Varun Venkit: Senior Certified Djembe Teacher: Tam Tam Mandingue Djembe Academy

“Whenever you miss me, go somewhere far in nature. Close your eyes. Breathe. Call my name and I will be there…” Baba (as I lovingly called him), said this to me recently in Mexico. This would have probably been around the time I was missing my own father a lot. Well, now both of you could probably meet over a glass of red wine and share notes about how stubborn I am.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing you for 10 years and knowing of you since much before… I am grateful to every serendipitous moment and every decision in my life that led to our first meeting in Singapore in 2010. Like Mary’s lamb, I followed you around the world ever since. A new city in the world every year, with new students, learning different djembe rhythms & stories, but one thing was/is constant – You.

Wherever you went, you spread your warm and brilliant energy. You commanded the respect of a King and yet set everyone around at ease. You were always accustomed to all the attention you got, dealt with this spotlight with grace, kindness and always treated everyone with respect. You loved with a full heart every single time. You may have been hurt by life but that did not dampen your spirits. You trusted, forgave and always had room for family on the table.

It is a pleasure and an honour to be your student. Right from day one where you looked at my djembe and laughed, to when you finally remembered by name (those of you who know, just know!), it has been an adventure. Not a dull moment indeed. You have a sharp eye to gauge the student even before he/she/they play their first note on the drum. You bring out the strengths of your students and push each one just to the right amount (& sometimes a little bit more) to help them grow.

You are inspiring. You have dedicated your whole life to sowing the seeds of West-african (Mandingue) percussion all over the world and today, your legacy is in good hands thanks all you have left us, Tam Tam Mandingue Djembe Academy and your students, with. I feel that you are mine and yet you belong to many. This is your superpower.

I will never forget your smile, the way you laughed, your voice and the way you made your djembe sing.
I will not forget our talks about life, love and travels.
I will not forget playing & transcribing rhythms when you had a stroke of creativity (usually after a scrumptious meal) and needed to get the material recorded for eventual notation.
I will not forget learning the songs to many rhythms from you when you would burst into song, most often, (and you guessed it right), after your favourite meal.
I regret not being able to host you in India despite many attempts at making this work; and not being able to treat you to your favourite Vindaloo and Sarson Ka Saag.
I will always carry you in my heart and whenever I play the djembe it will be because of and for you…

Rest in eternal peace & power my dear Djembe Master, Koromoko, Mansa Bele Bele Ba, Mamady Keita… Baba.

Grandmaster Djembefola: Late. Mamady Keita

Mamady Keita | 1950 – 2021

Varun Venkit