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



In 1978, Madama Konate left the Ballet National de Haute-Volta to start Farafina, which is both a training school for musicians and a performing ensemble. Farafina is based in Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city in Burkina Faso, in the Hauts-Bassins region in the south-east part of this country. The musicians that make up Farafina are generally referred to as Dioula, a sub-group of the Mande family, but I can't state for a fact that all the musicians who perform on these two CDs are Dioula. As a school of music, Farafina trains promising young people who, depending on the degree of skill they attain, may go on to perform at a local, national or global level or play on recordings. Since its inception, Farafina has done over 400 hundred concerts around the world and has been involved in recording projects with Jon Hassell, the Rolling Stones and Ryuichi Sakamoto.

On these two CDs, Farafina's basic instrumentation is two balafons, one djembe, one tama and one dunun. Rather than playing a standard accompaniment part, the single djembe often plays a lead role embellishing and accenting the balafon parts, which often occupy the rhythmic role played by the accompaniment djembe parts in a multi-part djembe arrangement. Rather than play rhythms from the djembe repertoire that many of us are familiar with, Farafina apparently plays original songs, although it would be interesting to explore whether they are derived from traditional pieces from Burkina Faso. With Farafina, the emphasis is on a balanced ensemble sound: solos are in general short and tightly integrated into the arrangement. The djembe playing on both CDs (Paco Ye Adama on "Bolomakote" and Yaya Ouattara on "Faso Denou") is excellent, but the role of the djembe is somewhat restricted. The personnel is not the same on these two CDs; only four people from "Bolomakote" play on "Faso Denou" and both the lead balafon and lead djembe players are different. However, despite the personnel changes, Farafina's sound remains intact.

The singing is strong on both CDs; the lead vocals are handled by a variety of people, yet the quality remains consistent. Vocal sections are central to the various songs and are never a perfunctory prelude to instrumental soloing. Farafina makes generous use of call and response: most of the vocal sections are constructed on the call and response pattern and this type of interaction is also used extensively by the other instruments. A good example of the latter is the intro to "Nanore" (on "Faso Denou") which features call and response between balafon and djembe.

Both of these CDs are excellent: "Bolomakote" features the basic balafon-djembe-tama-dunun ensemble and more extended djembe soloing whereas "Faso Denou" has more varied instrumentation. Soungalo Coulibaly's flute is given a more prominent role on this CD and Seydou Zon makes a significant contribution on soukou (a small violin). Tiawara Keita plays kora on one track and guest musicians Billy Cobham (drum kit) and David Defries (flugelhorn) appear on two and one tracks respectively. One can also note on "Faso Denou" the judicious insertion and highlighting of the various instruments. A good example of this is the song "Hereyo Mibi" which begins with the sounds of the forest and a mournful flute. Then the tama and dunun come in with Seydou Zons' soukou buried deep in the mix, but still audible. In a third section the flute returns and alternates with a vocal chorus over the tama and dunun accompaniment. In the fourth section, Yaya Ouatarra's superb work on djembe takes center stage and the pace quickens until a climax is reached. The song then ends with a tranquil return to the forest sounds and flute with which it began. One other song that merits special mention is "Faso Denou" which is a sharp departure from the usual Farafina style. This song features Tiawara Keita's kora and subtle percussion. It is a beautifully haunting song.

Some highlights on "Bolomakote" are "Mogoman Woele", "Patron Moussa" and "Kabouroudibi". On "Mogoman Woele", there are no balafons which enables Paco Ye Adama to display his fiery style on djembe; this song is veritable show piece for Paco Ye Adama's skills in that he also wrote the music and lyrics and sings lead. "Patron Moussa" is an instrumental that features fine tama and djembe solos. "Kakouroudibi" starts out quietly with balafon and dunun which are later joined by djembe and a beautiful vocal melody. A special treat on "Bolomakote" is that there are two additional songs that do not figure on the CD jacket.

The sound quality of both CDs is excellent, although that of "Faso Denou", recorded at Real World Studios, is a notch better and is truly state-of-the-art. The liner notes of "Bolomakote" have short summaries of the lyrics of the sounds performed, but no information regarding Farafina or its music. "Faso Denou" has adequate information regarding Farafina, although the brief remarks of Bill Cobham and Daniel Lanois, who produced most of the tracks, are not very insightful and the space could have been more usefully filled by additional cultural information.

I highly recommend both of these CDs. Farafina's music is consistently well-crafted and inspired.

Mahama Konate - lead balafon, lead vocal
Paco Ye Adama - lead djembe, lead vocal
Tiawara Keita - tama, doudoum'ni
Songalo Coulibaly -flute, maracas, lead vocal
Baba Diara - balafon, dunun
Baba Quatara - lead bara
Beh Palm - Bara
Souleymane Sanou - maracas, doudoum'ni

Songalo Coulibaly - flute, lead vocals, chorus vocals
Tiawara Keita - tama, kora
Bakiri Traore - lead balafon, lead vocals, kora, bara, chorus vocals
Baba Diarra - balafon
Seydou Zon - soukou (small violin)
Souleymane Sanou - dunun, lead vocals
Yaya Ouattara - djembe, chorus vocals
Beh Palm - bara
Guest musicians
Bill Cobham - drum kit (on 2 tracks)
David Defries - flugelhorn (on 1 track)

Tom Daddesio