Day 16 & 17 10/1/13 & 11/1/13 – Start of Mamady Advanced level

We have now reached the last week of our workshop. Today we were to drum with Mamady once again. We played the rhythm Dibon this morning. This is a Malinke rhythm from Guinea. Dibon is a rare bird that always travels in a couple (a male and female pair). If you see only one then the other one is not far away. They spend the whole day together like this and interestingly when the sun sets, they separate. The hunters have coined a saying about Dibon; ‘Even if Dibon will not sleep together, their hearts are always bound together.’ Mamady generalizes this principle for the djembe saying that although he might not be with each and every one of his students after a workshop, his heart is bound with his students’ and one must never doubt that. Every time any of his students play the djembe, Mamady’s heart is with them.

back to school with Mamady. Iya Sako on kenkeni

Dibon is now played for the farmers (it belongs to the Kassa family of rhythms).  This is a rhythm to motivate and encourage them as they work hard all day by an African Drumming Group. I also just found out thanks to Google that The ‘Dibon’ or ‘Dibbon’ is the Abyssinian Ground-hornbill [Latin: Bucorvus abyssinicus] (also known as Northern Ground-hornbill). It lives in the Northern tributaries of the River Niger in Guinea and the Sahel of Sub-Saharan Africa.

After lunch, Bruno, Jeremy and myself decided to get to work and cut some of the cow skin that Bruno had so painstakingly procured; not knowing that when he asks for five cow skins he would literally get the whole skin of five cows and not five cow-skin ROUNDS as he expected. He was to leave the next day and hence had only one day to sort this predicament out. Since Jeremy and I thought it would be good to use cow skin for a djembe and dununs respectively we all decided to get to work and start cutting the skin. We spent the whole afternoon working hard with one blade that wasn’t very sharp to begin with and got through two skins. I had a week more to work on the remaining three. Phew.

measuring the diameter of the skin with Tapha
Moooooooo! – Varun, Cow Skin & Steve

That afternoon we played a very old rhythm called Abondan (also called Abodan in some places). This is a rhythm of the Baule people from the Ivory Coast. This country has more than 62 ethnic groups. This is a rhythm of the Baule African Drumming Group from the Ivory Coast. In those days traditionally, young boys and girls would dance half-naked to welcome the king. Today it is a popular rhythm played at many occasions. The dunun are a recent/modern adaptation.

Mamady giving his students personal attention!

Before we called it a day Mamady played us ‘Djagba’. This is a popular rhythm from the regions of Hamanah, Kurussa and Kankan (where Famoudou Konate comes from). From where Mamady comes (the Wassolon region) this rhythm is called Djagbe. And in the neighbouring country Mali, this is called Madang. Madang and Djagbe are the same rhythm with different names but the dununs of Djagba differ from Djagbe ever so slightly.

We ate very well that night considering the hard work we put in that day and went and sat around the fire for our Q’n’A session with Mamady and Iya. These sessions are to get to know these great masters more personally. I have been through three sessions like these in my recent past and each time I find that there is more to this master Mamady Keita than meets the eye. This time, two new topics came up apart from the norm. The first topic was about the initiation rhythms for women; where Soli would be played for this process and there is no other way to describe the process than by calling it female mutilation. Mamady immediately spoke and said that he is against female initiation ceremonies. He is okay with this ceremony for males but not for females. In fact, when Mamady went back to his village as a part of his annual trip home and realized that there was a Soli ceremony in the village he was glad to play for it. Later, he overheard that it was one for girls and immediately exited from the village without speaking to anyone. He went on to say that there are things about foreign cultures that are positive and things that are negative. This is normal. It is however, important to focus on the positive and leave the rest behind. There are things about West Afican culture that would be bizarre to the occident but that is exactly Mamady’s mission; to spread an objective understanding of the same to the world.

Another existential controversy is that of the family of the Dununba rhythms. These are right to passage/power rhythms. Like in most countries there are youth groups in Guinea, in the Mandingue that take responsibility of the smooth functioning of all things in the village/area and locality. There are bound to be more than just one such youth group. Now if a new group is gaining power and has reached a level where it’s in a position to challenge the one in power and does so with due respect to the group in power, the chances are that the group in power might gracefully bow down and even help the newer group assume power. But if there is a clash in interests and if the newer group is disrespectful about this challenge, then there is a Dununba ceremony in the centre of the village. Both groups will have equal number of participants. Each participant will be carrying a whip made out of hippopotamus skin. At one point after enough villagers have gathered, the two groups will face each other and one by one they will whip each other. This will carry on until one group gives in. Hence the chances of the newer or older group retaining their power are up to fate and chance. Now, not all this is easily accepted by the West or someone who is new to the culture but these are the ways of this very deep kind of people.

Over the last few days, there have been talks of the sighting of the person the villagers call, ‘Le Concurrent’. This is a person dressed in red straw from head to toe carrying two machetes; one in each hand, running from one end of the village to the other. On sight of this person the locals have to either duck and move out of his way or hide where they are out of his sight. Now this happens because if a local does try to face him, he will attack him. Many of the participants saw him and looked away just as an involuntary reaction. But after talking to some foreigners who have lived here for long, we realized that foreigners are spared from this since this is not their culture. At one point the drummers and dancers started playing and dancing the rhythm of the Concurrent but on sight of this person, stopped and fell to the ground. They resumed drumming and dancing after he moved away. The reason for looking away or hiding is not fully clear but it could be because of the occurrence of a still born in the village. Le Concurrent is a man who knows his ‘Gree Gree’ (or special Talisman) and has a deep spiritual connection. His objective is to drive out the evil or negative energy from the village using the fear-inducing method.

The next day, Tannis and Myriam saw ‘Le Concurrent’ at the festival of the neighbouring village, Dianna. Here the presence of this man was only symbolic. There was a skit like representation of his story with him going around the stage with his machetes and later joined by the drummers and dancers. Every time he would hit his swords together, the people would scatter for a bit and then again continue dancing. This was a very interesting experience to witness.

That night everyone who was to leave after two weeks; which included almost the entire intermediate group, got busy with their packing.

The next morning as I made it for breakfast, I saw all the bags kept in a line waiting for the bus to arrive.

All their bags are packed and they’re ready to go….

It was time for the first set of goodbyes which is never easy. I had one week remaining after the weekend to make the most of my trip to Senegal. We finished taking group photos in everybody’s camera after which is was time to leave. The place seemed quieter after the exit of the bus.

Neighbours, friends , family! From left to right – Steve, Varun, Ann, Simon, Tannis and Mary

That morning it was the first day of the advanced class with Mamady. Colin and Owen made it from the intermediate group to the advanced group.

We went over Abondan and Dibon once again and started a new rhythm called ‘Sumalo’. This is a rhythm that I learned from Famoudou in San Diego. The rhythm was created somewhere during 1964-1986 when Mamady was a part of ballet Djoliba. This particular ballet went on for over two hours with an enactment of the entire story in rhythm, song and dance. This rhythm is the story of courage and the undying spirit of the prayers of a woman who lost her husband in war. She then sent her son to avenge his father’s death but he too succumbed and passed away in war. Full of vengeance she went to join the army herself but on the advice of king Sumalo was asked to go home and pray for the warriors who would later go on to winning the battle and returning home safe. The king then personally thanked the woman for her prayers.

That evening, after a long day of work, Mamady reminded us of a very intense two weeks of drumming and input. He urged us to rest our mind and bodies. I couldn’t agree it’s him more. That night we all shared a communal drink of some grappa (an Italian aperitif) that Bruno’s teacher had gifted Mamady through Bruno and we all thought about the part of the group that left us. The dining area seemed scantily populated and less noisy.

I then, gave the remaining gifts that I brought with me to the respective people. Seckou got the exotic tea, Justine and Coral got their Taal Inc. t-shirts and I sent Yuyi’s t-shirt through Mamady.

With a whole lot of smiles around I went straight to the room to hit the bed ignoring all talk of any reggae party in the surroundings!

Come. Drum. Be One.

Taal Inc.