Serge Blanc - African Percussion - The Djembe

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riginating in the Faranah region of Upper Guinea, the kesekese is the favorite instrument of the Mamara ethnic group in the Sikasso area of Mali. These internal percussion rattles are closed containers containing small pebbles or seeds and come in a variety of shapes. Generally cone-shaped, made of woven plant fibers, they are always played in pairs, using alternating movements. The player holds one in each hand by a small handle. The kesekese accompany chanting and certain very rapid dances. They are often accompanied by another instrument, the koro, a small piece of hollowed wood held in the palm of one hand and struck by a small stick held in the other.


The yabara is from the Guinea forest region inhabited r by the Kisi, Toma and Gereze ethnic groups. It is an external percussion rattle made from a whole, jugshaped gourd, whose stem serves as a handle. The gourd is emptied and wrapped in a fairly loose string bag studded with real snake vertebrae, cowries(l) or rounds of wood (and sometimes "gombele" beans). The gourd is held by its "handle" and swung back and forth while the other hand pulls the end of the string bag downwards. This produces a clear, dry sound. The musician creates a rhythmic accompaniment for singing and other percussion instruments. In Mali, the yabara used to be played to accompany the bolon during great ritual ceremonies honoring titular genii or the manes, village ancestors. In the Sikasso region, the Bamana use the yabara (also called tchitchakara) by itself for their festivities.

1. 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.

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The kariyanis a hollow iron tubeopenalongits entire it is held in the palm of the hand,a finger slipped througha ring attached thetube. to Grooveson eachsideof a lengthwiseslit canal are scraped with a small metal rod. A rocking wrist movement markstherhythm. This instrumentis playedprimarily by initiation society musiciansand minstrels affiliated with hunting brotherhoods. It is also played by women griots during and after singing,andaccompanies rhythmssetby the hand the clapping of groupsof other women.

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The following rhythms have r been chosen from among thosemost frequently used.The versions presented are neither rigid nor immutable. They are interpreted differently according to the country or region of origin, the soloist and the event: wedding feast, recording, danceperformance, dance class, etc. In Guinea, the kesereni and sangba can be supplemented with the dununba, and in Mali there can be a seconddunun. It is not necessaryto limit the djembe accompaniments to two per rhythm. The ones below are the most representative, the most common. A soloist with Ii particular way of playing might prefer a single accompaniment, or he might add three or four instruments. A soloist will have as many different accompaniments as there are accompanists. To interpret and understand the repertory well, it is indispensable to master each of the rhythms and all of the djembe and different dunun motifs alone, before playing with a group.The Diembe

djembe accompaniment. Repeat, alternating these accompaniments several times, in 8-measure cycles, for example, adding signal to stop. The Dunun

- Work gradually in the same way as for the djembe,but this time one instrumentplays after the other, starting with the first dunun,then the second alone, then with the bell, and finally the dununba alone and then with its bell. To start each combination correctly, sing the djembe starting signal. Only when these stages are accomplished and when each percussionist is perfectly at easewith all of the rhythmic formulas can the group work start. Eachmotif may appeareasyto drum by itself, but combining the different rhythms is difficult, becauseof the interweaving. - At first, begin with one other musician and practice the two djembe accompaniments. The two can switch parts during playing, working together without a starting or stopping signal. - Next you can practice the different dunun accompaniments with one or two other musicians, one after the other, being careful to respect

the cycle: 8-measures, example. for


- Keeping a steady tempo, repeat the starting signal slowly several times. - Do the same thing for the first djembe accompaniment. - Then play the seconddjembe accompaniment. - After the starting signal, go back to the first accompaniment, then do a stopping signal. - Repeat this with the second accompaniment. - After the starting signal, play the first djembe accompaniment, then, without stopping or repeating the starting signal, play the second

Once these different stagesare accomplished,the group can play the whole rhythm together