Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Djembe Music History and Culture

This djembe history guide is taken from my very simplistic research and is based on the stories I have been told by various djembe teachers, other music teachers, elders and historians that I have spoken to whilst travelling in West Africa. I can't guarantee its accuracy and would welcome feedback from any interested reader who thinks that any part of it is incorrect.
Early West African Cultural History
It focuses mainly on the history of the Mande Empire of West Africa and how it has influenced djembe playing today. The 'modern' history of West Africa was mainly influenced by colonialism (and its subsequent demise) but this has also led to some confusion as the different languages (French, English and the indigenous dialects) often use different words to describe the same thing. For the purposes of this study, the following interpretations are used: Mande - the original homeland considered to be the larger stretch of the river Niger roughly between Kouroussa (Guinea) and Bamako (Mali). (Mande can be referred to as Mali). Malinke - those people who remain geographically within the homeland of Mali and Guinea Mandinka - those people who have settled further West in the Senegambia area (Senegal and Gambia) The most important thing to remember is that the period of history we are talking about here was before colonialism and before the borders of Guinea, Senegal etc., were formed. You have to imagine, therefore a vast area without these borders (but I will of course refer to the names of these 'modern' countries for ease of understanding).
The Beginning of the Djembe
The West African Mande empire was established early in the 13th century by a legendary warrior called Sunjata. At its height, in the 14th to 16th centuries, it was an extremely powerful empire and had expanded to Gao in the East (just near the Niger river at the Mali/Niger border), Timbuktu in the North and all the way West to the Atlantic coast. In the Mande society, there were four classes of hereditary professional artisans; blacksmiths-sculptors (numu), leatherworkers and potters (karanke), musicians/singers (jeli) and orators (fina). It is thought that drumming is closely associated with the blacksmith/sculptors and goes back thousands of years, well before the Mande empire was formed.
The Jeli, regarded as the guardians of Mande music and oral traditions, played the Balafon, Koni and Kora. They were an extremely important part of Mande culture and society and were coveted by the king.
Ethnic Music and Instruments
There is a clear and fundamental distinction in Mande society between jeli and nonjeli musicians; the jeli have a duty to devote their lives to music and this will be transferred through generations. The nonjeli, however, often faced resistance from their families if they chose to dedicate their life to music. They also tended to work in nonjeli spheres of music (such as djembe and drumming).

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/2132864

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