Kutiro-Balafon-Sabar = Drums Ensemble…

****Music of the Mande – Gambian Tantango = Kutiro Drumming

Drum troupes play for recreational dances and various festivities. The Mandinka, descendants of the Mande peoples of western Africa, now reside primarily in Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau. Among the Mande people in general, rhythm expressed as drumming is linked with all forms of movement, be it dancing, wrestling, procession, or agricultural labor. 

There is a defined hierarchy within the ensemble where the Sabaro takes the fore, both musically, and socially. A Drummer will begin a long apprenticeship, usually starting in youth, gradually working from Kutiros to Sabaro as his skill increases. The Tantango ensemble is employed in many life-cycle rituals circumcisions, fertility, agricultural and recreational, wrestling events.  The most prominent such event is recreational dance Bantaba and singing held in a wide-open space in the center of a village or at a crossroads in town. Participants amass in circles which can vary in size: sometimes with barely enough room for dancers, at other times as large as city blocks with rented folding chairs placed along the sides of the street for guests. The Bantaba events begin with a signature recreational dance – Lenjengo, danced primarily by women and girls, and which typically includes a collection of rhythms, songs, and dances leading up to the “Lenjengo” a fully engaged dance-music gathering that could go on indefinitely. The term Tantango is often used to refer to any of these Drums, and sometimes the ensemble is called a Seruba ensemble after the name of an important dance event in which they are played. The ensemble is used throughout the Gambia and Cassamance as far east as Tambacounda.

Evidence from neighboring Drumming traditions suggests that the Mandinka may have fashioned their Drums after models used in their new Senegambian homeland or even acquired them there. Both the name and the shape of the Mandinka Sabaro and Wolof Sabar Drums are very similar, and the method of attaching the head to the body is the same for these two as well as for the other Mandinka and Wolof Drums. But in contrast to the Mandinka ensemble, fixed at three Drums and rarely augmented, Wolof Sabar-based ensembles consist of more Drums and can accommodate large numbers of players. In the case of celebrations with many participants, the Mandinka ensemble is still not augmented; rather, many ensembles play for smaller groups within the larger crowd. In addition to Wolof influence, there is also an exchange of rhythms between Jola and Mandinka, even though the Jola play the very different Bugarabu, a group of three of four large Drums played by a single person with bare hands. The practice of wearing iron jingles (Jawungo) around the wrist is widespread among Mandinka and Jola Drummers as well as Bala.

Each Drum is played with one hand and a short stick approximately of nine inches long; the two Kutiro Drums are sometimes played with both bare hands. The minimal vocabulary necessary to play the Drums consists of two different hand strokes and two different stick strokes. The hand strokes are an open bounce (kun) where a clear tone is produced, and closed damped stroke (Ba) where the fingers press on the head and remain there. The stick strokes are a bounce (Din) and a press (Da). With two hand sounds and two stick sounds on each Drum, a strikingly full orchestral sound can be created by just the two Kutiro Drums.

As a village rather than urban event, Lenjengo can be contrasted in organization with analogous urban Jembe Drumming (Dununba)events in Mali and Guinea. In Lenjengo a long-term compositional process is at work with a specific sequence of pieces. While the Sabaro Drummer  plays the phrases linked with the entrances, exits, and other movements of the dancers, the two Kutiro Drummers play the indentifying parts that are unique to each dance.

The stage presentation Mandinka Drumming and dancing has a history that is now over half a century old. New traditions have developed, moving Drumming in a variety of directions. Although some of these traditions flourished abroad, the general recognition of Africa as a wellspring of a deeply entrenched culture of drumming and dancing still operates. The number, diversity, depth, and uniqueness of Drumming traditions in Africa are astounding. So is the musical sophistication and power that can be routinely achieved by a small ensemble of instruments with a limited palette of sounds.

***Drum Call – The Drum call begins all ceremonies. The Drums speak the opening prayer and request blessings for the dance ceremony to begin. The purpose of the drum call is to contain the spirits that would normally be invoked through the dances. The drum call is also called “Baque.” Each ethnic group has its own “Baque,” and within each ethnic group every family has its own special rhythms that are passed down from generation to generation. 

The Mandinka Drum Ensemble consists of three Drums. The leader plays the long Sabaro, assisted by two Drummers playing the Kutiro – larger Kutiriba – small Kutirindingo.

“Sabaro = 6  – 7″ Diameter 25 – 27″ Long…(4 1/4″) Kutiriba = 9  – 10″  Diameter 15 – 17″ Long…(4 1/2″) Kutirindingo = 7 – 8″ Diameter 12 – 14″ Long…(4″)

Forango: Sitick 9″ long … Jawungo = Bell – Iron Rattles … Kusango – Peg …(5″Long Hole -5/8″)  Bora or Bisango – Beard or Skirt for Sabaro… Minango – Antelope Skin… Fasango – To Lace… Manduka – Mallet…

Griot, Jaly, or Ayan (keepers of African oral traditions) dies, they literally take libraries of African music and dance to the grave where it is entombed and lost to the world forever. Since the music and dance of Africa is largely an oral tradition that is verbally passed down from one generation to the next, sheet music is not available. Younger generations of Africans no longer practice or know the traditional music and dance of their Ancestors, therefore, African music and dance is an endangered species. 

                     ***The  African Balafon:  Listen – Feel & Move…

    An instrument known to have existed during the Mali Empire, the Balafon has been and still is popular in West Africa. Its name has a Manding origin but the name varies in some parts like Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. Balafon means the “act of playing the Bala,” with “Balan” corresponding to the instrument, while “fo” a verb meaning “to play” in the Malinke language. Guinea’s Susu and Malinke peoples, as well as the Manding people dwelling in Senegal, Mali, and Gambia are the popular users of the instrument. Balafon traditions were also recorded in Chad, Cameroon, and around the Congo BasinIn Ancient times, the Balafon is considered a sacred instrument that is exclusive to trained and skilled caste members. It was stored in a temple for safekeeping and can only be played at certain traditional and ritual occasions such as funerals, weddings, and festivals. Not to mention that the Balafon has to be purified first before being played.

According to one of the Mandingo myths, the first inhabitant of the Earth coming down from the sky was a blacksmith. It is certainly not by chance that the Balafon played an important part in the history of the accession of the kingdom of Mali. Castes formed, and among them the blacksmith was found at the center of all craft activities and became powerful. Without him there would be no weapons for hunting, nor farming implements, nor cooking utensils. He was master of fire and wood. Traditionally, it was he who sculpted the shell of the Djembe, or the slats of the Balafon.  The Bala-Fola’s gesture is the same as the blacksmith’s. Beating with the stick is the same movement as with the hammer and the slat replaces the anvil. Everything seems to indicate that the first Balafon players were smiths.

 Amongst thousands of percussion instruments, there is an important family, the mallet instruments. Xylophones, vibraphones, marimbas,  have a common Ancestor – the African Bala. The culture of Balafon music is highly developed in the countries south of the Sahara desert and the tropical rain forest.  With the ethnic groups like the Senoufos, Bobos, Miankans, Lobis,  Toussiens, Samogos, Gouins or Tourakans (Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Ghana) a large Bala can have up to 21 slats. Normally, the Balafon is tuned from the lowest to the highest note, usually in a pentatonic chord (five tones), like, for example, the black mallets on a piano keyboard. Nowadays, “western” chords can be found as well, like diatonic and chromatic. But at all times, African musicians have known how to cope with influences coming from abroad in an own, original style.

Gum-rubber mallets on a balafon: A Balafon can be either fixed-key or free-key. The Balafon is generally capable of producing 18 to 21 notes, though some are built to produce many fewer notes. Balafon keys are traditionally made from Béné wood, dried slowly over a low flame, and then tuned by shaving off bits of wood from the underside of the keys. Wood is taken off the middle to flatten the key or the end to sharpen it. In a fixed-key Balafon, the keys are suspended by leather straps just above a wooden frame, under which are hung graduated-size calabash gourd resonators. A small hole in each gourd is covered with a membrane traditionally of thin spider’s-egg sac filaments – nowadays more usually of cigarette paper or thin plastic film to produce the characteristic nasal-buzz timbre of the instrument, which is usually played with two gum-rubber-wound mallets while seated on a low stool or while standing using a shoulder or waist sling hooked to its frame. This effect is accentuated by the sound of metal bracelets attached to the player’s wrist. Mallets and resonators are fixed on a frame of wood sticks and strings made of goat’s skin.

Regional traditions: As the Balafon cultures vary across West Africa, so does the approach to the instrument itself. In many areas the Balafon is played alone in a ritual context, in others as part of an ensemble. In Guinea and Mali, the Balafon is often part of an ensemble of three, pitched low, medium and high. The Susu and Malinké people of Guinea are closely identified with the Bala, as are the other Manding peoples of Mali, Senegal, and the Gambia. Cameroon, Chad, and even the nations of the Congo Basin have a long Balafon traditions. 

The Bala, kora , and the Ngoni  are the three instruments most associated with Griot bardic traditions of West Africa. Each is more closely associated with specific areas, communities, and traditions, though all are played together in ensembles throughout the region. Guinea has been the historic heartland of solo Balafon.  The Balafon, also known as Balafo, Bala, Balani, Gyil, and Balangi, is a type of tuned percussion instrument. It is played by using two padded sticks to strike the tuned keys.

***The gyil  is the name of a buzzing  Balafon common to the Gur-speaking populations in northern Ghana, Burkina Faso, southeastern Mali and northern Ivory Coast in West Africa…

In some cultures the Balafon was and in some still is a sacred instrument, playable only by trained religious caste members and only at ritual events such as festivals, royal, funeral, or marriage celebrations. Here the Balafon is kept in a temple storehouse, and can only be removed and played after undergoing purification rites. Specific instruments may be built to be only played for specific rituals and repertoires. Young adepts are trained not on the sacred instrument, but on free-key pit Balafons.

                                     *** Sabar Wolof Drums ***

 Sabar drumming is the very exciting syncopated drumming of the Wolof tribe in Senegal and Gambia. The Djola and Mandinka Sabar is very rare. The only place to see this Sabar is in rural areas during a ceremony such as a naming ceremony, wedding, or birthday. Wolof sabar can be seen throughout Senegal and Gambia in urban areas as well as rural. Sabar is not complete without the dance. Of course this is true with most drumming in West Africa. The dance is a very beautiful style… almost even like a martial arts. Sabar dancers display incredible flexibility and agility.

The Sabar drums are traditionally peg tuned…but some players today are using the more modern method of rope tuning. There are 5 drums in the Sabar family and they all have different sounds and roles to play in the music. The M’balax drum is the main rhythm drum and is fairly high in pitch and medium size. The N’der drum is the tallest and highest in pitch and is the lead drum and plays a lot of ‘calls’ or signals to cue the group what to do. The Toongani was originally a mandinka drum called the kutiro but was in recent years added to the Sabar ensemble. This drum is the smallest drum and has a unique bass sound.  The Joll is the lowest in pitch of the bass drums. It play various patterns and is also a solo drum. The highest pitch of the bass drums is the Tahnbat. This drum plays interweaving patterns sort of opposite the Joll. All drums are played with hand and  stick. 

In Gambia and Senegal the most common place to see Sabar drumming is at a ceremony such as naming ceremony, wedding, birthday, or return from Mecca. These ceremonies typically happen in the streets. It is very popular even outside the Wolof tribe. Most ceremonies of all tribes in Gambia and Senegal will have Sabar drumming at the party. Typically Sabar drumming and dance will start after all the formal ceremonies are finished. During a naming ceremony the child is given a name one week after he or she is born. In the morning the baby will be prayed for… as well as all the family prayed for… and during this time the baby’s head is shaved. Depending on what tribe the ceremony can have different events that follow. Typical food at this ceremony is benechin…or jaybuchin. 

Reference Sources:  Wikipedia = Roderick Knight = Charry  Eric = Erik Silverman = Mosheh Milon = Stephan Monssen = Souleyman Diop =  Gert Kilian = Stream Africa = Mike Bennett = Rob Holland = Kim Atkinson = Rob Simms = Google Search/Photo

 

Djembe Drum = Cries…Laughs…Talks!!!

 ***Creates A Hypnotic Influence Over Its Listeners…

  *A Malinke Djembe is a rope-tuned skin-covered goblet Drum played with bare hands, originally from West Africa. According to the Bambara people in Mali, the name of the Djembe comes from the saying “Anke djé, anke bé” which translates to “everyone gather together in peace” and defines the drum’s purpose.

The Djembe has a body – shell carved of hardwood and a Drum-head made of untreated rawhide, most commonly made from goatskin. The Djembe can produce a wide variety of sounds, making it a most versatile Drum.  The Malinké people say that a skilled drummer is one who “can make the Djembe talk”, meaning that the player can tell an emotional story.  

There is general agreement that the origin of the Djembe is associated with the Mandenka caste of blacksmiths, known as Numu. The wide dispersion of the Djembe Drum throughout West Africa may be due to Numu migrations during the first millennium AD. Despite the association of the Djembe with the Numu, there are no hereditary restrictions on who may become a Djembefola – one who plays the Djembe. This is in contrast to instruments whose use is reserved for members of the Griot caste, such as the Bala, Kora, and Ngoni. Anyone who plays Djembe is a Djembefola-the term does not imply a particular level of skill.

Geographically, the traditional distribution of the Djembe is associated with the Mali Empire,  included parts of the modern-day countries of Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Gambia, and Senegal. However, due to the lack of written records in West African countries, it is unclear whether the Djembe predates or postdates the Mali Empire.  

***The goblet shape of the Djembe suggests that it originally may have been created from a mortar. Mortars are widely used throughout West Africa for food preparation… There are a number of different creation myths for the Djembe… Prior to the 1950s and the decolonization of West Africa, due to the very limited travel of native Africans outside their own ethnic group, the Djembe was known only in its original area.

The Djembe first came to the attention of audiences outside West Africa with the efforts of Fodeba Keita, who, in 1952, founded Les Ballets Africains. The ballet toured extensively in Europe and was declared Guinea’s first national ballet to be followed by two more national ballets, the Ballet d’Armee in 1961 and Ballet Djoliba in 1964. Fodeba Keita,  saw the ballets as a way to secularize traditional customs and rites of different ethnic groups in Guinea. The ballets combined rhythms and dances from widely different spiritual backgrounds in a single performance. Fodeba Keita generously supported the ballets  world-wide performance tours, which brought the Djembe to the attention of Western audiences. Other countries followed Keita’s example and founded national ballets in the 1960s, including Ivory Coast (Ballet Koteba), Mali (Les Ballets Malien), and Senegal (Le Ballet National du Senegal), each with its own attached political agenda. 

In the United States, Ladji Camara, a member of Ballets Africains in the 1950s, started teaching Djembe in the 1960s and continued to teach into the 1990s. A number of Djembefolas emigrated and made regular teaching and performance appearances in the west. Recordings of the Djembe far surpass the number of recordings of any other African drum. This is significant because these recordings are driven by the demand of western audiences: there are almost no Djembe recordings within African markets. 

Most Djembes from Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Senegal are still hand carved from traditional species of wood, using traditional tools and methods. In the 1990, Djembes started being produced elsewhere, such as in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, and Indonesia. However, these woods, being softer and less dense, are not as suitable as the traditional woods. A number of western percussion instrument manufacturers also produce Djembe-like instruments, often with fiberglass bodies, synthetic skins, and a key tuning system.

 Djembe players use three basic sounds: bass, tone, and slap, which have low, medium, and high pitch, respectively. These sounds are achieved by varying the striking technique and position. Other sounds are possible – Masters achieve as many as twenty-five distinctly different sounds, but these additional sounds are used rarely, mainly for special effects during a solo performance Ddjembe kan, literally, “the sound of the Djembe”. A skilled player can use the sounds to create very complex rhythmic patterns; the combination of rhythm and the differently pitched sounds often leads an inexpert listener to believe that more than one drum is being played.

The bass sound is produced by striking the Drum with the palm and flat fingers near the center of the skin. Tone and slap are produced by striking the drum closer to the edge; the contact area of the fingers determines whether the sound is a tone or a slap. For a tone, most of the area of the fingers and the edge of the palm contact the skin whereas, for a slap, the contact area is limited to the edge of the palm and the fingertips. The basic sounds are played “open”, meaning that the hands rebound immediately after a strike, so the contact time with the skin is as short as possible.

Traditionally, the Djembe forms an ensemble with a number of other Djembes and one or more Dunun. Except for the lead Djembe, all instruments play a recurring rhythmic figure that is known as an accompaniment pattern or accompaniment part. The figure repeats after a certain number of beats, known as a cycle. Cycles longer than eight beats are rare for Djembe accompaniments—longer cycles are normally played only by the Dununba or Sangban.

 Each instrument plays a different rhythmic figure, and the cycle lengths of the different instruments need not necessarily be the same. This interplay results in complex rhythmic patterns. The different accompaniment parts are played on Djembes that are tuned to different pitches; this emphasizes the poly-rhythm and creates a composite overall melody. The number of instruments in the ensemble varies with the region and occasion. In Mali, a traditional ensemble often consists of one Dunun – konkoni  and one Djembe. The konkoni and Djembe are in a rhythmic dialog, with each Drum taking turns playing accompaniment while the other instrument plays improvised solos.  

In Guinea, a typical ensemble uses three Djembes and three Dunun, called Sangban-medium pitch, Dundunba-bass pitch, and Kenkeni-high pitch, also called kensedeni. If an ensemble includes more than one Djembe, the highest pitched Djembe plays solo phrases and the other Djembes and Dunun play accompaniment. A Djembe and Dunun ensemble traditionally does not play music for people to simply sit back and listen to. Instead, the ensemble creates rhythm for people to dance, sing, clap, or work to. The western distinction between musicians and audience is inappropriate in a traditional context. A rhythm is rarely played as a performance, but is participatory: musicians, dancers, singers, and onlookers are all part of the ensemble and frequently change roles while the music is in progress. 

Musicians and participants often form a circle, with the center of the circle reserved for dancers. Depending on the particular rhythm being played, dances maybe performed by groups of men and/or women with choreographed steps, or single dancers may take turns at performing short solos. The lead Djembe’s role is to play solo phrases that accentuate the movements of the dancers. Individual solo dances are not choreographed, with the dancer freely moving in whatever way feels appropriate at that moment. Marking a solo dancer’s feet requires the lead Djembefola to have strong rapport with the dancer, and it takes many years of experience for a Djembefola to acquire the necessary rhythmic repertoire.

Traditionally crafted Djembes are carved from a single log of hardwood. A number of different wood species are used, all of which are hard and dense. Hardness and density are important factors for the sound and projection of the Djembe. The most prized Djembe wood is Lenke, not because it necessarily sounds better than other woods, but because the Malinké believe that its spiritual qualities are superior. Malinké traditional wisdom states that a spiritual energy, or Nyama, runs through all things, living or dead.  

Shells are carved soon after the tree is felled while the wood still retains some moisture and is softer. This makes the wood easier to carve and avoids radial splits that tend to develop in logs that are allowed to dry naturally. Carvers use simple hand tools, such as axes, adzes, spoke shaves, and rasps to shape the shell. A well-carved Djembe does not have a smooth interior but a texture of scallops or shallow grooves that influence the sound of the instrument. Djembes with smooth interiors have tones and slaps with too much sustain. Often, interior grooves form a spiral pattern, which indicates a carver taking pride in his work.

young djembe player

The Djembe is headed with a rawhide skin, most commonly goatskin. Other skins, such as antelope, cow, kangaroo can be used as well. Thicker skins, such as cow, have a warmer sound with more overtones in the slaps; thinner skins have a sharper sound with fewer overtones in the slaps and are louder. Thick skins make it easier to play full tones but more difficult to play sharp slaps; for thin skins, the opposite applies. Thin skins are louder than thick ones. Thick skins, such as cow, are particularly hard on the hands of the player…

Skins from dry and hot-climate areas and poorly fed goats are preferred for Djembes because of their low fat content. Skins from cold-climate goats with high-value nutrition have more than double the fat content; they tend to sound dull and lifeless in comparison. Even though the fat content of male goats is lower than that of female goats. Many players prefer female skins because they do not smell as strongly and are reputed to be softer.

 The skin is mounted with the spine running through the center of the drum head, with the line of the spine pointing at the player, so the hands strike either side of the spine. Animal skins are thicker at the spine than the sides; mounting the skin with the spine centered ensures that the left and right hand play symmetric areas of equal size and thickness. In turn, this helps to minimize differences in pitch of the notes played by the left and right hand. Normally, the head end of the spine points at the player, so the hands strike the area of the skin that used to be the shoulders of the goat. Skins may be shaved prior to mounting or afterwards.

malinke music cover

Up until the 1980, the most common mounting system used twisted strips of cowhide as rope. The skin was attached with rings made of cowhide; one ring was sown into the perimeter of the skin and a second ring placed below it, with loops holding the skin in place and securing the two rings together. A long strip of cowhide was used to lace up the drum, applying tension between the top ring and a third ring placed around the stem. To apply further tension, the vertical sections of the rope were woven into a diamond pattern that shortens the verticals. Wooden pegs wedged between the shell and the lacing could be used to increase tension still further.

The pitch of these traditional Djembes was much lower than it is today because the natural materials imposed a limit on the amount of tension that could be applied. Prior to playing, Djembefolas heated the skin near the flames of an open fire, which drives moisture out of the skin and causes it to shrink and increase the pitch of the Drum. The modern mounting system arose in the early seventies, when touring ballets came into contact with synthetic rope used by the military. Initially, the synthetic rope was used to replace the twisted cowhide strips. However, the rope could now be tightened to the point where it tore through the skin; in response, drum makers started using steel rings instead of twisted cowhide to hold the skin in place. To prevent damage to the rope from rust flakes, as well as for aesthetic reasons, the rings are often wrapped with strips of colored cloth.

***Djembefolas frequently attach one to four metal rattles to their drum, known as sege sege (Malinké) or sesse (Susu), also called ksink ksink. The rattles serve as decoration as well as to create a richer sound.

djembe and dundun drum family

Traditionally, as today, in Africa an individual needs to spend many years accompanying his Master in ceremonies and other festivities before becoming a real Djembefola – Djembe player. Today in the communities of western civilization learning to play the Djembe generally involves finding a Master Drummer and having private lessons or lessons for small groups of people.

“A Drum-maker often chooses a tree from the side of a well–traveled road from which to carve a Drum, for such a tree will have heard much conversation and will therefore make a Drum that is especially good at talking.”

djembefola

Anke Dje – Ankebe = Everyone gather together in peace. Dje verb for “gather” ….Be “peace” ===> Guinee (Ballet Africans 1952 – Ballet Army 1961  – Ballet Djoliba 1964)

Reference Sources: Wikipedia =  Michael Tivier (Wassoulou Percussions) = Google Search/Photo