Djembe & Mande Music Page/Review Section
(last revision 02/11/99)

DATE: AUGUST 17-29, 1998

Brought to America from Ivory Coast in 1995 by African singer Machanga Camara, Master Drummer Madou Dembele has been exciting audiences and students with his energetic and electrifying performances.  A djembe soloist for Baba Olatunji and a performer with both the Mask Dance Company and Sahyini 'Grandmama' Morningstar's Speaking Shield Puppet Theatre in New York, Madou brought his talents, his energy and his patient yet challenging teaching style to Nashville for a two-week residency at GLOBAL EDUCATION CENTER. (4822 Charlotte Avenue,  Nashville, TN, USA 37209; 615-292-3023;

Madou was in Nashville from August 17 through August 29:

Whew, where do I begin? My mind is still reeling...

Madou taught two jembe classes each weekday evening as well as classes specifically oriented to local high-school percussionists and music teachers. Madou also taught some less technical classes for non-musicians that focused on cultural information, songs and jembe basics.

In the advanced classes, Madou taught some fantastic arrangements, solo phrases and some of his extremely challenging Ivory Coast rhythms such as Gbe Gbe and Temate.

Madou taught private classes each weekday morning for the drummers of Uhuru - the African dance company in residence at the Global Education Center. We learned a very long, complex and beautiful arrangement for Zaouli that we will use as a percussion feature in our future performances. He also helped us with solo phrases and some very nice Wassolon variations. 

I've been studying percussion (particularly Indian and African) for nearly 30 years and I've learned a thing or two about fancy rhythms, but when I sit next to Madou and he shifts into high-gear and unleashes one of his incredibly complex phrases that float effortlessly across the "bars" and then out of this seeming chaos he lands smack-dab on "one", I begin to wonder if I know anything at all about rhythm. I'm still in kindergarden. 

The beautiful thing about Madou is his generosity. I've had experiences with some teachers who would hold back and didn't really want to teach their best stuff. Madou, on the other hand, would ask me before each class what we wanted to learn and we could ask him at any time to demonstrate something and break it down so we could see exactly what he was doing. His tone production on the jembe is amazing. He sometimes played my REMO jembe and he made it sound almost like a real jembe - reinforcing my belief that the sound comes more from the hands than the drum. 

To explain the difference in hand-position between tones and slaps, he would hold his arm out straight - parallel to the floor. There would be a straight line from his forearm to his fingertips. This is the position for tones. Madou would then let his wrist drop down from this straight plane (as if to allow the palm to go down along the side of the drum where the metal rings are) and allow his fingertips to curve down slightly. This is the position for slaps. 

Madou did this demonstration at the SJI this year and it totally changed my conception of tones and slaps as well as the angle I hold the jembe. I had been focussing on the differences in the hands from the base of the fingers, forward. Now that I'm conscious of these wrist positions, my ability to move quickly between tones and slaps has improved as well as my ability to produce tones and slaps from virtually the same spot on the drum instead of "searching for the slap" by moving forward. I played congas before I played jembe, so the ability to play the "correct" jembe slap has been an issue for me. Madou also uses a slap that is farther toward the center and sometimes plays them a little more "closed" when playing some Ivory Coast styles. 

On the last night of his visit, Madou presented a concert with the help of the Nashville students that he taught at the SJI and Kwame Ahima - our local Ghanian master-drummer. We played a couple of the fancy arrangements that Madou taught us and everyone played solos, then he taught the audience a song and answered questions. He explained that the different drumming styles found in West Africa are a result of the different languages that the drumming emulates. Madou then played an INCREDIBLE jembe solo. This was an extended version of the one he played at the final concert at the SJI in June. At the end of this solo, my percussionist friends in the audience were left dumb-founded, bug-eyed and drooling on themselves in bewilderment. We then played Dansa and brought the whole audience on stage - dancing and singing.

After the concert, there was a reception at the center that the whole
audience was invited to. I urge all of you to save your pennies, have a
bake-sale, a car-wash, whatever it takes to be able to have Madou come to  your area and teach you some of the greatest stuff you can imagine. The privilage of being able to spend so much time learning and going to dinner (not to mention extracurricular activities like horseback riding, swimming and aviation) with such a warm and loving person as Madou is invaluable.

A really big "Thank You" goes to Ellen Gilbert, the Director/Founder of the Global Education Center for making Madou's visit possible.

You can email Madou's manager and Djembe-L subscriber, Janet Fryer at to inquire about Madou's availability. 

Chris Armstrong
Percussion Coordinator -
Global Education Center, Nashville, TN, USA