A miniature of jembe drum-dance performance

This is a studio-recording session that was spontaneously hijacked by a group of female passers-by, who were on their way to the nearby river, some for washing clothes and others  bringing fishing nets. The women re-interpreted the situation as a public celebration. What followed was a very short, yet nonetheless full-fledged jembe drum-dance event en miniature. One lady starts to sing a song, which calls up the corresponding drum ensemble rhythm and dance. The term for "song" in the Mande languages, dònkili, literally means "call to dance." Everybody who feels addressed by the rhythm and song joins the dance. In this case, the piece Suku calls to female adults, not the children who sit by and watch; it always depends on the particular piece who does feel addressed, and who else not. The dancers form a line and march round the dance-ground in a single file. When they feel that the song and group-dance has had enough space and attention, they change gears and go into the "hot" dance mode, which makes up the second part of the piece. That change occurs at 00:45 min in the video clip. Now, each individual in the group of dancers gives a short and energetic solo dance performance. When everybody had her turn, the piece is done (1:15). The drummers could have stopped now, but instead decided to change the rhythm from Suku to Farabaka, which is a super-fast piece that often follows Suku in sort of a suite of rhythms (1:30). Indeed, the drummers succeed in calling back some of the dancers, who already were about to leave. They dance hotly for another half of a minute -- and then it is done. This two-minutes clip gives a good sense of the interactions played out at a prototypical jembe drum-dance event.

Since the microphones attached to the drums for the recording were cable-bound, the drummers did not stand up from their seated positions, which they probably would have done otherwise to more directly engage with the dancers. The good thing about this is that the sound quality is nicer than what you typically can capture at public live events.

First jembe (center): Amadi Konate; second jembe (right): Drissa Kone; dundun (left): Brama Diabate. Recording: Kourouba (rural Maninka-land, south of Bamako) 2007, by RP. The photographs below show the same recording session before the passersby hijacked the situation for their spontaneous drum-dance celebration. (In the photos, Kone is on dundun while Diabate plays the second jembe. Research assistant Madu Jakite also is responsible for the inevitable ceremony pf preparing green tea.) Click on the images to enlarge.

A jembe drum-dance event condensed

This is another effort to present in a condensed format some of the most typical formal aspects of multimodal interaction in jembe dance-drum events. The clip features a rough cut of three phases in a local wedding celebration. First, we have the procession of the bridegroom's familiy members with drummers and singers to the bride's family residence, where a celebration will take place. The piece played and sung in the minibus is "Tisanba;" hiring a minibus is typical of processions in Bamako, where locations often are too distant to reach on foot. Second, we have people engaged in a circle dance and then, third, solo dancing. The piece in both of these parts is Dansa.

´The players are Drissa Kone (lead-jembe), Sedu Balo (acc jembe), and Madu Jakite (dundun). The main singer is Sita "Ye" Diabate, whom you can hear on the audio album "Dònkili." Recording: Bamako 2006, by RP.

Rough and loud

Jembe drumming is incredibly loud, which makes it very good for outdoor dance events. The usage of amplifiers and speakers or megaphones in Malian celebration culture typically strives for maximum volume and often does little to avoid distortion. The audio for this clip relies on the mic built in to the camcorder, which was of relatively poor quality and could not fully stand the high level of sound pressure emanating from the drums. After all, noisy and/or distorted sound is appreciated and intentionally sought after in many African musical cultures, and my Malian research partners did not at all dislike the sound quality in the clip.

The featured piece is "Kirin", which also is called "Wasulunka" in Bamako, performed by Mahawa Sidibe (song) with the Sedu Balo Trio, plus unknown players of an iron bell and a kamalen-ngoni (bridge-harp). The piece is emblematic of the region Wasulun, south of Bamako, close to the Guinean and Ivorian borders, where both Balo and Sidibe originate from.

Sedu Balo: first jembe; Madu Jakite: dundun; Drisa Kone: second jembe.

Recording: Bamako, Dec 2012, by RP.

Live in the studio: Sogoninkun

This is a studio recording of the jembe piece, song and dance "Sogoninkun" performed by Mahawa Sidibe (song) and Maye Samake (dance) with the Sedu Balo Trio. This piece, too, is typical of the the region Wasulun. Sedu Balo: first jembe; Madu Jakite: first dundun; Alassane: second jembe. RP: recording, Bamako Jan 2012.

From a music-analytical and -theoretical perspective, it is interesting to note how  in Sogoninkun the subdivision is seamlessly changed from quaternary to ternary and back, in the course of performance. Listen to the changes at 2:43, 3:08, 3:46, 4:23, 8:24, 8:38, and again within three seconds at 8:41.

Chamber-jembe music: Sunun

A duet studio recording of jembe player Isa Coulibaly from Kati and dundun player Madu Jakite from Bamako, shot in Jan 2012 in the city of Kati, where Isa has apprenticed and worked for all his career. The two players do not play together regularly, nor did they rehearse or discuss prior to the session, which makes all the more evident both their expertise and how belonging to a stylistic/repertorial community is important for improvisatory music practice.

Coulibaly is a respected professional drummer from the town of Kati, some 15km to the north of Bamako. He is a former student of Namori Keita from Mali, some of whose recordings were used as audio samples that accompany my book (see publications). His improvisatory playing is quite creative, full of hot surprises and expressivity on the one hand and coolness on the other. Twelve more recordings of his duet playing can be found in the audio album "The Art of Jenbe Drumming: The Mali Tradition, Vol 3."

Binary meets ternary: Woloso-Dòn

JELI MADI KUYATE Trio plays Woloso-Dòn (Bamako, 2006). Jeli Madi Kuyate: first jembe (center); Drissa Kone: second jembe (right); Madu Jakite: dundun (left). Recorded by RP in Bamako 2006.

In the piece Woloso-`Dòn (dance of the Woloso), swung binary and ternary beat subdivisions can be nested into each other and constitute a particular type of "open shuffle" groove.