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In 1985, after several years of amateur drum playing, I took my first djembe workshop with Adama Drame. This encounter was decisive. I was immediately attracted to the instrument and the music, and have dedicated myself to them ever since. Given the growing interest in traditional African music, especially percussion, I wanted to makeavailable a book that both places the instrument in its African context and enablesthe reader to start to learn to play. It would be pretentious to try to produce an exhaustive work on so vast a subject. Since traditional music is usually passed on orally, the transcription of African rhythmics might be open to criticism and using Western notation to write down a type of music which is radically different might seemarbitrary. My goal is not to establish absolute or limiting rules, but rather to pass on in written form a synthesis of my personal research and experience to others interested in this extraordinary instrument. This book is not just a simple methodfor learning an instrument. It is for a wider audience: percussionists from all backgrounds, percussion teachers, instrument makers and music lovers will all find it instructive. The beginning percussionist cannot claim to "play like a pro " after reading this book. Regular practice is necessary, as well as a certain rigor and, above all, supervision by an experienced teacher who will help and guide him or her in this work. Several trips to WestAfrica will bring him into direct contact with the djembe's cultural milieu and give him the pleasure of playing with local musicians. Africa's unique atmosphere is indispensablefor learning to play really well. In the meantime,a compact disk has been included to enable the reader to better understand and interpret the written material. The repertory given here is not simply "African inspired". The rhythms presented are real traditional standard rhythms whoseauthenticity and accuracy have beenconfinned by such eminentmusiciansasAboubakar Bamba, Koumgbanan Conde, [.amine Soumah, Mamady Kei"ta, Noumoudy Kei"ta and Souleymane Dembele. I sincerely thank themfor their interest. In contributing to the making of this document, they have helped give a new dynamic to percussion and West African rhythmics in the world. I would also like to express my gratitude to Morton Potash, Franr;ois Kokelaere, Jean-Pierre Journet, Julien Andre, Modibo Bah, Ravy Magnifique and Youssouf Tata Cissefor their help and advice. The reader will find here a pedagogical aid, written with passion and all possible accuracy, allowing him or her to taste the pleasure of playing this instrument. I hope it will arouse a desire of one day attaining the musical excellence of the great masters.
And now the

moment come to turn to the djembe and its music.., has

SergeBlanc

-4-

Soundjata's astonishing strength and generosity had made Tassouma Berete jealous and fearful.Jali: griots. Liberia. The story goesthat SogolonKedjougou.Vassalseverywhererose up and threw off the Malian yoke. enabling the establishment of a multiparty. They are the heroes and warriors whom the griots throughout West Africa continue to glorify as if they were still alive. he distributedso much gold (12 tons. In the realm of social relations. Mali became an independent and sovereignrepublic on September22. Senegaland SierraLeone. Mory Kante. A pious sovereign. the son had to follow in his father's footsteps. 1.Fune:a kind of holy beggar.specialistsin iron and other metals. The Empire of Mali reachedits height during the reign of Kankou Moussa. along with his whole family. Gambia.one of the wives of Fara-Koro Makan Kegni.he is attributed a very important role in traditional Mandingo history. the Ivory Coast.. he had many mosques built in his colonies. 2. who ruled the country single-handedly for 23 years. Guinea-Conakry and Guinea-Bissau. Like his life. or Emperor. Salif Kelta. She and her son exiled Soundjata. Soundjata and his Mandingo allies triumphed over SoumangourouKante. Mali. Caste members were to entertain and satisfy the material needs of the group. 1960. a pilgrimage that is still legendary. After his death. He then laid the foundations of the Mandingo Empire. Seriousconflicts arosewithin the national direction of the single political party. Soundjataalso codified the clan system. amplified by social crisis. democratic system.He was overthrown by the tragic eventsof May 26. the Susu and the Syenara. A great among the greatest. the Kaado. she plotted against him. a thirteenth-century mythical and legen. Soundjataprosperedon the way back. This led to a military takeover on November 19. King of the Susu. who came in 1352. known as Mansa Moussa 1(13421360). Kankou Moussa won fame with his celebrated pilgrimage to Mecca.The empire stretchedfrom the Atlantic Oceanto the west of Gao on the Niger River. Soundjatahad a stepmother. He was called Soundjata. and oriented trans-Saharan commerce towards gold trading.Garanke: cobblers or dyers.This saga comprisesseveralhundred versesthat are played. Mandingo music today is conquering the world under the leadership of star musicians as well-known as they are talented. The main events of his life are recountedin chroniclesof the time andin numerousAfrican history books. the most famous Mandingo epic chant(l). that he causedthe Cairo precious metals market to crash. including the Bamana. gave birth to a sick boy. Many kings were born in the historical land of the Mandingo empire. Soundjatawas proclaimed Mansa. TassoumaBerete. Their zone of influence currently includes parts of Burkina Faso. MansaMoussareigned over a vast and prosperous empire.who helped her son. who then became his vassals.Tradesand professions becamehereditary: from that time on.Numu: smiths. the nyamakala(2) (caste members) and the jon (slaves).At the historic battle of Kirina. contributing to the spreadof Mali's renown beyond the borders of Sudanand attracting many Arab travellers to his country. The essential duty of the nobles. was to oversee the group's safety. During his journey.4 ~ ~ oundjata. internal quarrels weakenedthe government. sung. it is said). His story is told in "Janjon" and "Soundjata Fasa".the sole heir to the throne. such as Ami Kolta. the Empire of Mali. usurp the throne. creating a political crisis. the lula. had a great destiny. He developedagriculture.> dary hero. which becamethe main basis of the economy. The slaves did the hardest and most unpleasant work. The most widespreadversion says that he drowned in the Sankaranninriver. which he later abolished.the first republic experienced severe economic difficulties. danced and discussed during important ceremonies. the Soninke. placed at the top of the hierarchy. Preexistinggroupswere divided into three impermeable strata: the horon (important people and nobles). where his mother died on the eve of his departureto reconquerhis native country. the Saga of Soundjata. ruining the Maninka slave trade. They went to Nema. King of Kings.therebyearningan extraordinaryreputation. 1968. Soundjata'shalf-brother. his death is shroudedin mystery. there was real innovation.The Mandingo Empire disintegrated. Colonization considerablymodified the map of the Mandingo region and dispersedthe Maninka peoples. . under the direction of Lieutenant Moussa Traore. the USRDA. Each stratum's role was well defined by rules of centuries-old customs. .DakaranTouma.. After several years of French colonization under the name of French Sudan.There are several 'versions of Soundjata's end. Caste differentiation becamemore systematic. -6- . . who was paralyzed for seventeenyears. The Maninka belong to a Mandingo family that includes many prestigious ethnic groups. At that time. Theterm nyamakaladesignatesgroups within different clans composedof the . sealing alliances. 1991. sacking and submitting the different peoples. The most famous of thesewas the Moroccan Ibn Battuta. among them the Wolof and Sereri peoples.During Modibo Kelta' s presidency.

The names. "j" is pronounced like the "dy" in "Goodyear".Faso Busa Bwa or Bobo Dafin Dagari Fulbe Gurumance Gurusi Jula Lobi Mosi Sarnogo Syenara or Senufo " Coast Bete Birifu Bole Dan Ebiriye Fulbe Gagu Gere Guroor Kweni Jula Koyaga Maninka Syenara Turuka Wob6 Yakuba Aboron Ani Atiye Barnana Bawule '- Baga Basari Fulanior Peul Gereze Jalunke Jula Kisi Koniagi Landuman Maninkaor Malinke Nalo Susuor Soso Temine Tornaor Lorna Tuculeri Bamana BambaraKaadoor Dogon Sarnogo or Bela Kakolo Somono Bozo Kasonke Songolor SonraY Bwa Mamara Miyanka Soninke. The original spelling. is used for -7- . or Sarakole Maraka or Fulbeor Peul Maninka Suraka Moor or Jula Mosi Syenara Tarnasheq Touareg or Tuculeri Wasulunke Wolof Basari Fulbe Jula Lebu and Gambia Maninka Sereri Soninke Suraka Tuculeri Wolof ethnic class groups Fune Jali Garanke Maabo Numu - ---c-' used for the namesof ethnic groups. derived from the French. instruments and rythms is that of the mandingo alphabet. The letter "u" is pronounced like the "00" in "boot". is pronounced like the "a" in "cape". The .

His skill was revealed during large public events glorifying his superiors. in Kita dofo (a suburb of Kita) and in Krina " cities wherethe traditionsarewell kept in Mali. Before the written word was used.All griots believe that the day they start working will unquestionably be the beginning of fame and fortune. It is therefore possible to enjoy this status without practising any of its extremely difficult tasks and activities. To learn from the source. their origin goes back to the times of the prophet Mohammed. In Manden. the griots have become independent. rewards and gifts. Legend has it that the Prophet gave his slave Bilali three coffers intended for his three grandsons who afterward went to Mandan and founded the village of Kikoronin. Griots may be men or women. Called "belen tigui"(l) they are the keepers of the oral tradition.they say what pleases and prompts generous donations. He was the one who goaded the kings to fight to the death in combats that were motivated by glory.8 - . engaged in oratorical art and music. of a genealogy. The griot was therefore the depository of a dynasty's history. "It's in your kingdom.courted and feared. they are both loved and despised. After their minds had beenopened. Great griots are rare. Some of them are also healers. According to oral tradition. they are mastersof ceremony for local festivities in their communities. 2. acquisition of land and also of beautiful women (the kings in general had thirty wives). intervening in inter-family problems disputes. The novices learn the art ' . They prefer the lure of quick money to volunteer work which no longer attractsanyone. instead. Lower caste. In the Mandingo world there are many villages ning centerswhere young people interestedin oral traditions go. like Kouyate. the young griots left the family home and went to study with a great master. It is a matter of honor. sire. they are surrounded by an aura of mystery. meaning "rod" and "tigui". "The prettiest girl of the Empire lives in the village of the neighboring kingdom and you haven't married her yet! How can I sing your praises?" Upon hearing these words. meaning "master of". the people's living memory. the griots orjaliw were a caste apart. where many. among other things. Today. . they were respected. whom he then married. "Buruju": the origins of institutions and family genealogies. And it is still the griot who arranges traditional marriages. or bards. which becomes their working tool.the griots taught and exchangedknowledge orally. 1. ~ especially in K6la (Kangaba society). While still very young. like the one who one day obstinately refused to sing for King Biton of Segou. becamean object of the highest esteem. Some griots started wars. now a rarefied lore.learning as much as they could absorb. They are settled there. in the greatfeudal societies the Mali like Empire. the king prepared his army and launched a war to abduct the girl. When hejudged them capable of learning. they left the master and became in their turn keepersof the "tarik". The griot was also bellicose. As the society's heralds. True professionals of speech. They readily submit to the power of money. but are supported by the nobles. They did domestic work for him until they earnedhis trust. unableto claim to belong to a particular masterdue to changesin social and geopolitical structures(the royal courts have disappeared)." replied the griot. Praising equally noblesand important people.. These genealogists. Hamadaor Famada(Kouroussa society) in Guinea. "What's wrong?" the King finally asked. Diabate or Cissoko. __a. One is a griot by hereditary filiation. codified castes defined the social hierarchy. It is therefore unusual today to find young people who know the "tarik". n WestAfrica. indispensable for perpetuating institutions. But their function remainsimportantwhen mediators. also called "tarik". in the presence of other nobles accompanied by their own griots who knew the content of what would be said and chanted. serving a king or a power on whom they in turn depend. power. Within the highly structuredand hierarchical Mandingo society. he began teaching them "buruju"(2) which enabled them. the Maninka came from Mecca. their children learn the art of public speaking and develop their memory. the griots.show and music. for they are initiated in the secrets of nature and plants. According to the renowned specialist Kele Monson Diabate. from the Arab word for "chronicle". It is difficult to imagine weddings. Thisexpression is formed from "belen" . He proved his competence by being clever enough not to cause the nobleman whose praises he sung to lower his head in shame. One does not say "no" to a griot.they no longer needto tell the truth. the sowing season punctuatedwith their is chantsand music. story-tellers and musicians generally have very common names. the oldest griots travel very little. baptisms and funerals without them. remaining attached to tradition and the land where they were born. that nothing is right. living mainly in cities. They do no manual labor and do not work the land. to realize that they were of good stock: there was always a hero amongtheir ancestorswho servedas a referencepoint.

.

for example. siko. ones that have a more or less direct relation with the djembe and its music.). bamboo. but also slipshod and even rudimentary. 1. which "speaks Mandenka"(2). They accompany birth. A spoken language of Mali and Guinea. Aerophones: This category includes all instruments whose sound is produced by vibrating the air contained in a tube. more or less strangeand often complex. file. The instruments listed here are classified according to the four large categoriesof traditional organology established C. filendunun. The human voice must be added to this category. kele. A spoken language of Gambia. bala. vibrating. is unique. Sachsand by E. yabara. hunting and fishing. puberty. wasamba. 2. bara. it is a very substantial source of music. which "speaks Mandengo"(l) is not tuned the same way as the Malian kora. not in language. etc. They are played during initiation ceremonies. They are also used by the national dance companies. solemnityand piety in the rituals.The sound is obtainedby striking the membranewith the handsor a stick: nancechambers orifices sometimes and have a shape that lend themselves to symbolic or mythological djembe. gita. horns.and there are popular instruments. and the Maninka flute resemblesthe flute from Fouta only in tone. harvesting). Each drum. kesekese. the sound is produced by the vibration of the material itself. In Africa. dunun. Membranophones: These are instruments with a membrane stretched over a hollow support. They are also called air or wind instruments. kirin. the instrument must be able to produce unusual tones. using various artifices. There are no real instrumentmakers. The latter. madeessentially from natural or found materials (wood. the Guinea bala does not have the same "scale" as the Burkina Fasobala.Likewise. I. their quality residesabove all in the richness of the timbre. to There are sacredinstruments. In this category. But they all have one thing in common: they are never mass-produced. kariyan. nkoni. They let 'joi~ devivre" andgaietyburstout andgive expression ardor in work. It is difficult to itemize them all. stretchedbetweentwo fixed points on a support. whosereso- The Gambian kora. gourds. interpretations.plack Africa has an infinite number of musical :P instruments. Hand clapping is the only accompaniment.except for the djembe and certain instrumentslike the kirin or the nkoni. tI Idiophones: are more or less victims of the general technical evolution of wood and metals.iron. . Instruments are thus invented that produce nasal. childhood. with its own beauty. using no strings or membranes: Their constructioncan be very careful. they are playedto this day at eachstageof agricultural work (tilling. then. with a personality of their own. while keepingtheir fundamental elements. Modern materials are used more and more and often produce instruments with a wide rhythmic and melodic range. its own assetsand flaws. Using all sorts of resonantmatter. Here are the instruments most representative of Mandingo music. ntama. communicatingto them the languageof his ethnic group and endowing them. yon Hornbostel. songs and dances and popular festivities. Chordophones: Their soundis madeby causingthe string or strings. evidence of the liveliness of traditional music. expressing refinement. given the size of the regions and the great variety of populations and ethnic groups.10- . sowing. As on integralpart of African social life. The musician designs them himself. games. kora. funerals andinheritances. strident or soft sounds which reproduce as closely as possible the sounds and music of nature. animal skins. When played outside their traditional framework they enable musicians to integrate quite naturally into instrumental groups and modern combos throughout the world. . as well as the multiple and variable terminologies.to vibrate: bolon.

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the drum. Also called CU or KUNANFAN. The NTAMANI is smaller. by another skin-covered In the Bamana milieu. With its narrow center placed under his arm-hence the designation "armpit drum". bara is accompanied Its shapeand the way it is assembledmake this drum a closerelative of the djembe. Indeed. in the Bamanamilieu. The barais usedin all popularfestiveevents. sometimes larger. This drum is also called the" talking drum ". . The ntama can also beat dance rhythms when played with the djembe. used by criers to announce meetings on the public gathering areato hear urgent information. both the Bwa and the Kaado are said to have invented this instrument. It either hangshorizontally by a belt from the musician's waist or is placed on the ground. It is used . 2. generally calfskin. its resonance chamberis higher and it is played differently: one hand strikes directly while the other hand plays with a stick.HEHrSPHERE DRLJHS THE BARA The bara(l)is from theSegou regionof Mali.the drummer varies the pressure on the lacing. This kettledrum. All social classesare familiar with this age-old " instrument. the bongolo. The skin is struck with a thin curved stick. HOURGLASS DRUHS THE NTAMA . is made of wood and covered with a skin. its sliding tones recall some spokenAfrican languages. The ends are covered by two goatskins stretched over a stiff circle and tied togetherby flexible leatherlaces. .However. The ntama is a double-skin drum with variable tension made of a hollowed-out hourglass-shaped wooden barrel.12- . For the ntamani(2). especially in the Bondialan region. 1. It is struck with both palms. which is sewn and held in place by a system of hide strip laces. this technique is supplemented by playing with the fingers on the sameskin. thereby modifying the pitch and creating sliding and altered tones. around 60 cm in diameter.<" n Mali.

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. the kesekese is the favorite instrument of the Mamara ethnic group in the Sikasso area of Mali. The gourd is held by its "handle" and swung back and forth while the other hand pulls the end of the string bag downwards. village ancestors. 1. made of woven plant fibers.RATTLES THE KESEKESE O riginating in the Faranah region of Upper Guinea. Cowries are small shells that were used as money throughout the Mandingo world from earliest times Today they are only used as ornaments and in magic. dry sound. It is an external percussion rattle made from a whole. a small piece of hollowed wood held in the palm of one hand and struck by a small stick held in the other. The musician creates a rhythmic accompaniment for singing and other percussion instruments. Generally cone-shaped. cowries(l) or rounds of wood (and sometimes "gombele" beans).14- . whose stem serves as a handle. the yabara used to be played to accompany the bolon during great ritual ceremonies honoring titular genii or the manes. These internal percussion rattles are closed containers containing small pebbles or seeds and come in a variety of shapes. They are often accompanied by another instrument. The player holds one in each hand by a small handle. The gourd is emptied and wrapped in a fairly loose string bag studded with real snake vertebrae. the Bamana use the yabara (also called tchitchakara) by itself for their festivities. the koro. using alternating movements. In the Sikasso region. THE Y ABARA The yabara is from the Guinea forest region inhabited r by the Kisi. jugshaped gourd. In Mali. The kesekese accompany chanting and certain very rapid dances. This produces a clear. Toma and Gereze ethnic groups. they are always played in pairs.

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This instrumentis playedprimarily by initiation society musiciansand minstrels affiliated with hunting brotherhoods. A rocking wrist movement markstherhythm. The number of discs. are threaded.and20 to 30 cm long.a finger slipped througha ring attached thetube. It is also played by women griots during and after singing. are shaken up and down and rubbed against each other. The sliding disks hit one another and make a crisp. SrSTRLlHS THEWASAMBA W asamba<l).the wasamba by announce their presenceto passers-byand strangers. This instrument saidto datefrom theMiddle Ages. 16- . are made with angled sticks.About 4 cm in diameter. on which several disks of diminishing diameter. used in initiation rites.SCRAPED rNSTRlJHENTS THE KARIY AN The kariyanis a hollow iron tubeopenalongits entire it is held in the palm of the hand. ward to . clacking sound. The playing technique varies according to the instrument's ethnic origin. When they are played in pairs. each segment being 20 to 30 cm long (hence the name "arching sistrums"). Also called WASAKUMBA (Susu ethnic group) and LALA (Fulbe ethnic group) (photo on the right).. corresponds to the age of each initiate. to Grooveson eachsideof a lengthwiseslit canal are scraped with a small metal rod. between 15 and 20. cut out of gourd and pierced in the middle.andaccompanies rhythmssetby the hand the clapping of groupsof other women. Newly circumcised boys are not to be approached just anyone. r length. Wasamba are used mainly during circumcision ceremonies. they . is . '-" off evil spirits and accompany singing during the retreat period following the operation.

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a curved wooden pole and three strings. 1. where young people play i evening gatherings.. the soronplayer alwaysprecededthe military leader~ the conqueredvillage.-. nkoni = string instrument. The Mandingo Empire's history can be discovered through the nkoni' s music. acts as a resonator. It accompanies historian the or the chronicler and is used to illustrate narratives of brave deeds. called dozonkoni(2). this instrument was man-sized and was played standing.with the instrument placed facing him betweenhis legs. a perfect support for the kora. He holds it by the pole. 2. It is mainly played for hunting ceremonies. The Bamanahave anothercurved harp with two :. his wrists resting on the calabash.18~ . The bolon is the double bass in Mandingo music.exhorting warriors to enduranceand valor. A sheepskin is stretched and nailed over a wooden resonance chamber. At the end of the pole is a resonator(l).and pinches the strings with his thumbs. It exalted courage. SoninkeandMoors. notched neck and held by sliding leather rings (like on the kora). . It is also found in traditional Maninka orchestras. . The dozonkoni is mainly found in Mali's Wasoulou Belidougou regions. a sort of small guitar with a boatshaped box andthree strings. three strings. Oncemadeof horsehair. The musician most often plays seated. decorated with rings. LUTES THE NKONI The nkoni is a Sahelianlute found among the Fulbe. A thin metal sheet. They are stretched on the round wooden.CURVED HARPS THE BOLON ~ ~ The bolon is a curved harp comprised of a large r calabash. The nkoni is above all the griot's instrument. When a city was taken.. Dozo = hunter. Originally called soron.who have addeda fourth string.It is also now found among the Bamana.the stringsare now nylon.

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the musician restretched the skin by heating it over a small wood or cardboard fire (this technique is still used by some drummers in Africa). woro = kolo. r Its goblet shape resembles the mortar used for pounding millet. The size generally varies from 55 to 60 cm high and 30 to 38 cm in diameter(somedjembefrom the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso are wider). -22- . the djembe skin was sewn and assembled with thin strips of braided leather or cow gut. Jiri = tree. If the tension slackenedduring playing. The tension system is of braided nylon cords. The connecting part in the middle of the djembe is the "collar". Traditionolly. respect or to obtain the cromise of a betrothal. gueni and calcedrat are the woods most frequently used. The skin is held with threemetal hoops(cf: Assemblinga djembe). dogora. Originally. The woods used are chosenfor their density. The drumheadof the djembe is made from goatskin.tone and toughness. The worojiri(l). it comprises a flattened cone "foot" whose cavity opensinto a larger resonance chamber or "body". it also plays an important role on certain occasions. Made of a single hollowed out and sculpted piece of tree trunk. The edible kolo nut is red or white in color. and is given as a sign of agreement. 1.~ 1:21 The djembe belongs to the membranophone family. lenke.

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The songs vary according to the ethnic group and the event. songs introduce the drum music.like joy and sadness. Very occasionally. honoring the grooms. coded instructions enable them to express themselves. to move with the group and the assembly. . or the parents of a child being baptized. Family membersare responsiblefor the organisationof celebrations and women gnots are generally in charge of the festivities. The rhythm is generally CONSTRUCTION and finish that areof major importancein making a good instrument. their families. expresspopular and communal delight and the ardor of group work. The dancesreflect aspectsof a past epoch and life. The djembe is not mass produced. It is also usedby all West African dancecompaniesand national troupes. composed by superimposing different intertwining rhythmic units. tor. .They determinethe synthesis knowof ledge to be assimilated by those seekingto be initiated. They lead the different songs. chairs dependson the balance and harmony of its forms.Thesedances are reservedfor the initiated.The soloist beatsthe various rhythmic formulas correspondingto the dancers' different movements. Secular dances Thesedancesillustrate all the eventsof community life. The interweaving produces a rich and varied polyrhythm. The also include mask and puppet dances. it is above all the instrument of dance. frequently a sculptor. circumcisions.nature and thickness of the wood determine its weight.allow him to achievea construction be respectedbetweenthe "body" and the "foot". This generally concludes with a fast finale. The djembe is played in a group of several percussionists comprised of a soloist. . as well as mores and activities.with drumssettingtherhythm.The other women participateeither by forming a synchronizeddancecircle.This techniquewas elaboratedby dancecompany drummers.FUNCTION . The soloist can give starting signals to change the dancers' steps. accompanied above all by strings. which the craftsman knows. each sex having its own dance steps.and is also usedfor teaching in danceclasses. smithsor cobblers. vocal music that of women. instrumental music is generally the domain of men. as well as ceremoniessuch as assembliesand mask festivals. weddings and some funerals. creating a rhythmic link between the singing and the instruments. Castedances During popularfestivities. The djembe is therefore essentially played by men. They can be performed by all members of the society. they produce a perfect simultaneity between the music and the dance. They can be divided into three categories: . crowbars.whose words relate directly to the event: ie. His assorted tools. With its bright rhythms. not vice versa.with instrumental accompaniment (stringsor percussion). The drummers follow the dance. In the Maninka tradition. The craftsman is 1. The djembe is used at the various social events that make up traditional festivities: baptisms.songsof praise. His coherent.narrative or epic songs. Certain proportions. must machetesand adzes. or by clapping their hands. the musician is also the sculp. betrothals. n West Africa.24 - . The dancescan be classified in three very distinct categories: Ritual dances The main characteristicof thesedancesis their religious or magic element. Each djembe is r handmade and therefore unique. thereby acquiring the highest social and spiritual values. griots. including gouges. djembe accompaniment players and dunun players. thesedances help identify the dancer'scaste:ie. and stopping signals to end or temporarily stop the dance. Called "smiths"..dancingsongs. The etc. Traditional dances handed down from generation to generation make up the greatest part of each ethnic group's surviving artistic and cultural heritage.They convey different moods. specializing in woodwork(l) and The djembe'spitch (cf: Assemblinga djembe-The skin) in fabricating everyday objects such as mortars. When the singing startsthe djembefola soloist gives his group of accompanists the rhythmic support and the speed for the intoned chant (the same rhythm can be found in different chants).

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The djembe's collar should be mid-thigh level. The djembe maybe carriedin two differentways: The most common method is using a long shoulder strap (4 meters long maximum). It also amplifies the volume of the djembe and facilitates better collaboration and a more harmonious dynamic between the drummers and dancers. When moving around. To prevent the drum from sliding. It is important to choosea sturdy strapwide enoughnot to dig into the shoulders.If it is too short. the strap should be precisely adjusted. the strap is crossedin back. most currently in the upper body but can cause lower used in Mali.gives greaterfreedom of movementand allows one to move about while playing. provides second greater ease of movement method.PLAYING POSITIONS Usually the djembe is played standing. more suitablewhen playing for dancers. the djembe will be too high. For a good position. -26- . it is better to shift the djembe's foot to the side of your leg. is strapping the djembe back problems: around the waist. beating This the The has direct repercussions on the spine. If it is too long. The djembe restsbetween the drummer's legs. you will stoop. This position.A judo belt works well.

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.}J PUL~~J'ON . -32- . Precise ways of beating the drum are used. as will lose precision and maybe the sound gether. varies and ornaments them. Songs in onomatopoetic form are reworked on the drum. It is advisableto keep this in mind as a complement In Africa the reverse is true: oral tradition remains the to Western notation when singing all of the parts most important and most frequently used source. .by listening to recordings (cf: Selected Re- cordings). African musician feelsno needfor anexternalized temporal guide. a literal translation of the spoken language. language". the voice . ie. . and energy. It The drum's music is therefore always based on spoken phrases. The drummer plays them. the harmony.. The beat designates evenly spaced reference points in time. This action allows you to keep a steadyrhythm. or lack of stamina.in be possible to play them at different exercises are mastered and assimilated.the whole body is called upon and stimulated by this comprehensive instrument. the traditional '-. A metronomeor a drum machine(less: mightbehelpfulto ensure evenness the1. Going beyond a certain speed additional difficulties. bad posture. on meaningful series of words.by listening to yourself and the musicians you play with. African drummers traditionally use the "drumming played. For this reason. Tempo has a major role in djembe music. eachsoundcorresponds a syllable. . This is difficult to master at first. corresponding to distinct sounds. It is also very important to develop your ear W estern musicians musical tradition. such as: keeping rhythm while striking with precision. or combines them as he chooses and according to precise dance phrases. but it is indispensable. fatigue. The ear. it ~ Do not try to acceleratetoo quickly at first.I'"'J ontrary to Western musicians. hands.ORAL SOURCES in rhythm and simplifies the task of "keeping the tune in one's head". feet. The musician relies on it during a piece and it creates better cohesion among the players. Marking time with the foot requires the upper and lower limbs to be independent of each other. in order to respect what happens in a group. to enables them to separate the music from its context. The phonetic method undeniably facilitates singing . exercisesthat follow. in which several instruments play. Once tempos. have inherited an important a long written memory aid... Learning or "having" the beat is indispensable for learning and mastering the following exercisesand rhythms.

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you can also give the rhythm a melody.34- . And discover the pleasure of sharing with other musiciansclear. r rl~l~ . Next try playing the exercises. here are l> some simple exercisesto loosen up the hands and practice the different strikes described above. Holding both hands in the correct position helps you find the skin's optimal tones with flexibility and ease. pefore you start to learn the rhythms.j I I I . 2 3 .By playing with the different pitches.. Use the onomatopoeiae given or make up your own. use muffled and "touched" strikes.THE DJEMBE'S DIFFERENT SOUNDS A good percussionist is not content to play the same rhythmic formulas repeatedly but knows how to vary them. invent your own. After you have executed and assimilated the following exercises perfectly. then with the left. Change the sound. airy playing andrhythmscomposed of distinct and precise notes. To really feel the length of the notes and the different soundsproduced on the drum. 1 '~-r ri'--i'--:.. Be careful to balance the two hands perfectly (neither should strike harder than the other). begin by practising slowly with the voice. He alsotries to get the richest and most varied soundsfrom his instrument. first with the right hand..

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Eachmotif may appeareasyto drum by itself. the kesereni and sangba can be supplemented with the dununba. the samesignal is . sing the djembe starting signal. being careful to respect the cycle: 8-measures. To interpret and understand the repertory well. . then with the bell. it is indispensable to master each of the rhythms and all of the djembe and different dunun motifs alone. The startingsignalsetsthe tempoandrhythm. rhythm".Do the same thing for the first djembe accompaniment.The versions presented are neither rigid nor immutable. then. To stop the rhythm. In Guinea.Next you can practice the different dunun accompaniments with one or two other musicians. then do a stopping signal. etc. dance class. They are interpreted differently according to the country or region of origin. into a "signal to stop". adding signal to stop. for example: Starting Signal 11- Signal to stop )1- 13EJ=: In some cases.then the second alone. harmony. becauseof the interweaving. one after the other. before playing with a group. and in Mali there can be a seconddunun. without stopping or repeating the starting signal. go back to the first accompaniment.At first. Only when these stages are accomplished and when each percussionist is perfectly at easewith all of the rhythmic formulas can the group work start. play the first djembe accompaniment. . for ~ . the most common. or he might add three or four instruments. . recording. example. . A soloist will have as many different accompaniments as there are accompanists.Work gradually in the same way as for the djembe.Repeat this with the second accompaniment. It is given by the first djembe player. the soloist and the event: wedding feast. . .-- follow. for example .which canbe playedasa slapand For "Jansa". In order to keep perfect stability and :. begin with one other musician and practice the two djembe accompaniments.Keeping a steady tempo.Then play the seconddjembe accompaniment. Repeat.After the starting signal."Dununba". it is essentialto use the different as reference points: they are the "heart of . A soloist with Ii particular way of playing might prefer a single accompaniment. one extra beat added. . To start each combination correctly.the group can play the whole rhythm together. starting with the first dunun. The ones below are the most representative. and finally the dununba alone and then with its bell.After the starting signal. It is not necessaryto limit the djembe accompaniments to two per rhythm.The following rhythms have r been chosen from among thosemost frequently used. in 8-measure cycles. for example. repeat the starting signal slowly several times. alternating these accompaniments several times.but this time one instrumentplays after the other. The two can switch parts during playing. play the second Once these different stagesare accomplished. The Dunun . working together without a starting or stopping signal.. The Diembe djembe accompaniment.the stop signal is different from the start signal: Starting Signal Signal to stop 42~ . danceperformance. To do this. but combining the different rhythms is difficult.

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in the public square. This rhythm is played during festivities towards the end of Ramadan. It takes place in the evening or at night. It is the last big fling for the young girls who will be married the following year. picking up speed when a talented dancer goes into the middle of the circle. It is for all people and all occasions: the full moon. Great dancers sometimes manipulate a rifle or pestle while dancing. originating in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso (Bobo Dioulasso). The following version is the most popular in the cities. CD Track 16 Starting signal and 2nd djembe 1st dunun 2nd dunun KL/RL/Ef F rom the Jula ethnic group. originating the Kayes and Kita region of Mali. in The jansa is undoubtedly the most popular entertainment dance in Khasso. the end of winter and good harvests.JANSA .44- . F rom the Kasonke ethnic group. the 27th night. CD Track 17 . It starts slowly.

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of Mali's Sikasso regIon. complementing the stick's playing. originating in the Kouroussa region of Upper Guinea. The hand plays the drum on the skin opposite the one hit by the wooden drumstick. the dunun called didadidunun is the instrument played for the didadi. r The kasais played at all eventslinked to the harvest. There are severalkasa. HAND . The didadi is organized during the end-of-the-year holidays or to celebratethe arrival of an important person. and everyonecan interpret it as they like. CD Track 25 48- .D(DAD( F ro~ the Bamana ethnic group. CD Track 24 . It is an easyrhythm to danceto. HAND KASA Co rom the Maninka ethnic group. originating in the Bougouni circle. soro and dub on are other rhythms played along with the kasa.This rhythm is played to encourage farmers during sowing and harvesting.Konkoba. In the Sikassoregion.

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Pente/u underskirts worn only by married women.OLON F rom the Bozo ethnic group. The best known are the "air conditioner". the most common instrument is the sabar.a skin drum played with one hand and a thin wooden stick. They are of different colors and can be embroidered with provocative phrases. the sogolon is played with the djembe i~ the" Traditionally. at the end of the fishing season. are -50- . the Dakar region of Senegal. in the Mopti region of Mali. There are several styles of sabar dancing. It is set on the ground or strapped to the side of the body. It Bamako district. and the "fan". The rhythm and dance stepswere named for this drum. this rhythm is played with three bongolo and a bara. CD Track 28 50C. Currently. This rhythm is very popular in Senegaland in the rest of West Africa. where hip rolls provoke a circular movement of the buttocks. consisting of unveiling the pentelu(l) to the musicians and the audience.~ SAgAR - " F rom the Wolof ethnic group. in In this country. where several variations have been transposed for the djembe. celebrates CD Track 29 1. during popular celebrations and festivities.

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Two small drumsareaddedto the sidesof the soloist's djembe. Only these In Guinea. Recountingthe Mandingo epic. played to men and women griots.He canonly do so in djembe. This rhythm is bala. in CD Track 33 1. On these occasions. Griot dunun. very graceful dancewith circular movements. zing "Ambianci Foli"(3) ask the djembefola Traditionally. The whole is called a three-headeddrum. F romBeyla and Kerouaneregions the Koniagi ethnic group of the in the Guinea forest area. it is called lamban. It is playedonly on the djembe. Today. 2. This piece traditionally openedthe ceremoniesfor griots sing each other's praises and execute the death of a king or a very important man. Danceof the griots. the ntama and the jalidunun(2). Songsof praise. this predominantly arms spreadout. -52- . Neighborhood festivities. which is not a griot instrument like the circumstances. someassociations vocal rhythm was interwoven with "Fasa"(l). KUKU exist in this region. of Mali. F rom the Maninka the Kayes region ethnic group. 3. the real sanja is not played on the the sanja. CD Track 32 . The kuku hasbeenmodified and adapted with dunun and djembe solos for the National Ballet Company. 4.-"""".asthe dunundoesnot 5ANJA instruments accompanythe sanja. This rhythm is played for the end of the harvest festivities and during celebration festivities. Another drummer keepsup an accompanimenton a small djembe.

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originating. In Guinea. the djembe is accompanied by the bala. the ntama and the file. For this rhythm.f Upper Gu~n.ea.e Maninka ethnic group. CD Track 36 HENJANf F rom the Maninka Maninka country. ethnic group. in the Far~nah region o. It IS played durIng CIrCUmCISIon periods to contain evil spirits and protect the young initiates from them. this rhythm is also called denadon. Kawa IS above aillhe rhythm of the medecme man.I<AWA F rom th. played throughout the This rhythm is mainly played by young pubescent girls to celebrate good harvests. CD Track 37 NOUMOUDY KElT A 54- .

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UPPERGUINEA (continued) SIGUIRI FARANAH Mamaya Menjani Soboninku Sofa Soli Soliwule We'ima Kala Kankamba Denadon Ja Jagbe Fankani Koso Koma Konde lamban GUINEA FOREST REGION NZEREKORE Kuku 5 headed drums Kawa Konjan Konkoba Sac Soko Soli Toro MIDDLEGUINEA LABE Fulani Rhythms LOWER GUINEA CONAKRY. we find mostly Susu rhythms such as: Kakilembe Sorsone Tiriba Yole Yencadi Guinefare Mane Sintie Makuru Yokui -56- . KINDIA. BaKE In this region.

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have belonged to the troupe.n composed by the "Ballets Koteba de Cote-d'Ivoire"(l). Thisversion is by Fofana Georges Kemoko and Mamady "N'Toman" Ke"ita -60- . including Fofana Georges Kemoko. . Many great drummers. Mamady "Kargus" Kelta and Mamady "N'Toman" Kelta.To interpretit well. and the troupe immediately joins in.l1NrSON'DRl1HSrGNAL U ere is one of many "drum signals" . Memory also is important. CD Track 40 2 Djembe Dunun 1.The djembe group plays the first staff. a company created and directed by Souleymane Koly. the dunun group plays the secondstaff. This starting signal is presentedmainly becauseit is played in unison by a troupe of djembeand dunun ~ drums.The first drummer plays the first starting signal measure. it is necessary work on to the group's orchestration and homogeneity. as are the song and the different sounds. .

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It will take three or four tries to get a good assembled with your own hands! The instrument O nce the skin is off. the operation is in fact long and difficult. and you will learn other little tricks as you go And it is so satisfying to play an instrument along. The two larger hoops are placed on the upper perimeter of the drum body. which will be pulled up over it during the assembly. the first djembe you guitarist changes stringsof his or her guitar. preserve and nourish the wood.) The djembe has three iron hoops (generally r made of cement rods). grease the entire drum inside and out with sheabutter (or linseed oil. Get help the first time from someone who alreadyhas The procedure advised here. will facilitate your task will seemeasier. which is easier to find. a rounded edge will hurt your hands less. To do this use a wood rasp. then sand it down to get a perfect finish. Likewise.This supporthoop is the largestof the three. even out the upper edge of the djembe. You don't get a good soundthe first time you change the skin of his drum himself. an anti-termite treatment is imperative. The small hoop goes on the collar. The redo won't be your best.. Also. just as a play your drum. it is customary for a percussionist to result. It is on thesetwo tensionhoopsthat the knotsaretied to hold the lacing which tightens the skin. It goes inside the skin.) Check that the wood is not pock-marked with little holes. n Africa. round them down completely. The third hoop is the support hoop.The through repeated experience. If necessary. To protect. If you see a fine wooddust in the drum. a larger and a smaller one. being slightly larger than the tension hoop which it supports. 6 or 8 mm in diameter (depending on the djembe's diameter). work. They are wrappedaroundthe drum barrel and then soldered. -66- . which I learned someexperienceto avoid getting discouraged. and fill them in using a dense mixture of wood glue and fine sawdust (more efficient than ready made wood putty. If there are. It is important to eliminate all irregularities on the perimeter: they can cause cuts in the skin when you shave it. Two are tension hoops. verify that there are no cracks in the wood.

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you can let the skin soak in water for an hour. To remove the inner hoop. It will then be possibleto use the skin to make a dunun. . Spacethe knots evenly. 2/ Determine the best placement for the upper hoops (neither djembe nor hoops are perfectly round!). about two fingers apart on the larger hoop (closer together on the smaller hoop. Mark the drum body with the felt-tip pen at the place where the hoops are soldered so that you can find this placement easily once the skin is in place. Startwith the horizontal lacing and then undo the vertical lacing.68- . undothe lacing.1/ To takeoff the old skin. tap the upper hoops with a hammer. If the skin doesnot comefree easily./ ~ l Finish this step by tying a squareknot to join the ends of the cord (on each of the two tension hoops). 3/ Tie an identical numberof "lark's headknots" (as shown below) on the two tension hoops. .) For example. This avoids tearing. a hoop 35 cm in diameter should have no more than 30 knots.

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bringing the skin down 1 cm all around the djembe."""~&& 9/ Preparethe 16 meter long vertical tension cord by burning its ends so they won't unravel.r.Lace to either side by weaving the ends of the cord around each of the knots successively. 14/ Once the cord's slack has been taken up. attach the two ends with a knot as shown below. pull the skin upward strongly to stretch it.It keepsthe skin from being too low on the drum body when you finish assemblingand tautensthe skin. Pull gradually. Holding the lower part of the instrument with your feet. At the same time.III. you may be ableto shift the skin. thereby ensuringthat it will have the samelength at both ends. without forcing at first. TENSION 12/ Removethe three metersof string used to hold the hoops in place (cf. placing the flaw on the edge.r. graspthe ends of the skin. IV. Begin lacing by locating the middle of the cord.r. be sure that the two hoops stay parallel to each other. 13/ Do a preliminary tightening of the cord. Place it correctly on the knots. Eliminate any wrinkles that might form in the skin between the two top hoops.8). ASSEMBLY -_&&&r. ~ -70- . Be careful not to missany knots or you will haveto start over! 101Once you have laced and knotted all around the djembe.you will need to use anotherskin. or the skin will drop too quickly and too low on one side. Look through it towards a bright light from the foot side. This part is essential. 11/ Now check one last time that the skin has no holes in it.r. If you seea flaw.Otherwise.

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pull it firmly one last time and redo the overhandloop. well-aired place. 1 2 3 4 . DRYING AND FINISHING 19/ Lay the djembe on its side to keep the wood from splitting during drying.72- . Pulling this cord is very hard on the hands(and also on the back). so wrap it around a thick wooden stick which gives you leverageto make the pulling easier. 21/ Now do the crosswiseweaving which doesthe final stretching. Shown below are a few ways of weaving which produce various tensions and designs. 201Verify that the skin is perfectly dry. To get rid of any slack in the vertical tension cord causedby drying.VI. It is often necessary to weave two turns to get the most out of the skin. Let the skin dry for at least three days in the sun or in a dry.

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With abundantamountsof solvent.a pair of metal shears ajigsaw or . cut out the two ends.two sheets sandpaper of .3 mm in diameter. You can employ two used djembe skins to make a dunun. The skins are attachedto the cord by meansof nylon thread rather than by knots. 4 mm in diameter .Sandthe outside.a long.20 metersof nylon cord. -74- . The djembe was originally madethis waJ]as well.a lighter . using the jigsaw or the pliers. double-edged razorblades . This savesmoney and also makes sewing easier.4 metersnylon thread.a flat paintbrush 25/ Drill a hole in the top and bottom of the barrel.pliers andleatherstitchingpalm . - A I. Using the hammer. wash the inside to eliminate any grease. decorating it as you like. The readercan practice either the hoop or cord method on either instrument. the metal hoops are replacedwith nylon cord.two rectangular.1/2 litre of oil paint .a 30 or 56 litre oil barrel .solvent. flatten the cut edge against the inside.for sewing .a hammer . removing old paint or advertising. PREPARATION Materials .dunun can be assembledwith metal hoops.a largepair of scissors . Then more cord weavesthe skins to each other.rags .Be sure not to use a barrel that has held toxic or inflammable products. sturdyneedlefor leather . Make it look like new with two coatsof oil paint.two goatskins .3 metersof string Tools . trickier and less common. is more traditional.a screwdriver . Then.as the skins are already shavenand therefore thinner. Carefully remove any metal shavings. In the sewing method describedbelow. like the djembe. The secondmethod. but it can also be sewn.

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(Use your hand as a measureto make the spacing even). 34/ Fit the other skin on the other end. 43/ Weave the horizontal tension cord (cf. 41/ Finish the edges of the skins by folding upward. 16). The tension is much looser than for the djembe. To hold the two skins in place and prepare for the cord lacing. . 18). and then repositioned after the second skin is sewn. 36/ Weavethe 15 metervertical tensioncord between the two skinsby passing back andforth undereachof the stitches from oneskin to the other(cf. 8). on !Y. TENSION 37/ Pull the skins gently.:. tighten the thread and tie a squareknot with the 10 cm part you left at the fIrst stitch. When you have finished. eliminating the cord's slack. 42/ The drying and finishing are the same as for djembe (cf.76- . turn the barrel over. turning the drum two or three times to get the desired result. VI. Pull them evenly. This skin can also be pulled off gently. cross the 3 meters of string tightly between the two skins (cf. setting the skin on the ground. 21). sureto makethe samenumberof Be stitches both skins. 401Shavethe skins if necessary(cf.J::A£!Jig 351When the second skin is sewn. 17). FINISHING 39/ Turn up the ends of the skin and cut the excess with the scissors (cf. V. using the first method (cf. 38/ When you have finished tightening the cord. 33/ When the first skin has been fitted. 19 & 20).32/ Sew the next stitch at a distanceof threefmgers from the first. 9).What's difficult is to keep the skin from slipping off the barrelbeforehaving sewnall the way around. following the sameprocedure. attach the two ends with an overhand loop. This will move them down to about 2 cm below the edge. place the barrel on its side.

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whosework truly embodies traditional Mandingo percussion. Theyare eminent musicians. lives in Guinea. deceased. lives in Guinea. foun- Amara Kante Former 18t soloist. "Sabougniouman" ded in 1972. Guinean des Ballets Africains "Ex EnsembleNational desPercussionsde Guinee" Koumgbanan Conde Guinean Former lead drummer. "GrandsBallets d' Afrique Noire de Paris". Guinean Guinean Guinean Former 1st lead drummer. lives in Guinea. Kante Guinean Dunun specialist. lives in Guinea. ADAMADRAME 18t soloists: Aboubakar "Fatou Abou" Camara Guinean Former1st soloist. lives in Guinea. founded in 1958. Malian Troupe of Bamako. pd soloists: Aly "Kanya" Sylla Mamadou "Mohamed" Camara Also 1st soloist of "Wassa". Lance". "EnsembleNational desBallets Africains de Guinee". Aboubakar "Abou Batteur" Ke"ita Guinean Former soloist. lives in Holland. "Ballet National Djoliba de Guinee"."Grands Ballets d' Afrique Noire de Paris". lives in Guinea. sangba specialist. lives in Guinea. Alhusseini "Solo" Cherid Guinean Lead soloist of 'Wassa". lives in France. founded the "Ensemble Instrumental Foliba" in 1990. "EnsembleNational desBallets Africains de Guinee". "Ensemble National des Ballets Africains de Guinee". Fode "Fade Marseille" Youla Guinean Former soloist. "Ensemble National des Ballets Africains de Guinee". where he founded his own group in 1988.. -78- Fadouba Oulare FAMOUDOU KONATE . "Ballet National Djoliba de Guinee".Here is a list of WestAfrica's major musicians. Adama Drame Burkinabi Lives in Ivory Coast. "Ensemble National de Guinee". lives in Guinea. Arafan Toure Former lead drummer. lives in Mali. lives in Guinea. Famoudou Konate Guinean Former lead drummer. Noumoudy Ke"ita Guinean Former lead drummer.Someare listed with their nicknames. Lamine "Lopez" Soumah Guinean Former soloist.

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New-York (CD) Playa Sounds 65170 .SELECTED RECORD(NQS This selectionof Mandingo music is not exhaustive. Ladji Camara (LP) Lyrichord LLST 7345 Les Ballets Africains de la Republique de Guinee Vol1 Silo (CD) Buda Records 82513 (CD) Buda Records 92579 Louis Cesar Ewande Cano (CD) Bleu Citron OMD 545 80 . Adama Drame Rythms of the Manding Tambour djembe Foliba Percussions mandingues Djeli Great Masters of Percussions 30 ans de Djembe (LP) Philips 6586042 (LP) Auvidis 4510 (CD) Playa Sounds 65122 (CD) Playa Sounds 65085 (LP) Auvidis 4519 (CD) Auvidis 6126 (CD) Playa Sounds 65177 Africa Soli Sali (CD) Sango Music 007 (Netherlands) Bamba Dembele et Ie groupe Djoliba Percussions Vol 1 Vol2 (K7) Syliphone 8350 (K7) Syliphone 8351 :::isse Famoudou Konate Sima Farev (LP) Nubia SA 300021 Rythmen der Malinke Guinea (CD) Museum collection 18 Staatliche Museen. Preubische Kulturbesitz. The recordingslisted here are among the most representative. Stauffenbergstrabe 41 1000 Berlin 30 (Germany) Fode Youla Percussions Music from Africa Kaloum Basikolo Ne Ne Yancadi (LP) SAJ 19 (LP) SAJ 26 (LP) SAJ 48 (LP) SAJ 50 (LP) SAJ 54 Free Music Behaimstrasse 4 1000 Berlin (Germany) Kassoum Diarra Kassama percussions Africa.

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