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Readings on African drumming - Page 3 - Djembefola - Djembe Forum

Discuss traditional rhythms, singing etc
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By djembefeeling
JBM wrote: 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.
Of course, those examples apply likewise to Europe. But all those examples transport a different meaning of being worthy of knowledge, don't they? Our societies define themselves as open, not as secretive. And it's strange to think about something not worthy to know for us. It's a question of special qualification not of character or ethics for us, generally spoken.
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By djembefeeling
Rainer Polak, Performing Audience: On the Social Constitution of Focused Interaction at Celebrations in Mali. in: Anthropos 102.2007/1: 3–18.

This article is, I guess, sort of a spin-off from his work where he shows that, against the standard opinion in sociology, that the roles of audiance and performers don't need to be strict, but that typically in Bamako on feasts the individual short time performances of all participants of the audiance are constitutive for the feasts. You get some infos on the feast culture in Bamako, but by no means a must read...
Last edited by djembefeeling on Thu Aug 14, 2014 2:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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By djembefeeling
Rainer Polak 2005, Drumming for Money and Respect. The Commercialization of Traditional Celebration Music in Bamako. In: Jansen, Jan and Stephen Wooten (eds.), Wari Matters: Ethnographic Explorations of money in the Mande World. LIT Verlag, pp. 135–161.

In his article, Polak examines jenbe playing as work for money, thus it is sort of a summary of chapter 4 of his monograph on jenbe playing in Bamako. It is a way more interesting read than the former article, since Polak shows how the conditions of drumming in Bamako changed to more and more commercialized forms in the last 4 decades. His argumentation is very differentiated. He states that commercialization does not necessarily lead to uniformity, but can trigger creativity as well. And even though Polak shares the asthetic values of the middle generation of drummers in Bamako for functional as well as asthetic reasons, he tries to show that they have other strong reasons for always complaining about the decadence of todays drumming. They tend to like all changes till the mid 1980s, where the rapid growth of Bamako came to a halt, leading to stagnation of demand, while at the same time the number of players entering the market still grows. Prices for engagements go down and the customers won power within their relationship in the market. Thus, players feel driven by their financial needs to accomodate all demands of customers, while teenage competitors play for less money and set new standards in style. So, a good part of the decadence talk is propaganda in order to shut off the market for competitors.
Very touching are two fragments of interviews with Jeli Madi Kouyate and Drisa Kone on their early years with Yamadu Dunbia. And I liked to read that most djembe players still like drumming very much, even though they would never consider to play just for fun.
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By djembefeeling
Rainer Polak, Das Spiel der Jenbe-Trommel. Musik-und Festkultur in Bamako, Mali. Bayreuth 1996. [=Playing the Jenbe Drum. The Culture of Music and Feasts in Bamako, Mali.]

For a long time, I was curious about Polaks masters thesis. But then I droped reading it because I thought it'll just be a smaller version of his dissertation. Well, finally, curiosity prevailed...

In some way, the thesis is a smaller version and not as much seasoned version of his monography, but in many other ways it is an interesting complement.

First, there are some interesting informations he left out in his dissertation. One little anecdotal gem was to learn about the reason for the preference of many drummers from the region of lenke wood. The trees are supposed to be inhabited by particularly strong jinas (in Bamana) or nyamas (Malinké) respectively. Thus, these ghosts are supposed to continue to work powerful in the jenbe. This is the reason for some reports (for example by Famoudou Konaté or Adama Dramé) that the spirits of a lenke tree must be appeased by a sacrifice. Polak reports on "modern" thinking drum builders not really believing in jinas but still mounting jenbes only on Tuesdays or Thursdays, for those jinas are supposed to be more gentle on those days -- I love it!

In his masters thesis, Polak argued for a partition of rhythms into 3 families (based on the three main and general accompaniments) instead of his 4 class system (based on the kind of microrhythmic deflection working in the rhythms) he argued for in his dissertation. This different classificatory system puts other interesting features of the different rhythms into focus, as I just wrote on the Mande rhythm families thread. Also, since he put the complete first realbook in his handwriting as an apppendix to the masters thesis for reference of his claims, we can find some interesting analysis of some of the rhythms which is not included in the realbook, especially while he compares the three different styles of the soloists. He lists many examples of solophrases, rhythms, chauff patterns and the like. one particularly interesting information was about the patterns of the dunun and the jenbe for the calm period of song and round dance in dansa. because I neither heard it before nor saw it in notation. This is due to the studio setting of his CDs accompanying the realbooks.

One main focus and a large chunk of the masters thesis is on the mood of feasts and how it is brought about by the technical aspects of jenbe playing. Trance and ecstasy are important categories for him here, which he didn't even touch in his dissertation. Here he finds that jenbe music in general aims at a trance like state of mind which is getting everyone close to the level of ecstasy, and that microrhythmic deflection is one important feature to provoke that. while ecstasy is seen as objectionable on marriage feast (konjo) and are just tolerated on circumcisions (furasi), it is the desirable object of evocation feasts of the jinatonw.
Last edited by djembefeeling on Wed Aug 20, 2014 10:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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By michi
djembefeeling wrote:Polak reports on "modern" thinking drum builders not really believing in jinas but still mounting jenbes only on Tuesdays or Thursdays, for those jinas are supposed to be more gentle on those days -- I love it!
Thanks for that, that's a priceless piece of information! :)
One main focus and a large chunk of the masters thesis is on the mood of feasts and how it is brought about by the technical aspects of jenbe playing. Trance and ecstasy are important categories for him here, which he didn't even touch in his dissertation. I wonder if he provoked a shitstorm with that analyses from the members of his doctoral committee or if he droped it because he lost interest or believe in that. Anyway, here he finds that jenbe music in general aims at a trance like state of mind which is getting everyone close to the level of ecstasy, and that microrhythmic deflection is one important feature to provoke that. while ecstasy is seen as objectionable on marriage feast (konjo) and just tolerated on circumcisions (furasi), it is the desirable object of evocation feasts of the jinatonw.
I attended at Jinafoli in Bamako in 2008. Really, really weird. It was like a combination of church service, counselling session, circus show, mediation gig, rebirthing, and speaking in tongues all wrapped into a single happening. Very strange indeed…

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By djembefeeling
Charlotte Wiedemann: Mali oder das Ringen um Würde [= Mali or the struggle for dignity]. Munich, September 2014.

This awesome book is brandnew, and it's a shame that it is available in German only. I learned so much from it. Charlotte Wiedemann is a German journalist and lately a member of the staff of a Berlin based journalist school. She traveled for many years through Mali, was married to a Malian and lived with him for some time on a little farm there. She knows what she is writing about, she researched a great deal in all parts of the country. And she has some basic critical political beliefs that lead her account of the late developments and color it in an good way.

Her book is organized in 12 chapters. In "The proud Sahel" she starts with an account of Timbuktu. She met some very interesting people there, most importantly Abdelkader Haidara, the most influentuell head of one of the many family archives of manuscripts in Timbuktu. Formerly employed by the government to talk families into giving their treasures to the state archive, he radically changed his mind about that when he inherited his fathers archive, who told him not to give it away to the state. That was something important for the whole world community, since it was the fact that hardly any of the manuscripts where in the Southafrican sponsered modern state archive but in family possession that those manuscript still exist. Those families felt personally respnsible for the manuscripts and did hide them with sometimes by rsiking their very lives. Haidara organized the exodus from Timbuktu to Bamako in the then occupied city of Timbuktu.

The manuscripts where hardly taken notice of by the academic world of the West, even after some of them did a great deal of research in the late 19th century. Hardly anybody of the inhabitants of Timbuktu could read them since the colonisation of Mali by the French put a halt on any Arabic language and thus to the knowldege of the precolonial elite. One of the stereotypes abbout Africa is that it has oral tradition only, no written accounts. But the manuscripts of Timbuktu show the opposite, only that most of the stuff is not analyzed yet. The manuscripts are written in Arab letters, but that doesn't mean that they are all written in Arab. There is a plenty of them written in different African languages, which makes it additionally hard to get an account of the content of the the plentitude of manuscripts.

Wiedemann tries to sensibilize for deformations of language and explains the roots of some of the words most often used unreflected by Westerners. The sahel, for instance, is an Arab word meaning "coast". While for us the word "sahel" sounds like pure poverty, famine and hunger, for the Arab merchants it stood for the opposite, land where water and food could be found and people could survive on their own after passing the desert. Or did you know that Timbuktu is called after the female black Tuareg slave womam Buktu, taking care of an important well [= tin in Tamashek, the language of the Tuareg] ? I didn't.
That the word "griot" probably stems from the Portuguese word for "squaller", while the Bamanankan word "djeli" means "blood", a metaphorical expression for the vital role of the djeli in the community like the blood has for the organism? That the endemic word "djoliba" for the river Niger means "river of djelis", another honoration of the djelis importance for the peoples' lifes?
Or did you know that Sunjata Keita declared in the region of Kurukan Fuga something like a declaration of human rights?

Wiedemann uses the long trip to Kurukan Fuga to present a short summary of Malian history in order to show the rich cultural history the country has as a resource. She never gets tired to stress that the solution for the country are within Mali itself, not in an arrogant help of the any outside state or institution. But she also describes the many problems the country faces today.

In her second chapter, "Bamako", she gives an impression of this city by mostly following a young unemployed academic and a djelimusa. While Bamako is asayed to be the most "Afrcian" of all African capitals for its infrastructure as a "city without streets", a conglomerate of villages, she shows how the city is a blend of all Malian cultures and how much these cultures mixed towards an urban culture. The points to Islam as one of the most important factors to make such an urban blend and the social change possible. What she admires most and tries to report are the many ways in which Bamako is a capital of poverty but not of misery. She reports on many instances where fugitives hardly ever life on the streets, instead are included naturally in the family structure of relatives, even though they did survive on scrap before. The main symbol of the Malian crisis shouldn't have been the Kalaschnikov in the hands of a masked djihadist, she claims, but the bowl of rice in which more and more hands grab. Even in the time of Malis biggest crisis, Bamako seemed to be stoic and tolerant of the many ways to live and believe.

In the third chapter, "the wrong democracy", we are informed about the state of the democracy in Mali before the crisis, how the struggle for democracy in 1991 was accompanied by the hope of the people and how quickly this hope eroded in a completely corrupt political elite. while corruption is prevailing in Mali, Wiedemann warns us to think of the Malian people as naturally tending towards corruption. She shows how enduring the fight of people against injustice can be in Mali and how despicable the corrupt politicians are talked about. No wonder that religious players grow big in such a political climate and how a couple of hundred armed rebels could make the state implode. When old traditions and authorities are cast aside and new ones do not really step in, there will be a political and social vacuum waiting to be filled.

To cut the rest of book short: the economic results of Mali obeying to the liberalistic orders of the World Bank and the IMF were desastrous. The railway was privatized so that hardly any people do travel by rail, a great many villages stations closed, cutting them from trade routes and possibilities of income for many. Wiedemann was married to one of the most important activists for a railway system serving the people, not foreign investors. Land grabbing is big in Mali, too, leaving many people with nothing. Farmers are traped today in a fatal spiral of debts, even in fruitful parts of the country, having only Monsanto and banks profit from their hard work. An unjust economic world order makes it so difficult for farmers to leave this spiral. While Malian cotton is famous for its quality and the wages are miniscule, cotton from the USA is even cheaper because every American farmer is subusidized with one hundred thousand dollars every year, and cheap European second hand clothes sweep the market. Of the thirteen goldmines exploited in Mali, only one has Malian investors. The wages in those mines are low, and the goverment in Bamako always sides with the foreign investors. They make good money: for every dollar they invest, they get three dollars out. The people of Mali do not profit from those resources. just the opposite: in the region of Kayes, some 600 kilometers northwest of Bamako, where 8 of those goldmines are, experts estimate that water resources might be exploited within the next 10 years. Not far from it, in the utmost south west of Mali, the region of Falea, a very fruitful land, a Canadian company plans to exploit uranium without even informing the people in the region. They explored the region, leaving more than 500 drilling holes there, sometimes within peanut fields or cattle land belonging to the people there, where cattle sometimes falls into or dies drinking water from it. In Niger we can see the results of such a development, where the French company Areva exploited the radioactive material for 40 years, leaving the country still poor but with serious health problems due to the enormous radiactive waste.

The reinstalled democracy after the Fench invasion has the same corrupt political figures as the former did. French is the only languaged allowed in the parliament of a country where only 15% of the population understand French. Fench is also the main language in schools, and only a minority of students can learn in their own language in what are still model trials of pedagogy. In a country where most products are importet and the language of power is French, it is hard to value anything Malian. This adds much of the motivation to leave the country for the traditional great adventure and to return with big money. Much of Mali lives on the money sent by emigrants even though it is so costly and dangerous to go to Europe. Wiedemann visited a village with a long tradition of emigration. While the generation of the old people was very welcome in Europe in times of constant growth, today their sons and gransons are illegally there, living a life far away from their families for many years in a row with no rights and in constant fear of being deported. She visited also a dormary in a Paris subburb, where you can find 400 beds in 64 appartments with more than 1000 inhabitants sleeping in shifts in the beds. Asking herself why those people are putting their very lifes in danger for such a way of life, she explains how deeply ingrained the social adventure is in the traditions, especially those of the Soninke, and how anyone who might one day become head of the family is under unbelievable pressure to go abroad to support the family with good money and thus social status within the family clan.

As a balancing weight to all those problems listed, Wiedemann frequently comes up with examples of basic democratic structures and solutions on a small scale in villages she visited. It does function sometimes on a local scale, thus, she argues, it could on the large scale. We shouldn't insist on a western type democracy, but should let Mali develop its own model. It is a conservative and hierarchically structure paternalistic society, and it is interesting to read from a female European womens rights sympathizer that all this has to be respected in order to have Malian democracy work.

In a great deal of the book she also investigates the many forms of religious figures and movements in Mali. She tries to have us understand the many faces of todays Islam and that our notion of it is very limited and hostile since the war on terrorism started. She thinks the growing influence religious players have to be accepted, too, on the political stage, whith democratic politicians buying votes and agreement all the time. Much of the attraction of the charismatic religious political leaders stem from their serious moral beliefs. In her last chapter she describes her trip to Gao in the far north of Mali some time after the djihadists where driven out of the city. The mentions that most of the population did suffer much more under the MNLA of the Tuareg than under the djihadists that took over from the Tuareg, who probably committed up to 80% of all the rapes in Gao and a neighbouring city. The sharia, which is not only a system of jurisdiction, but a set of rules for life in general, is a civilizing factor in world history, she claims. The gruelsome amputations as a draconian punishment for thieves, which where so often talked about in the media before the French incasion, are believed to have been of 8-12 cases, one case of stoning is reported. In most states where the sharia is or was implemented, those radical punishments are told to have been very few, much less than the actions of djihadists in northern Mali might suggest. To put it in balance, she says that thieves of motorcycles in Bamako will be lynched by the mob if captured. Under the djihadists, people in Gao could talk with those in power via some basic selforganized structures which play an important role in the expections for more democracy in Gao today.

Charlotte Wiedemann doens't want to say people really liked it under the djihadists, but that they learned something and didn't suffer as much as under the MNLA, which fighters were quickly reinstalled by the French as guardians of the people they made suffer under their rebellion. Iad Ag Ghali, founder of Ansar Din, wanted as a terrorist before the French invasion, is now a respected influential political figure again in deals with the secret services of the western states. The political reality especially in Northern Mali is much more ambivalent than the picture our media here are painting. The former president of Mali, who fled so panically after the alleged coup that wasn't planned to be a coup, did as a president protect and collaborate with drug dealers and abductionists in the North, getting part of the money payed for the people abducted in his country while paying lip service to the West.
Wiedemann says, on a conference in Germany, one politician said: "We have to develop Mali!", and nobody laughed out loud. The notion that Malians cannot take care of their own is still prevailing. Wiedemann thinks that money for development might have done more bad than good, leading in part to a culture of bribery and corruption. She is more than ever convinced that solutions for Mali can only rise from within Mali. What we could do is stop interfering and dictating the economic terms of trade.
Last edited by djembefeeling on Wed Oct 29, 2014 4:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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By djembefeeling
Miriam Faßbender. 2850 Kilometer: Mohamed, Jerry und ich unterwegs in Afrika. Tagebuch einer Flucht (2850 kilometers: Mohamed, Jerry, and me on the road in Africa. Diary of a getaway).

One last digression from drumming into cultural stuff. Just read this nightmarish book of a young female Berlin documentarist about her experiences with refugees from Africa on their attempts to get to Europe illegaly.
2850 kilometers is the distance from Bamako to Europe over land, one fo the routes for refugees in West Africa. Miriam Faßbender did a documentary about this and was asked by the publisher to write about her experiences. And what she has to tell is, of course, harsh.

Corruption is so deeply ingrained into the fabric of state officials that her filming permits for Mali were worth nothing. without bribery, she had to fight for her permit for weeks, with endless interviews in the burocracy. Her experiences getting visa for the Maghreb states was even worse, especially as a woman who wanted to travel alone.

But her book is more about the typical experiences of refugees and the much worse hardships they have to bear on their way. It's an organized business and some people make good money on that. As a consequence, refugees are sometimes stuck for years on their route to a further destination in order to earn the money required to get passed the hurdles, may it be deserts or borders.
In Gao, many refugees live in shelters organized in nationalities (it was surprising to find how strong national ties have grown in these last 50some years). It was very hard for Miriam to even come in contact with the refugees in the shelters, for the police was always suspicious of her and the presence of such a flow of refugees a taboo.

The closer refugees come to the enclaves of Europe on the African continent, Melilla and Ceuta, the tougher life gets for refugees. Since the European Union made contracts with the Maghreb states to stop illegal immigration, the oppressive police there sometimes exposures caught refugees to the desert without any water and sense of orientation. Often, they are brought back to the border, men will be severely beaten, their joints broken or injured so they cannot continue their journey, the women raped, especially if they cannot pay for the bribe.

If they ever make it to Europe, and it get's harder and harder every day, the refugees will often be denied their right to aplly for asylum that is written down in the Geneva articles. Countless people die on this way, in the desserts, in the harsh hidden shelters without medical attention, on the sea in jam-packed boats that you can hardly call boats.

Miriam Faßbender admires those refugees, the hardships they bear to live their dream, to learn on their "great adventure" that is part of their culture, and to finally sent some money to their families. She describes how shameful it is for the refugees to turn back home with nothing, how all family and friends and neighbours do sell much of what little they have to finance the trip of one hopeful and expects a big refund.

She argues that there is no reason to stop those immigrants, that they are a enrichment to our societies, and that hunger is another good reason for asylum. Given all the shit they have to endure due to Europeans - the aftermath of colonialism, desertification due to global warming, land grabbing, overfishing, exploitation of resources and the ethnical conflicts this often fires - they shouldn't be stopped.

The book was mostly interesting to read for me and I feel for those people. But I am not always as sure as she is about this "it's all our fault and the few who want to come here should get here" thing. She is so angry about all the fellow people in Europe and accuses even viewers of her documentary who comment of the poetic power of the main characters in her documentary of deep racism. But how is this comment a sign of deep racism? Not everybody has poetic power, and if you would make a documentary anywhere it would be luck to find poetic characters. She is so stuffed with leftist victims-and-offender thinking that she even agrees on the allegations of some Nigerian refugees puting her through all kinds of shit just because they envy her assistance for the characters of her documentary and thus beat those guys up and steal her camera, having her to buy their freedom and get her camera back. It drove me nuts sometimes how one sided her perspective is. But, and that is important, it is a perspective we hardly ever can see living securily and rich as we are, mostly just entertained and not informed by the media. According to Oxfam, the richest one percent of the worlds population will have more than the rest. That inequality will cause more and more people to seek their fortune elsewhere.
Last edited by djembefeeling on Mon Mar 23, 2015 7:41 am, edited 1 time in total.
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By djembefeeling
Daniel Giordani: jembe fó. Perkussionsmusik der Maninka Guineas zwischen Kontinuität und Wandel (= percussion music of the Maninka of Guinea in between continuity and change) . Masters thesis of the University of Viena 2003.

http://trommel-schule.eu/PDF/Diplomarbe ... emusik.pdf

Back on topic. This is some of the rare academic stuff on Guinean djembe drumming, so it is a valuable source. After the conventional glimpse into his methodology, the history and society, and of course the percussive instruments of the Malinke, Giordani mainly digs into the festivities in the rural area of Guinee -- meaning Mansa Camios Baro.
In Baro, we find mainly dunun festivities, as are: Baradossa, Sunkarosali (end of Ramadan), Donkinsali (Tabaski), Gbalanlon, Silamalon, Dalamon. As special feasts he names Denabon/Denkunli (baptism), Solisi (circumcision), Fedu (wedding), Sedetulon and Mamaya. Feasts for support in the fields like Kassa and harvest homes like Kamberensali are not celebrated any more, as he states - just like Gbalanlon and Silamalon.

Undoubtedly, I learned something from reading this. In most vivid details he describes the baradosa. Bara (village square) dosa (=to scratch) is a feast of 3 days in Baro, where the generation of the baratii descends into the mogoba, the old and respected guys. In total, he argues, there are six generations (in males):

kondonden (0-7 years old)
kondenba (7-14 years old, kids before circumcision)
baramamaren (14-21 years old, tenager after circumcision)
baradómó (21-28 years old, young men)
baratii (28-35 years old, rulers of the youth and intermediaries between the old men and the youth)
mógóba (35-42 and, I guess, beyond. mógóba, a big person, meaning experienced and respected)

The dundungbé, which is called kon in Baro, is the most respected dundunba and is typically started with. Whenever one of the mógóbalu dances, drummers will return to kon in order to him show respect. On the third day, the baradomolu enter the bara and the baratiilu get symbolically overwhelmed by them to give the place to the next genereation. The baratiilu finally dance the moribayassa and dissappear. In the focus of the day there is a girl called sankaranba, something like a princess for the next baratiilu. She is chosen in a competitive race to catch a chicken. Since it is a huge honor and responsibility in terms of resources to feed the whole village, not many girls compete.

The sunkarosali is the feast of Ramadan. Interestingly, the name comes from the name for the month of September in the solar calendar and still functions as the name for Ramadan even though that is celebrated by the moon calendar. In Baro, the sunkarosali is one of the few occasions where the mask of konden dances. The mask belongs to the kondenba, who have the responsibility to take care of the mask and to clothe the bearer of the mask. Of course, in Baro this feast is celebrated as a dundun feast. On this occasion, two smaler masks do also appear: the gbalanen and the touranengbananen.

The donkinsali,or tabaski, is basically ceelbrated the same way as the sunkarosali in Baro. For Giordani didn't take part in that feast, there is very little information on it other than that it takes part at the 10th day of the month donkin and that families acquire sheep for the feast sometimes weeks ahead.

The gbalanlon feast is about the construction of gbalan, pedestal-like divan-beds at the bara, where the old guys of the village can sit on during the feasts and meetings. All inhabitants of the village work together for their construction and in the end they celebrate, guess what, a big dundunba feast. Giordani has never seen any of those constructions, so he thinks that kind of feasts are not any longer celebrated. But now at least I know where the rhythm Gbalanla comes from, that Famoudou Konaté teaches.

the silamalon, the cleaning of the paths from village to village, is a yearly community work to get rid of the high gras and scrub. the young men of the villages take yearly turns in cleaning, and in the end they will be welcomed with a dundunba dance and a complimentary dinner. But, as mentioned above, it is probably hardly celebrated any more.

the dalamón feast (dala = pond; món = fishing), is another occasion for collective work, this time the collective fishing of the ponds to "harvest" the fish before the ponds dry out. It is supposed to be the biggest feast in Baro with lots of visitors and, guess what, lots of dundunba. According to Fadouba Oulare the dalamón is also practised to appease the „jina“ (fr. diable) of the pond so that no bad luck will happen to the village the coming year.

As special feasts Giordani lists the denabon i.e. denkunli (lit. shaving of the head as Giordani states, but it seems to be more the little head of the kid), the baptism. The importance of the baptism for the djembe musicians has declined, since denabon/denkunli is more and more celebrated within the intimate circle of family.

solisi, the circumcision or excision, used to be one of the most important feasts in Upper Guinea, for it means the first step of children into an adult life as real members of society with an own identity based on gender. There are several names for this occasion: soli, solisi, ka den nina ji, ka i bolo ko (for washing [= ko] the hand(s) [= bolo]), and ka i bila kodo. Mostly, the solisi is celebrated in Upper Guiena during the dry season (November-March), in smaller villages after a couple of years, in bigger villages it is rather a yearly event.

The age of the initiated is droping in Upper Guinea as it is in the big cities. While it used to be done with 13-14, today the age ranges from 4-8. The feast starts a week ahead of the circumcision/excision with the shaving of the head. Only a little spot in the back is left that will be shaved (=kungbana) during the big solisi the night before.
The whole night there is drumming and dancing. Next to the rhythm soli they play kourouma and soliwoulen in Baro.

Giordani explicitly states that he is against the excision of girls and that it is illegal in Guinea. Accordingly, informants where reluctant to talk about the solisi for girls.

Fudu, the marriage, is another special and important occasion for feasts and today the most frequent occasion for the musicians to play their drums. It is also one of the most complex events in terms of formalities, because a marriage does determine the life of the couple and to a large extent of the families involved.
One of the feasts celebrated in the fudu is the denbadon in honor of the brides mother, where the mother is usually substituted by a good friend of hers.
The sumu is another of those feasts, but Giordani tells that it was celebrated not with djembe players, but with pop music played from the stereo.
The jalaban, on the other hand, is a typical djembe feast. The main rhythm is, of course, the dja (or ja, in Giordanis spelling). The female friends of the bride clap to the rhythm and take turns in dancing in the middle of the circle, spin around, clap one time and return ot their places within the circle.

Sédétulon and mamaya are celebrated in cities only. In Kankan, for instance, many girls and women are organized in groups (=sédé) for the organization of important and costly celebrations (=tulon) of their members. But they also celebrate some smaller feast just for themselves and spontaneously call for some drummers and dance together. Mamaya is a much bigger event and is planed meticulously by a number of sédé working together for this. Often, the girls and women have themselves made cloth in unison just for the occasion. The dance was origninally accompanied by balas only, but today it became a rythm for djembe and dunduns, too.

Finally, the special occasion for djembe feasts left is kassa. In old times (folo, folo), the work on the fields of a village used to be done as teamwork by the young men, the kambereni, of the village and was supported by djembe music. At the end of the harvest the village used to celebrate a feast in honor of the young mens work, the kamberesali. Nowadays, the communal work is rare.

Giordani also describes the development of djembe music in Guineas capital Conakry, but since it doesn't interest me that much, I will not take the pain to summarize all that. Though I have to admit that it was nice to read for the first time some parallel developments to those decribed by Polak for Bamako. There has been established an urban culture in its own right where the ethnic identity of people is becoming less important than the identity as inhabitants of the city. That culture is dominated by dundunba and sabbar feasts, musically it is dominated by the ballets.
Some additional value comes from Giordanis notations of rhythms and patterns beginning with p. 109 and 150. You can find summaries for typical patterns of rhythms, accompaniments, and chauffs and transcriptions of the rhythms from his lessons in Conakry.

Giordanis thesis is one of the rare published sources on djembe music in Upper Guinea and one of the early stuff. Of course, as a masters thesis it cannot go as deeply into the matter as we might desire. Having mostly Baro as an example for Upper Guinea, I am also a bit sceptical about some general statements of his. Baro seems to have a special status, even more so than Sangbarala. Mansa Camio made a living of the cultural tourism revolving around his village and lots of inhabitants, mostly dancers and drummers, of Baro are depending on that. In this time of hardship from ebola inflicted Guinea you can see how desperate this is missing in the fact that people who didn't want to organize workshops and concerts for Mansa any more are again participating and calling for donation. In Sangbarala, there is also tourism from the students of the Konaté family, but it is not changing the village life and culture as much, I would say. Anyway, both villages might not be the best examples for the culture and feasts typically celebrates in Upper Guinea nowadays.
Last edited by djembefeeling on Thu Apr 21, 2016 10:27 pm, edited 5 times in total.
User avatar
By djembefeeling
Eugene Novotney: The 3:2 Relationship as the Foundation of Timelines in West African Music. DMA Dissertation, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign 1998.

http://www.unlockingclave.com/free-down ... hesis.html

This thesis was the most interesting and important work to read on African rhythm so far! I wonder how I could possibly come to know it that late. It is marvelous in its logical regidity. It cuts through the jungle of arbitrarily used terms and concepts of those preceding his work like Ockhams raisor did through the warped thinking of medieval scholasticism. He uses more than a hundred pages and thus a good third of his work to clarify the terms he is working with, i.e. polyrhythm and cross-rhythm, hemiola and sesquialtera, beat and pulse, downbeat, upbeat, and offbeat, additive rhythm, divisive rhythm, and syncopation. Reading those first 5 chapters after the introduction alone is worth reading the whole text. You do have a much better understanding about what ethnomusicologists were and are talking about. Again, I found support for the differentiation of beat and pulse, using beat for the macrostructure of usually four beats that serve as the focus of the dancers, while beats generate the three of four pulses that form the microstructure of the rhythm.

In his 7th chapter, Nowotney presents his idea of the foundation of timelines in West African musics. Due to the discussion on this forum about "the one", it might be good to cite a larger passage of Nowotneys text:
"The first and most essential step in the analysis of African
rhythmic systems is to recognize that, primarily, the music is
based on symmetrical and regularly occurring beats. Using the term
as it was explained earlier, African rhythmic systems exist in a
divisive structure (with symmetrical beats that generate pulses)
and not an additive one (with pulses that generate asymmetrical
beats) . The concept of the existence of the symmetrical beat in
African musics has eluded many scholars over the years and has
consistently been a topic of heated and colorful debate.
(...) Throughout all of my various study and performance experience with
West African musics, the existence of a symmetrical beat structure
has been unquestionably confirmed by every teacher in every
(...) Although fundamental to this structure, the beats are quite often
inaudible in performance, and are rarely emphasized aurally by
musicians. This, in fact, is at the root of much of the confusion
and misunderstanding in the debate by many scholars over the
existence of the regular and symmetrical beat in African music.
Again, through my extensive research, study, and performance of
West African musics, I can confidently confirm that the beat does,
in fact, exist, and that often it is not easily perceived by
listeners." (p. 113-116)
Then Nowotney continues to state that "the 3:2 relationship is unquestionably the foundation of
rhythmic structure in West African music. As well as being at the
root of more complex cross-rhythmic relationships, it also serves
as the generator of the basic timeline found in most West African
and West African-derived musics."

He is referring to what is known in the literature as the standard pattern:
|x.x|.xx|.x.|x.x| and argues that it is generated by the 3:2 relationship. If you take the basic beat structure of 3 pulses per beat as the 3 and cross it with a two-pulse structure like |x.x|.x.|x.x|.x.| or alternatively |.x.|x.x|.x.|x.x|, you generate a 3:2 relationship.
If you alternate the two possible structures in the middle of the cycle, you have |x.x|.x.|.x.|x.x| as a resultant and only need two add the one attack on the sixth pulse in order to generate the standard pattern, which in turn generates the claves |x.x|.x.|.x.|x..| and |x.x|..x|.x.|x..|
as the one possible alternative two the standard pattern (or key pattern, as he later comes to signify it), he allows for |x.x|.x.|xx.|x.x|

It is astonishing that Novotneys key chapter is so thin, consisting only of 8 pages and so little evidence for his thesis. of course, the strucure of two alternating rows of 3:2 relations can be found in the standard pattern, and it is logically tempting to see this as the foundation, but I am not convinced by this logic. It seems a bit forced and I rather think that the bell patterns can be derived from the claves, not the other way round, and that, historically, less complex patterns usually lead to more complex ones.

In chapter 8, Novotney discusses in great detail the literature on timelines, critizing each and everyone for not having found the 3:2 relationship as the foundation of the timelines. In particular, he wants to show that Anthony Kings alternative to the standard pattern: |x.x|.xx|.x.|xx.| was a misinterpretation, a confusion of the starting point with the beginning of the cycle/measure. He cites his teacher, C.K. Ladzekpo: "I have never heard that rhythm used as a primary
timeline in my travels on the whole continent of Africa!"
While it may be that King confused the starting point of the timeline in question and that what he refered to was nothing but the standard pattern, the timeline the notated actually is a timeline, even a primary one, in some West African rhythms like Abioueka.

Later, in his discussion of Laz E.N. Ekwueme he states:
"Ekwueme's comments on the fact that, when the standard pattern is
divided into a four-beat structure, the timeline coincides with
the beat scheme on beat one and beat four. Again, not having the
proper insight to recognize the symmetrical and divisive structure
which generated this phenomenon, Ekwueme cannot call this anything
more than "an interesting discovery" (Ekwueme 1975:31) ."
But to me, this is not just an interesting discovery. It is basic to the human feeling of rhythm that resolution of tension usually can be found on the last beat of a cycle. In the 12/8 family of the standard pattern, it is basic that beat one and four are attacked, while at least the second and/or third beat are omissed. There is also a lot of cross-rythmic interplay involved, but I do not think that this is basic for all timelines.

Perhaps the most speaking of his chapters is chapter 10, where Novotney dives into the imortance of the 3:2 relationship as a natural phenomenon. As intersting as his examples are and the relevance the structure has in the Pythagorean construction of the major scale, in ancient architecture, in mathematics of the golden section and in biological phenomena, it is, as he confines, no proof in his thesis. Yet this is worth a good 25 pages of the work.
In the previos chapter (9) of his work, Novotney wants to establish a new terminology based on the 3:2 relationship and a classificatory system used in biology. Yet this was not adapted by any of those writing after him, and I personally find that system rather confusing and the basic hypothesis of the 3:2 relationship not completely convincing.

chapter 11, the polyrhythmic structure of West African musics, is again higly informative. Here, his powers as a rigidly and clearcut logical thinker can be enjoyed again. This is a must read for everyone who wants to come to grasps with the basic subdivisions in this 12/8 family. In chapter 12, composite rhythm, Novotney delivers wonderful exercises for those who want to master those subdivisions:
"The mastery and absolute understanding of the various crossrhythms
and divisions in this analysis can only be attained when
one can relate all of the rhythms, not only to the four-beat 12/8
metric accent, but also to the four-beat 12/8 metric accent
juxtaposed with the various manifestations of the key pattern. In
other words, only when one can successfully juxtapose three
elements - the metric-accent, the timeline, and the cross-rhythm or
division - can one begin to appreciate African rhythmic structures." (p.220)
"To this end, my teacher, C.K. Ladzekpo, presented me with an
extremely challenging and exciting exercise. I tap the four-beat
metric accent with the feet while both clapping a key pattern
(choose one) with the hands and reciting all of the possible
divisions of the 12/8 scheme (from two to twenty-four) with the
mouth. Another variant of this wonderful exercise is to tap the
feet to the four-beat metric accent and, while tapping the strong
hand to a key pattern, tap out all of the possible divisions of
the 12/8 scheme with the weak hand. A further extension of this
variant would be to verbally recite the accompanying drum parts of
a given musical repertoire while maintaining all of the other
elements of the exercise, as described above, intact.
The only possible way to efficiently accomplish, and consistently
re-create, these exercises with any sense of accuracy is to
integrate all of the various elements of the given exercise into
one unified framework, or composite rhythm." (p.221)
I guess those exercises would also be challenguing for accomplished drum-set players, but I am very sure they are priceless! There is a discussion going on in the community of drummers and theorists alike about the different ways of Western people and Africans to learn and hear rhythms. While I am sure and can assure as teacher of African drumming that there are differences in the socialization into our musical cultures and in the typical rhythmic structures of our classical music and African rhythm, I did not yet hear a convincing story that Western drummers with an intense education in African drumming still do perceive the rythms differently from Africans. This is clearly confirmed by Novotneys teacher, who struggled as a child to perceive the rhythms of his culture as composite rhythms:
"As a c hild growing up and struggling to make sense of crossr
hythmic textures and make them part of my usable rhythmic
vocabulary, verbalizing the compositen structures by giving
each character a syllabic pitch and singing them like a
melody in their proper rhythm was very helpful in my
discovering and absorbing the distinct texture. Many Anlo-Ewe
kids do this and often turn it into a communal game of
playing drum verbally. Each kid would sing a specific crossrhythmic
texture that interlocks with one another into a
dynamic fabric. They would entertain themselves spiritedly
with the structure while enriching their understanding and
ability to carry their own weight in the complex fabric.
(Ladzekpo 1995)"

A very moving story begins on p. 232, where Novotney reports on the moral and life-guiding teachings of teacher, where 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 in life without being thrown off by things that get in your way like cross-rhythms. The way is not to focus exlusively on one or the other, but to integrate the disturbances successfully in your life. I think this is wonderful!

In his last chapter (13), Novotney turns to the clave of Afro-Cuban musics and how they are related. He shows how the popular 4/4 son and rumba stem from the claves of the 12/8 family and how important clave principles are in all diasporic African musics. I wonder why he still thinks in the end that the standard pattern is more basic.

Last, but not least, there are 3 very helpful appendixes at the end of the thesis. First, Novotney delivers a complete notation on every possible polyrhythmic subdivision ot the basic 12/8 structure and the resulting composite. Then he adds a good glossary of the most important terms, before again summuarizes the literature that came before his thesis. You need only to read that appendix to have a good notion of what ethnomusicologist and others have written on African music before 1996.

As I said, this is a must read!
Last edited by djembefeeling on Wed Oct 07, 2015 11:24 am, edited 5 times in total.
User avatar
By Dugafola
djembefeeling wrote: both villages might not be the best examples for the culture and feasts typically celebrates in Upper Guinea nowadays.
agreed. lots of great information though. thanks for posting that. upper guinea is changing rapidly

during my last trip to guinea, i witnessed tabaski, solibasi, djalaban (conakry), safina (conakry), sede/mamaya and a full moon bundiani.

for the tabaski, my teacher and his group was asked to come and to the village of Maradou which is NE of Faranah. The matriarch of the village, Saran Conde(she was probalby in her 90s), had seen Bolo playing fetes around faranah and had a recorded tape of one of the fetes taken with an old boom box type stereo. so we ended up there in december 07 a few days before tabaski. no one had a phone in their village so we ended up at the radio station in Faranah for some live broadcast time. Bolo was intereviewed and basically told the village to prepare for arrival. we ended up driving there later that date and stopped a couple hundred yards from the village proper. we strapped up drums and marched in and played for about 30 mins. we played everyday/night in the lead up to Tabaski. The day after, there was Sedetulon/Mamaya. very cool as well as all the women from the neighboring villages came to Maradou and were dressed in matching outfits.

the soliba was in a completely different village that no one in our group had ever visited. Mandoukoro, somewhere between Faranah and Kissi...sankaran country. we stopped there because there was a very big Kawa living outside of the village that the family needed to see. we got there at night and rolled up with our 2 cars. they saw the dununs on top of the van and basically demanded that we play music for the village in order for some lodging(there was probably more to that than just us playing music). the next day we figured out there was a Soli happening and i got to see the local crew play as well as the solibaralamin. we played some music for the village over the course of 2 nights and played a ton of Soli for them as well. got to see some village Soko danced and of course plenty of dununba. they didn't want us to leave so we had slide out pre-dawn one day.

the full moon bundiani was in Manfaran, the village of Bolo's mother. it was the only time i got really sick. i ate a bunch of street meat goat in Kissi. it was delicious. but the road to Manfaran was bumpy to the point that i had to puke a few times so i only watched about 10 mins of the fete before i laid down for good.
64808_437345541206_4889446_n.jpg (118.17KiB)Viewed 3047 times
Mandoukoro Drummers Playing Soli
66467_437345846206_8145356_n.jpg (88.51KiB)Viewed 3047 times
User avatar
By djembefeeling
Hey Josh,

I am so glad you are back here and active! It's gotten kind of quiet in here. And thanks for that interesting report!

I do plan to pick up my reading and my reports on this thread, but I will be busy moving the next couple of weeks. After I settled, I plan to get back deep into reading and finally to start writing a book on djembe drumming. Could need some help with the English version...
User avatar
By korman
Hi djembefeeling, I noticed there's a thesis on mansacamio.de website (Ulrike Sterr, Trommelrhythmen der Malinke in Baro un ihr gesellschaftlicher kontext). Have you read it?
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