Woke up this morning, not knowing what I’d find…
After a walk, I lost myself in a short while and found my way
I trusted my ear and my instinct, played some Djembe
And in the process, left the world behind.
Good morning, good afternoon and or good evening readers and welcome to Day 1 of the Grandmaster Djembe Workshop. Today was dedicated to traditional rhythms from Guinea with Mamady, intermediate level.
My morning walks to Kava are going to get more and more exciting I think. The weather in San Diego is perfect; it remains like this all year long I believe… Sunny and crisp in the morning with a nice nip in the air and a cool cool evening to make for some cozy Gaslamp time after a long, hard days work. This morning I lost my way (don’t ask me why or how…) but since I expected this out of myself, I accounted for it in advance, to reach fifteen minutes before kick-off. Kava gallery was already almost fully occupied with eager participants warming up on heir respective djembes.
Pretty much like the first day of school, I took my new darling djembe and found a place for myself and braced myself for what was looking like a good day. The energy was upbeat, positive and charged.
We started off out tour of Guinea from the North-East and played a very popular traditional rhythm called ‘Djagbewara’. This is a beautiful rhythm that emphasizes the beauty of West-African folk music from this region; especially the part binary-part ternary feel of some of these rhythms. There’s only so much that one can notate at such times. I keep looking for an Astrix in my notes that says, ‘Feel – Bernary’, a term that means ‘in between’ binary and ternary. I noticed that whenever I read this, all I do is I close my eyes and remember what Mamady said when he was asked a question about a certain portion of another rhythm, ‘Bao’ and whether it was felt in binary or ternary feel and all Mamady immediately said was, “Je ne sais pas” (“I don’t know”). Bottom line – It’s all about the feeling. The group sorted out initial technique and hand issues quickly and Mamady said (just as he was playing a slap flam), “Now take feeling and play!” and VOILA; it was him giving us that feeling. The group did not disappoint. We were quick on the uptake… for Djagbewara at least.
Next we headed to North-West Guinea to Kouroussa to play one of the Kassa rhythms. The one that we played today was Kassa De Sarayah; that is, Kassa from the Sarayah region. This rhythm is played only for farmers and Kassa literally means, ‘Granary’, where corn or maize was stored. The djembe patterns are the same as Kassasoro. What distinguishes this rhythm from the other Kassa rhythms are the Dunun patterns. The interplay between the drums is hauntingly beautiful. It’s one of those rhythms that triggers instant and involuntary body movements. The rhythm creates a sudden serge of energy. I guess that’s what it was meant to do for the farmers working hard on the fields all day.
Next, we moved to the forest region of Masenta (I’ve spelled this based on what I have heard and there’s a possibility that this region might differ slightly in spelling or pronunciation) where the Toma people come from. We played a rhythm called, ‘Bao.’ This is what it sounds like: Bao
This rhythm is played after the initiation of young girls. This ceremony involved the transmission of the basic set of values that a young woman must have in society. Values such as respect, love and responsibility are emphasized. After the ceremony there is a big party where the newly initiated young women dance with their mothers clapping and encouraging them. For this rhythm and also a few others from other ethnicity’s, the Dununs are played vertically. Originally, there weren’t any Dununs at all. They would use djembes (that had Antelope or Cow skin) and the all the Dunun parts we hear today are adaptations. Mamady did mention clearly that this was a forest rhythm and it had to be felt differently. Here’s where I feel that knowing the history of the rhythm is so important. As I tried to absorb the crux of the rhythm, after a certain point, more important than the hands is the way one feels these rhythms, the way one is training oneself to absorb another culture and express oneself within this framework. A fun and challenging task, this.
We then travelled to the Faranah region of Central Guinea to play a rhythm called ‘Kontemuru’. This is a rhythm of the Malinke people. The Kontemuru are performers who travel from one village to another playing and entertaining these audiences as they travelled. They were the touring rock stars of Guinea. They, however, did not do this for money but received gifts from villagers as they traveled. Back home in India, we have the Warkari’s. They are a group of pilgrims who march to the temple of Pandharpur every year singing songs of the Lord Vitthal as they travel hundreds of kilometers. En route, they are provided with shelter, food clothing and if necessary, medicine by inhabitants the local cities, or villages they pass.
The Kontemuru dance slowly became extinct as it was one of those priceless parts of West-African culture that was not transmitted from one generation to another and today it is non-existent. “But one day, maybe someone from the Faranah region learns Kontemuru from you (pointing to all of us) because the Djembe don’t have borders,” said Mamady as he demonstrated the final rhythm of the day. This rhythm took a fair deal of work as we had to look for a sound that was not tone, not slap and not bass… it was a wonderful in-between tone and bass sound that was played in the second accompaniment of the djembe. By the end Mamady was happy that we were all trying, even though we didn’t fully grasp the musicality of Kontemuru.
Tomorrow is going to be my first experience with Famoudou Konate. I really don’t have words to describe my excitement so I am going to wait until after class tomorrow to put words to my feelings and share them with you all.
Come. Drum. Be One.