Fule and Mamady
Last Saturday, Fulé and Andrew took Mamady's workshop for the very first time in Toronto. Mamady did not know it but Fulé as a djembe drummer and director of Jiwani has learned almost everything he knows from Mamady Keita. Mamady Keita is the superstar of Malinke Djembe drumming! Yes, I know of several other names of equally skilled drummers such as Famoudou Konate, and we have enjoyed the drumming of Adama Drame on CD, and taken Mbemba Bangoura's workshop in drumming and dance. But none has done as much for Djembe drumming, or even hand drumming as Mamady with his skill, his vision, his deligence and his business sense. Mamady Keita is much bigger than his frame, having reached more people through his teaching CDs, his book, A life for the Djembe, which he co-authored and the dramatic documentary film of his life and his djembe, Djembefola. This man is a class act and Fulé and I periodically enjoy his performance DVD with his amazing group, Sewa Kan.
It isn't as though there are no master drummers in Ghana or other African countries. The Ghanaian drum scene has its own particular flavours and complexity of rhythm, from the Northern drum ensemble, favouring the dono and the brekete types, the Akan ensemble, the Ga ensemble and the Ewe ensemble with their myriad types of drums. Infact the depth of tone of these other kinds of drumming cultures and the fact that the lead drum is usually the bass drum, gives Ghanaian drumming a compelling awe and power unlike other drum cultures. Within the Malinke drum culture, solos are created with a tightly tuned lead djembe which delivers its high pitched soliloquys over top of rhythm-djembes and the bass complement of djun-djuns.
Whether one prefers one culture of drumming to another is entirely a matter of preference and culture. But it is undeniable that Mamady and those like him have taken the djembe culture to another level of prominence. While they have preserved the folkloric, they have gone far to improve showmanship and to create other drum songs, and new solos for older rhythms. While this prominence may be given to the versatility and portability of the djembe itself as an instrument and particularly as a solo drum instrument, we cannot deny the national vision that supported the Ballets Guineen and Ballets Djoliba and which projected them to international prominence with superior techniques of performance drumming and choreographic excellence. Today, because of Mamady Keita, all the world has heard of the Djembefola and even as far as Indonesia they make tone challenged djembes out of mango wood.