rim shots will be played more often. In djembe kan the full sonic possibilities of the instrument can be showcased as the sounds other than tone and slap are too quiet to be used in an ensemble solo.

Have I left something out? Any additions?

As for myself I don't yet feel capable of playing a pleasing djembe kan, and also marking the dance steps is a tricky art that I don't have opportunity to practice that often (a practice room with TV would help, could play to a dance videos). As for the solo riffs, I usually try to pick them from recordings, they are usually patterns a bit denser than accompaniment.

Re: Modes of playing the lead djembe

Posted: Thu Apr 21, 2016 11:02 am
by djembefeeling
Perhaps percussive style as Soungalo Coulibaly was praised for. In bands playing world music it's hard to tell accompaniment from solo parts sometimes.
Other occasions for solo accompaniments are for the beginning of rhythms, when all dance in the circle.