Sunday, March 4, 2007

Going to Gambia tomorrow Morning

9:45pm on Sunday night here, listening to the minidisc recording from last night’s m’balax concert at Thiossane. Sounds great. I recorded it with the minidisc recorder in one pocket, microphone in the other, cord connected behind my waist. Not bad.

Had a meeting with Dakar musicians at Just 4 You today. We set the plan to start March 15 at one of the musician's studios. Can’t remember his name (there were a dozen folks at the meeting), but he seemed like a nice guy,as did everyone. 5 rehearsals between March 15 and March 27. That’s the plan for now. Will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

Also listening to the minidisc from the sabar program last night that my teacher and his family's band Sing Sing Juniors played. The lead drummer was 25 at most, Malick's second and command he's 19, the others are all under 30 definitely, some as young as 10 or so. Amazing! Sing Sing Juniors are the young band, Sing Sing Seniors is the older group.

So interesting the difference between a Mandinka ensemble with 3 drums and this sabar ensemble which has 7 or 8 drummers. It sounds huge, even with my microphone-in-the-pocket rendering. Another thing about the m’bung m’bung, thiol and all the sabar drums: they’re heavier drums than the Mandinka kutiro drums, and so the exertion for playing them seems that much more taxing than kutiros. Having said that, it probably balances out in the end; there’s only 3 kutiro drummers in a Mandinka ensemble while there are 8 sabar drummers in a Wolof group, so the exertion for the Mandinka drummers to sustain that much more energy may well account for why the drums are smaller, lighter, the stick is smaller (held in the right hand), and its somehow easier on the left hand. I don’t know…. Conjecture? Maybe. More on this later...

After our meeting at Just 4 You, I came back to where I’m staying, at my co-composer Willow’s in-laws and extended family’s compound in the Castor neighborhood of Dakar. I was walking around the corner from their compound and heard some drumming in the distance. My friend Khady Guey (daughter of Willow’s in-laws) said “I think it’s a Serere celebration a little ways from here.” The Serere are another group that lives in West Africa, and they play their version of sabar drums. According to the website from the previous post, Serere and Mandinka drums are offshoots of the Wolof sabar drums. Makes sense I suppose since the lead Mandinka kutiro drum is called the sabaro. And I've been wondering which came first for years! Hard to say 100% because these are oral histories, but still, seems to make sense. Ironic that I found the information in English on a website. Both Wolof and Mandinka keep saying that their tradition came first.

As it turned out it was not a Serere celebration, but a Susu wedding party. The Susu are an ethnic group from Guinea, and were playing Malinke djembes, balafons and dunduns. There were a 150-200 mostly women and children enjoying a wedding after party. I’m so psyched that I actually heard drumming off in the distance and found it, since Khasy Guey wasn't sure exactly where it was. It happened several times in Gambia that I’d hear drumming in the distance at night and not find it. And for what its worth, though I enjoyed the Susu djembe/dundun music immensely, I’m a sucker for the one-stick one-hand drumming. My allegiance as a stick drummer, I guess.

And speaking of Gambia, lets see what happens there this time. I’m going there tomorrow. I’m getting a lift to an area of car transports tomorrow morning at 7am from my friend Babacar who lives at Willow's in-laws. He’s the good man who took me over to Sing Sing Rhythm’s compound to find a sabar teacher two days after I arrived in Dakar. A really nice guy. He’s very patient as I fumble my way through French trying to ask him things, etc. At the transport station, he'll help me find a car/driver or maybe a minibus to to get me to the Senegal/Gambia border. From there I take a short boat (I hope) across the Gambia river to Banjul, the capital of Gambia. Then I'll pick up another minibus and take it to Brikama to my friend Foday Musa Suso's compound. I've seen him in the US since i first went to West Arica and tayed with him 2002-03 (he lives most of the year in Chicago), but I can't believe I'm actually going to see all my friends there finally. Its been a little more than 4 years.... should be great!

Might not be blogging quite so regularly for the next ten days until I get back to Dakar. We shall see...

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