Day 22 & 23 16/1/13 & 17/1/13 – last two days of class with Mamady

I woke up with the thought, ‘After today, only one more day to go’. Currently we were voyaging on planet Mamady; learning more and more of his creations. Unlike many a traditional rhythm today whose true origin is still unknown, Mamady is emphasizing and very clearly explaining the story of his creations so that in about 500-600 years, these creations will become traditional rhythms that unify the world and at a time (I would imagine) that we would need it the most.

That morning I played a new rhythm in the West African Drumming Class for the dancers after the usual Djansa warm-up.. We played Siente. Siente is a happy, fun rhythm with a lovely calypso-like bounce to it. Needless to say, it is a lot of fun to play.

With Mamady, we dived right into the technique phrases for Sewa. I had recorded these parts as the intermediate group in Mini Guinea Bali played this technique so playing it was a perfectly natural test of my grasping. The feeling of this rhythm is different from other Mamady rhythms. The notes are grouped together beautifully in a way that can almost be written and played, but not quite. One has to have heard or be taght this rhythm. You can hear the song and the rhythm in Mamady’s album titled ‘AFO’.

I remember asking Seckou for some of his time during the first week for him to have a look at my technique and maybe work on some technique one-on-one. I soon realized that the first who weeks were absolutely mad and hence forgot about it. Sure enough, Seckou didn’t. That afternoon, foregoing on his rest time, he obliged and we worked on some basics of sound and phrases. We played the (and I quote Seckou) ‘the New generation Marakadon djembe technique’.

Seckou is a very complete djembe player. He is as good a teacher as he is a performer. This is a very rare combination to find in one package. In just 30 minutes with him I realized that my sound changed and with some practice I could sustain this change. He has a very clean sound, a powerful slap (or two), a clean tone and an insatiable grasp of rhythm (and consequently, sub-division). I kept up, I’d like to think, but will need practice before this technique is ready.

In keeping with my focus on sound that day, Mamady also spoke about its importance that evening. It starts right from the preparation of the skin as it is to be mounted on the djembe. It requires patience, love, more patience and awareness.

Class with Mamady Keita – the complete teacher

This week was panning out to be a treat in terms of live performances right at our doorstep. That night we had the chance of watching not one, but two bands play. The first was, Mama Africa. This ensemble performed at the Abene festival as well. It was good to be able to watch them at a much close proximity. The dancers stole the show with their coordinated and vibrant moves.

Mama Africa performing live at Les Belles Etoilles, Abene, Senegal

The next ensemble was called ‘Wakily’ and was a Sabar, Bugarabou and Seweruba band. The bugarabou is a set of three instruments that are what seems like the origin out of which the congas emerged. They are three hour-glass like instruments (tapering more towards the bottom) mounted on a stand and have three distinct sounds (bass, mid and high).

Wakily taking center-stage after Mama Africa

The Seweruba is a small djembe that is played with the hands. Sometimes it can be a set of two, one small and one even smaller djembe played together. The Sabar drum is a thin and long hourglass drum that is played with one stick and one hand. I don’t fully understand Sabar drumming yet but I do know that it is a joy to dance to… (The whole of Senegal would agree).

Mamady, shaking that tail-feather!

The next day we continued with Siente at the dance class.

…nothing better than a bit of morning stretching before getting those hairy technique phrases…

With Mamady, we played a rhythm called Bonya which means ‘respect’. Mamady feels that this is something that is lacking in the youth and this generation. He created this rhythm to remind people about the importance of respect for humans, women, the elders, ones culture, ones country, one’s family and friends. The rhythm has a long and interactive dunun section (like a back and forth between the sangban and kenkeni) which gave our dunun players a run for their money as well.

Mamady talking about respect, or the lack thereof..

That afternoon I ate what I will rank number 3 on the top 5 Senegalese preparations. One number 1 we have Maffe Poulet (chicken cooked in peanut sauce- a traditional preparation from Bambara). A close second is Thiebieu djian (orange/ dark brown colored fried rice with fish, yam, carrot, cabbage and aubergine). On number 3 and also what we ate that day is ‘Senegalese fish balls with onion sauce’ (commonly called Yassa sauce). Most of us momentarily forgot about the hairy dunun pattern of Bonya but were soon reminded of it that evening.

I finished all the technique phrases for Marakadon with Seckou that afternoon and am happy and blessed to have had access to such brilliance and humility from Seckou.

The Last Class

That evening, we filled our brains with what was to be our last set of technique phrases for Bonya. After that it was time for Mamady’s customary thank-you speech. We had all given a lot of energy during these three long weeks. For many, this was uncommon and for that Mamady thanked us all. After speaking about the importance of rest (physical and mental) he finished by inspiring us to keep working and walking on the path of the djembe because where it can lead us is a fruit of our present hard work.

Mamady, speaking about three weeks, well spent!

That marked the end of the workshop. I wonder what it would feel like to not have to wake up to class the next day but I guess we will wait and see.

This is me ‘Spazzing-out’ and thinking: WHAT?, No workshop tomorrow?

Post dinner I noticed Cherno and Abudu getting busy with wires and speakers next to the bar. A bit later we had our very own disco party at Les Belles Etoille. We enjoyed a bit of dancing. We were especially surprised to see Iya grooving on the dance floor. The party then shifted to the bonfire where we had our very own Justine perform some of her songs for us. She is an immensely talented singer songwriter from whom I hope we can expect an album in the near future.

The mood that evening was peaceful and happy. I guess we were all taking it all in, digesting, ruminating.

This is me ‘Spazzing-out’ and thinking: WHAT?, No workshop tomorrow?

Come. Drum. Be One.

Taal Inc.