This one is going to be a long one since all this drumming with Famoudou Konate, sight seeing (as you will read in a bit) and blog writing has left me with little sleep. Apologies for those who looked for yesterday’s entry and did not find one. This one has a two-day report crunched into one. Monette’s band played at Humphrey’s by the bay on shelter island drive. Kim Lohnas (contender number 1 for the ‘best host’ prize) drove Tannis, Daniel and myself to the venue. It was a beautiful drive. We passed India Street (Yes, I am staying at 500 West Hotel, located on Broadway and India street. Ha!) and Pacific Highway where we saw an old Piret’s-of-the-Caribbeanesque ship called ‘Star of India.’ Ha. Ha.) I was surprised at the reference to India everywhere around me. The concert was a wonderful celebration. Monette brought the house down with her energy and beautifully soulful music. The TTM professors opened both sets with some traditional West-African drumming and each one did not cease to amaze and entertain everybody in the audience.
We got the best seats in the house I’d say. Mamady was hanging out with us; when he was not on stage of course grooving it on the congas. I asked him when he learned the Conga’s and he said that he didn’t and smiled.Grand master Mamady Keita and moi – I ‘m so overwhelmed I can t keep my eyes open!
The night was full of energy, dancing, good food, wine, more dancing and a lot of positive vibes. It’s performances like these that reassure me about the path that I walk. Performing, as an occupation, seems rather self-indulgent at times. As consolation, I remind myself that self-indulgence is a personal trait that can only be magnified by the profession one chooses. Everyone out on stage that day was overflowing with joy and love. Regardless of their trysts with fame, glamour and glitz, every member on stage and off was representing love, humility and that’s what made the evening and the music come alive. You are as good a musician as you are a human was what I was thinking about as I left Humphrey’s for the after-party at Winchell’s Donut House where we had some doughnuts sandwiches and something to drink to bring us down from the energy high thanks to the music. This brings me to contender number 2 for the ‘best host’ prize – Keli Ross M’au. He plays steel drums with Monette’s band, teaches and gigs in and around town a lot and is the most warm hospitable guys in the workshop. The competition is fierce though.
The next photo was taken after the gig since we found that if not for this workshop, none of us would have been here, together, learning, sharing, celebrating:
Monday morning – After sleeping only a few hours I, but I’m positive I could safely generalize without too much opposition that, we trudged along to Kava, body tired but excited nonetheless, to drum our hearts out in our Djembe Drum Lessons since it was day 6 already; that meant only four more days to go!
Famoudou started this day with a story. He said,
“When I say that we (Mamady and Famoudou) love women, it means we love life!”
He continued and gave us a brief history of his beginnings. Famoudou was born in 1940 near Sangbaralla, a village in the Hamanah region of Upper Guinea, the Malinké heartland and the birthplace of the Dunun family of rhythms. His father was a great farmer, hunter and fetish-maker. In fact, he had a special house for his ‘Gree Gree’. Famoudou’s father had eight wives and 45 children. Along with the 8 persons for domestic help, they were a large family. His father used to get djembe’s so that the children would be occupied with some activity or the other through the day. Every evening as Famoudou’s father would return home, he would see Famoudou with the djembe. Traditionally, Konate’s and Keita’s should not be Djembefola’s. They are the Noble’s of their community. Both masters have, nonetheless dedicated their lives to the djembe and spreading its awareness all across the globe. Thank their playful and adventurous spirits for that.
We then got down to work and played a rhythm called ‘Soboninkun’. This rhythm is from Wassolon originally but we played the version that Famoudou had created, from Hamanah. The dance is similar in both versions but there are differences in the rhythm from both places.
Soboninkun is the name of a mask representing a small animal’s head. It is a very special dance that requires much skill, a good sense of balance, initiation and excellent physical condition. The dance is usually performed after the big harvest.
This is what it sounds like: Soboninkun
The song that we sung along with this rhythm was about a small bird that flies and speaks. It speaks words of wisdom that should be spread far and wide all across the country. This bird, it was said, has the power to foretell a possible bad occurrence or omen. As we know, polygamy was common then and this song speaks about how there must be love amongst everybody, specially the wives. The price to pay for jealousy and hatred would be too high since it would mean neglect and lead to the bad upbringing of a child.
The words of the song are:
Keren Kono Nen Kasi Kan Diye
Keren Kono Nen Kasi Kan Diye
De Wolo Baiye Tono Rombaiye
It is easy to bring a baby into this world
but who will look after that child if not a mother?)
Keren Kono – Small bird.
This is what the song sounds like: Soboninkun Song
As you would have heard in the previous audio clip, we played a lot of phrases that we could use for various parts of a solo or improvisation section. The beginning solo phrase is called ‘Doma Tama’. After Doma Tama one is free to play, express and improvise interacting with the dununs and the dancers. Thereafter there is a section called ‘Kumben(g)’ where the djembefola meets the Sangban in rhythm. This is to say the djembe interacts with, compliments and locks in with the Sangban before he calls the rhythm to an end or passes his solo on.
This is Famoudou during the Dunun class. A true Soboninkun dancer:Famoudou during Soboninkun – what a beautiful heart!:)
After class Sue (from Canada), Helen (from San Diego) and me, we went to The Burger Lounge in Little Italy on India Street, (yes, surprising right?). I had my first burger in San Diego! With every passing day I get know more about each participant in the workshop; their stories, their journey with the djembe, their philosophy and their spirit. All in all there was good company, good conversation and good food that afternoon.See, what I mean:
After a quick change and freshening up I was ready and waiting for David Visiko and Sarah Heimlich to come pick Tannis and me up to go to Petco Park to watch my first live American Baseball Game: the San Diego Padre’s v/s the Kansas City Royals! En route, we had to indulge ourselves some more with the all-American-pre-game-food. And the gastronomic adventure continues:Fried pickles (Just like Pakoras)
And another American favourite:Tater Tots! Mashed and then fried potatos (Just like Pakoras)
As you would imagine, I was very excited. Every little wish on my America to do list is being ticked off one by one. The San Diego Padre’s won 4-3. Thanks to Dave and Sara it was a very informative, entertaining and fun experience. Right from the coordinated cheering, Mexican waves, the 7th innings stretch, singing the ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game‘ song, eating Ice-Cream Sundae’s on souvenir San Diego Padre Hats, I did it all. Here are some pictures from the game:Dave, Tannis and Sara – my partners in crime. The Ball Park
We had great seats
Strike 1, 2, 3 – You’ re Out!
Since, my only reference to Baseball was the movie Major League, I wanted to get a more realistic taste of the game. Mission accomplished.
Come. Drum. Be One.
Varun is the founder and director of Taal Inc.
The visionary behind the motto
Come. Drum. Be One.
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