Discuss djembe masters and prodigies here
By bubudi
q: when you started this adventure would you have ever imagined that you could make the djembe so successful?

a: looking back on my past, i never imagined that my career became something like a firecracker, breaking out everywhere. but when I think about it, I believe that all the sacrifices i made, giving my energy and spirit to my work, has meant that the djembe has become an international success worldwide. not before I saw all this, i wanted to play just because i liked to, and to make people feel good. i never thought that it would become an element of encounter between different cultures.

q: you've been away from your country a long time.

a: i left my village when i was 12 years old and it wasn't for education. i had to leave my family to a city, conakry, where i did not know anybody and i did not know the language. even then I was missing my village, my family suffered a lot. also in guinea during the revolution when all the borders were closed. either you were with the revolutionaries or you were automatically considered a counterrevolutionary. i had no choice and i wasn't able to choose where to do this job until i had reached a certain level. in 1965 i left guinea for a tour in china and the year after in europe. then i did twenty years in ballet national djoliba and several world tours. we had only arrived in brussels in the '80s, but by then i was already working for myself.

Mamady hands.JPG
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q: do you like the united states?

a: the united states is a great country and in general there are positives and negatives, as in all other countries. all i can say is that where I live in san diego in california, there is a lot of live music and many different cultures. people are smiling and it is sunny all day. the sun is very important to humans because it gives warmth and, above all, good mood. and i am mostly surrounded by people who love me. so it's pretty good for me there.

q: because europeans are so fascinated by this instrument?

a: i think the europeans have opened their eyes from a cultural point of view. at first, in the colonial period, africans were regarded by europeans as 'savages'. when they played the djembe they called it 'tam tam' or 'tambour' and our dances were 'wild'. but then, step by step, europeans have begun to reflect on these rhythms, these dances are 'charming' and 'friendly'. these rhythms and dances you learn one with the other naturally, unlike the european classical dance that is too cold and academic and is reserved for the few. it is a party: you learn and at the same time enjoy. then the europeans understood that africa is a beautiful continent, which has a lot of culture, joy and many other important things that europe had but has lost.

q: what is the relationship that the west has with the tradition?

a: the europeans, with the advent of modernization, have forgotten their traditional culture, while we keep the tradition long and respect the elderly. all the music we make comes from tradition, even that of modern musicians. even among white people, there was traditional music that they have just forgotten. in the 60s i saw in europe rhythms and folk dances being played that have been lost with modernization.

q: what are the main problems that europeans have with practicing the djembe?

a: there were no major difficulties, because I always say that there are no failing students, but bad masters. sure, it takes time to learn the rhythms, the sound technique and hand movements, but all this is normal, it happens every time i try to learn something new. first of all we must love the instrument and its culture and you have to desire to play it: if, while you learn, you put all your energy, your spirit and your desire in learning, the difficulties will be overcome.

q: the methods for learning in Europe, however, are different from those in africa...

a: our teaching is completely different. with us there are many explanations: the teacher plays and the apprentice repeats what the teacher has played. europeans are accustomed to learn intellectually and need to have a written notation. but our method is much more warm and embracing. here, if there is a problem of learning it's perhaps that the europeans calculate too much, thinking too much instead of letting oneself go. this raises many questions on an intellectual level and thus loses the spontaneity. even if you can remember what you've learned, by writing the music you take away the spontaneity. with us, however, spontaneity is an important ingredient not only in music but also in life.

q: even the religious dimension comes into the djembe?

a: in africa there are christians and muslims and everyone believes in his god. but this is only part of the religious dimension of africa. in fact, africa has always been animist, even before the arrival of the other religions. when christianity and islam were introduced in africa, some embraced the new religion and others were animist, but the djembe is not linked either to christianity or to islam. rather, it approaches the soul.

q: can music change the world?

a: certainly, music can change things, but the big problem is that not all people make music. if all the world was dedicated to music, i am sure that the borders would fall and there would be peace at last.
Mamady smile.JPG
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By bops
Mamady wrote:certainly, music can change things, but the big problem is that not all people make music. if all the world was dedicated to music, i am sure that the borders would fall and there would be peace at last.
Amen! so true.

Thanks bubudi for posting this.
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By louiscesarewande
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I write monthly about djembe music in the french newspaper "Batteur Magazine".
This month (Frebruary 2011) I also made an interview of Mamady Keita and a transcription of "Kedjula Kanin" from his last CD/DVD "Hakili" <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zV_wBvkMTs>. One week left to get your hands on this.
Have fun!
Louis Cesar Ewande/http://www.louiscesarewande.com
By AllenBey
Thank you for this... I am new...just received my Djembe yesterday...however...I've been researching and I've been interested in Mamady Keita... I dig his vibe... :)