Day 20 & 21 14/1/13 & 15/1/13 – advanced class days with Mamady 2 & 3 (Stepping it up)

I woke up for our last week of drumming realizing that I am still feeling quite sick. I did not have a fever but I could feel the chest and throat congestion. I was not the only one in our Drum Group suffering from this. Barry, Tannis, Dave, Justine and Colin were the other few I noticed, with similar issues.

After breakfast I saw that there weren’t the usual number of drummers for the dance Djembe Drum Lessons. I stepped in and offered to accompany the dance class on the dunun and the sangban. Leroy (pronounced Le-rwa {with the Franch ‘rrr’ sound}), our talented djembe player/ singer and (professional) dancer guided me as I did this. We played Djansa to warm up and then went on to play Sunun.

, we learned a new rhythm called ‘Famoudou’. This was a rhythm created by Mamady as a tribute to his older brother and grandmaster, Famoudou Konate. Mamady and Famoudou heard of each other in 1964. It was only in 1968 that they met for the first time. In the meanwhile, they heard of each other’s missions, stories about each other’s playing style and more similarities. As they finally met for the first time, they both felt an immediate camaraderie and love for each other. Famoudou took the place of the older brother and Mamady, the younger. They both advised each other on things. They shared, played, learned together and helped each other on their journeys ahead. The rhythm is a very beautiful one that has an intensely interactive Dunun section.

We started off with the djembe technique that Mamady created for this rhythm and were reminded of Iya’s class for a bit. The rolls push the group to its max. Once again, it isn’t to manage such a group with varied levels of playing. In his opinion, the group was fragile, it could move upwards and get better or get complacent and stagnate. I’m glad that Mamady chose to push the group so we achieve the former. Mamady also emphasized the importance of breath while playing the djembe. While playing accompaniments it is important to breath normally, but during rolls, especially the long snarly ones, he advices not to breathe. This helps focus the body on the roll at hand. It is so important to be aligned with the djembe and ones inner sense of musical expression. As long as we are calm and aware each roll, however simple, can develop a more beautiful sound

We had our hands full for the entire day and by the end, came through.

The next morning, Brian was slated to leave. I look forward to meeting him and possibly playing with him and his band when they tour India in February. (It is the end of February now, and unfortunately I did not get the chance to meet them  as our dates wouldn’t match. But life is amazing and can surprise us in wonderful ways. So Inshallah, we will meet once again).

The dance class went off smoothly as well. The speed and the level of the class are both high since there are only two students and both wonderful dancers. It is turning out to be a great experience accompanying the djembe players for dance class. It gives me a very different perspective on any rhythm; including rhythms I have played before; (or better put), especially rhythms I’ve played before. It takes about a week of playing a rhythm every day to actually start understanding its detailed nuances and feeling depending on where this rhythm comes from, the history and so on…

The next day, for the morning session we learned a new rhythm called ‘Dai’. This is the name of one of Mamady’s students from Japan. He has a very large following there. On one of his first trips, before the start of one of his workshops, one student came up to him with a translator and asked for permission to speak with him. Mamady obliged. He introduced himself as Dai and said that he would like Mamady to accept him as is student. Dai said that he would do all that Mamady needed on an everyday basis and in return he would learn what Mamady had to teach. Mamady at first did not know whether or not to take this request seriously since he has many such students come up to him and make such romantic proclamations. Giving Dai the benefit of the doubt, he agreed but not without expressing his doubts about how this was to work since Mamady lived in Belgium and Dai, in Japan. Dai said that he would take care of that. Mamady agreed to take Dai on as his student and dismissed the matter and went on with his workshop tour.

Mamady then returned to Europe to prepare for his workshops to come. He received a phone call from onee of his band members saying that a person by the name of Dai was then on, living with him and wanted to get in touch with him. Mamady was surprised to hear that. That very evening Dai turned up for Mamady’s first class. Then on, he did not leave Mamady’s sight for 5 years. He spent every day, every hour and every breath with his master learning from him and serving him in every way that he could. He learned French in the process and later started touring with Mamady in Japan as his translator.

Mamady would call on him at all odd hours to play out an idea that Mamady would have to create new rhythm after new rhythm. This rhythm, ‘Dai’, was created by Mamady to honour this commitment and respect that Dai showed for him. Today, Dai lives in Japan, teaching, performing and touring with the djembe. I was personally, very moved by this story. It reminded me of the very core of learning; reminded me of the kind of commitment that’s not uncommon in India when a student asks a teacher to be his Guru. I spared a moment to be open enough to the universe to listen to the signs and follow my inspiration to surrender to such high levels of excellence in my life as well. I enjoyed playing this rhythm and learning the djembe technique a lot.

We also started a new rhythm called ‘Sewa’. This is another Mamady creation which means ‘joy’. The dununs are played vertically for this rhythm. The call has an interactive pattern in it and the song is very hauntingly attractive (like many West African folk songs) but nonetheless, happy.

SEWA: Ni kan tiyen, sewa tiyen. Ni sewa tiyen, kan tiyen. (without joy there is no music; without music, there is no joy).


Mamady demonstrating SEWA

That afternoon Tapha and I finally finished Preparing the cow skins for me to take back to India. Phew.

Just before our evening session with the Djembe, I managed to catch Aleiu playing the Cora. He is one of the few traditional Cora makers left in Senegal today.

Alieu welcoming us after class with a beautiful Kora jam

That night we were to have a very special performance for us at Les Belles Etoille. Leroy, the djembe player for the dance class and his ensemble were to come perform for us. This band wasn’t like other djembe ensembles. It was an acoustic band that performed cover versions of a famous Senegalese band called ‘Espoir De Corontie’, meaning ‘expressions of the place Corontie. The band had Aleya, the balaphon player (who also accompanied dance whenever he could), two Bolon players (the Bolon is an instrument made out of a Kalabas , covered in cow skin with a wooden arch on which four thick bass strings were tied. This is what it looks like:

the Bolon

The ensemble played around the bonfire and created a lovely, romantic, introspective and tranquil ambience. Some wept, some sang along, some danced but everyone smiled and took the moment in I could sense.

Aleya showing the people how it’s done #likeaBOSS
… the rest of the ensemble…

That night on my way back to the room I looked up at the sky and realized why the pace was called ‘Les Belles Etoille’. The beautiful stars, it could not have a more apt name. I have not seen so many bright stars out in the sky before. The revelation of these starts from evening to nightfall, is breathtaking. This is one of the visions that I will have on quick access when I think of Abene and Senegal. This is one of the gifts I will take back from this trip: that of tranquillity.

Come. Drum. Be One.

Taal Inc.