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


Doudou N'Diaye Rose is widely regarded by many to be one of the greatest musicians of our age. Introduced to the broader audience of the Western world through Peter Gabriel and the Womad festivals, Doudou and his family have recorded hundreds  of Senegalese tapes, as well as releasing CDs through the Melodie and Real World Labels. Doudou is the father of 38 children, all of whom are accomplished drummers and dancers. His various ensembles have toured throughout Europe, Africa, Japan and the United States.

In 1990 Doudou and his family were seeking a recording contract.  Eric Serra, the composer of the film score for Le Grand Blue was a longtime fan of Rose's music, having first seen the group perform in Dakar. At the beginning of Djabote, Serra remarks:

"The first time I met Doudou N'Diaye Rose I had the feeling I was getting several years of musical education in a few minutes".

Djabote is a documentary/performance film of the recording of the CD by the same title. Eric Serra provided the resources to bring the entire Doudou N'Diaye Rose drumming ensemble of 56 members (including 10 sons and 12 daughters), the 100 person Julien Jouga Chorale and over a ton of equipment to the former slave island of Goree for a week of live recording.

The results are electrifying.

The Sabar drumming of the Wolof and Serer people's of Senegal and The Gambia is densely polyrhythmic and very complex. Sabar drumming is usually accompanied by dancing, and is a featured element of births, baby namings, weddings, holidays, wrestling matches and other special celebrations. The performance or orchestra style is a more recent development, made famous by
Doudou N'Diaye Rose and his family. Anyone who has ever naively believed that African drumming is a primitive music will be stunned by not only the sophisticated rhythmic structure of Rose's compositions, but by their melodic development as well. Tremendous group precision is the foundation for a musical form in which all the instruments have no sustain, but rely on notes based on brief percussive impact.

There are many drums used in the sabar family including: the Sabar N'Der; a high pitched lead or solo drum, the M'Bung Bung Bal and the M'Bung Bung Tungone which play the M'balax or accompanyment rhythms, the Gonrong Talbat, a mid-range drum, the Lamba and the Thiol which are the lower or bass drums and the Khine. In addition, there is the Gorong Yeguel, a lead drum invented and popularized by Rose in the 50's and the Tama, the Wolof version of the hourglass shaped pressure or "talking" drum.

The peg tuned drums are played with a single thin stick or Galan, and with the other hand direct to the goatskin.  Each drum has a wide variety of pitches and sounds available through the individual techniques of bare hand, stick and the blocked or pressed combinations of the two.

The film begins with the arrival on Goree of the group by ferry boat from nearby Dakar. We begin to hear snippets of the music in the background while seeing the performers repairing or tuning up their instruments. Barring a few brief comments at the very beginning, the rest of the video is without narration. All the music from the Djabote CD is at least touched on, with complete performances of Walo, N'Diouk, Rose Rhythm, and Cheikh Anta Diop.

A performance of Sidanti Aidara is also included, which features the rarely seen Tabala drums. These deep bass drums, played with two large sticks, were brought to Senegal by a Sufi order, the Qadiriya. In Senegal, the Wolof people integrated their traditional rhythms into the Sufi worship in order to communicate Qadiriya messages in the Wolof language.

As the rehearsals and performance progress, you begin to notice the many subtleties of the music. Details which close listening to the CD might never catch are revealed as you see all the distinct drums playing the multiple layers of music. Doudou's ferocious solos and fills, the hard to hear Lamba responses and M'balax parts and the occasional rhythmic vocalizations by the female members of the ensemble all jump to the fore. The incredible density of the music is only surpassed by the raw power of such a massive ensemble of drummers playing in such perfect synchronization. One viewing of this video will permanently redefine the possibilities of a drum circle.

The camera takes advantage of the great location, colorful clothing of the performers and the myriad special moments; the spontaneous outbursts of dancing by onlookers, children in deep concentration playing the rhythmic patterns on their legs. The director clearly is both a film maker and artist, turning the camera's eye to the sights of Goree at every turn. For those viewers with a appreciation of art, Eric Serra's eye for composition in African architecture, laundry drying in the sun, window shutters and musical instruments provides a counterpoint to the driving, dynamic music. As a drummer, if I could make one change in the video it would be to see every single second of the performances (preferably with separate monitors running simultaneously from all the various cameras!).  Perhaps an unedited
version of these performances will be released someday!

In the latter half of the video, the predominantly Muslim ensemble merges with the Christian Julien Jouga Chorale for evening rehearsals and performance. We see Rose and the director of the ensemble discussing and re-working their notation as the two musical forms begin to merge. A whole new element emerges. Doudou's normal highly animated direction of the ensemble is replaced by a relaxed and sensitive style, and the music soon reaches an almost mystical place.

The film ends with Rose and Serra in the recording studio for final audio mix-down, and film editing. What a treat to observe Doudou's responses of delight and pride as he listens to and watches his family realize his compositions!

Djabote is a beautiful film which opens a door into the world of Sabar. Students of this amazing style will appreciate the virtuoso playing, and most percussionists will find this video an educational and inspirational experience (Terry Bozio credits Rose as one of his prime inspirations). I think that anyone would be completely entranced by this 45 minute excursion into the remarkable music of Doudou N'Diaye Rose.

Available from:
Multicultural Media  RR3  Box 6655, Granger Rd, Barre, VT  05641
(800) 550-9675   (802) 229-1834 FAX
PRICE: $29.95
AWARDS: Best Long Form Video - NAIRD 1996
Best Percussion Video - DRUM! Magazine

References and sources of further information on Sabar drumming and DoudouN'Diaye Rose:

Sabar Drumming Website

Photo of the basic sabar drum family

Another Photo

Review of the Djabote CD

Quicktime Audio download of the last 40 seconds of "Rose Rhythm":

Village Pulse / Sabar Wolof Dance Drumming of Senegal

michael wall