Djembe and Mande Music/Review Section 
(last revision 12/27/99)
2318 Second Avenue; Seattle, WA 98121 USA
Voice: (541) 345-0467

This Village Pulse recording introduces us to another infrequently recorded West African musical tradition: Bougarabou drumming. Among the Jola, who live in the Casamance region of southwestern Senegal and in the adjoining areas of Guinea-Bisseau and The Gambia, Bougarabou drummers perform at all occasions (harvests, naming ceremonies, marriages, etc.) that are celebrated by dance. Unlike djembe, sabar, and tantango ensembles which feature several players, the Bougarabou tradition centers around a single drummer playing up to four drums of varying pitch.

Bougarabou is a centuries-old tradition that continues to develop. The liner notes to this CD suggest that Jola drum music once employed a single drum played with stick and hand technique like sabar and tantango (for several reviews of the sabar and tantango drumming see; the single drum format, though played with the hands, subsists among the Jola for the funerals of elder women. During this century, however, Bougarabou drummers began using a second drum and their hands only.  Third and fourth drums were added in the 1970s possibly due to the popularity of Cuban music with its multi-conga set-ups. This would, thus, constitute a fascinating example of what John Storm Roberts has called “re-Africanization” (Black Music of Two Worlds, Original Music, 1972) the process whereby a musical element or style that evolved in the Diaspora returns to Africa and is reintegrated into and reinterpreted by the local tradition. Of course, the influence of Cuban music on the urban electric bands of Guinea, Mali, Senegal, etc. has been well-established. What would be novel here would the assimilation of the Cuban multi-drum set up by a village musical tradition like Bougarabou.

The recordings on this CD have captured the mastery of Saikouba Badjie, who is a frequent performer at Jola village celebrations. On some tracks Badjie’s drumming is accompanied by singing and clapping, but on the majority of the tracks the only accompaniment to Badjie’s drums are the bells that he wears attached to his wrists. Half of the tracks are traditional Jola dance rhythms; while the other five are listed as “improvisations” which Badjie made up on the spot. The producers have indicated the number of drums that Badjie plays, which is useful information when one attempts to analyse his style.

In most West African drumming traditions, several accompanying percussionists provide rhythmic foundation for the lead drummer to solo over. In Bougarabou drumming, these two roles are fused and, thus, the challenge for a drummer like Badjie is to maintain a deep and steady groove and, at the same time,  spice up the rhythm so as inspire the dancers. On these recordings one simply has to marvel at the way Badjie maintains an irresistible dance groove while throwing in a seemingly endless supply of variations that drive the music forward. Simply put, he offers a master class in the many ways of exploring the riches of a rhythm. All too often, it seems virtually impossible for a single set of hands to make the sounds emanating from Badjie’s drums. However, this isn’t a case virtuosity for the sake of virtuosity; Badjie’s feel and melodic sense make his play consistently exiting and satisfying.

This CD is highly recommended. It is an excellent introduction to the Bougarabou tradition that hasn’t received the attention its deserves; it is a tradition that djembe players and drummers in general should find both novel and inspiring. As is customary with Village Pulse releases, this Is first-rate production: the text and photos contained in the liner notes provide comprehensive support for the music while the recording reproduces distinctly all the tones (including grace notes) that Badjie makes on his various drums and captures their warm resonance. And at 60 plus years of age, Saikouba Badjie combines a deep knowledge of the Bougarabou tradition and a boundless enthusiasm which make his music a special treat.

For more information:
VILLAGE PULSE; 2318 Second Avenue; Seattle, WA 98121 USA; Voice: (541) 345-0467

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