Djembe & Mande Music Page/Review Section(last revision on 02/11/99)
INSTITUTE: SUMMER JEMBE INSTITUTE PLACE: GREENSBORO, NC TIME: JUNE 8-13 1998
Sponsored by the School of Music at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Talking Drums, Inc., Greensboro, NC, the Summer Jembe Institute has reached what may be its optimal size. In its third year under the brilliant leadership of organizer Eric Charry, professor of ethnomusicology and specialist in Mande music, the week-long session provided an excellent learning opportunity for over one hundred drummers, balafonists and dancers.
Pledged to keep the student/instructor ratio as close to 10:1 as possible, Charry had to add to his staff rather late in the game, as the enrollment kept growing. The two extraordinary musicians he brought in at this stage were balafon virtuoso Lansana Kouyate and djembe wizard Madou Dembele, the latter from the Ivory Coast by way of New York (the first time many of us had had the opportunity to drum with someone from that country, or to study some of its mask-dance rhythm, Zawuli).
Other faculty in this year's group included Fode Bangoura, Papa Ladji Camara, Sidi "Joh" Camara, Mohamed Da Costa, Papus Diabate, Abdoul Doumbia, Djimo Kouyate and Akua Kouyate. The scheduling was managed so that we all had a chance to learn from each of them. Along with the drum classes, there were daily dance classes, accompanied by drummers, and also balafon classes. For drummers, besides jembe, the opportunity was given to concentrate on dundun.
Drummers were assigned to one of seven different groups according to playing experience, and though there was an ample amount of group-hopping for a variety of reasons, most people tended to remain within their general level. An occasional mass migration led to the unusual situation that a few of the participants wound up with a tiny group or even a private lesson or two. On the other hand, we counted well over thirty at another session, but the space held all of us and the teachers were equal to the task.
When we weren't in class (roughly 5 to 6 hours per day), there was time to get to know each other, many of us becoming acquainted personally with folks we had long-since "known" from the djembe-list. We swapped information and opinions on all the usual topics from working with kids to making drums, from study tours in Africa to rhythm notation, from hand care to drum care. We bought and traded everything from skins to hand preparations (Abdoul Doumbia had brought enough shea butter to grease a thousand palms a thousand times over). Tom Harris and others were often to be seen helping people rehead and tune their jembes and dunduns.
Taking meals in the same cafeteria with the instructors and hanging out with them in the residence hall before and after classes and performances, meant that we had ample opportunity to learn from them through their contributions to group discussions and cultural presentations, casual conversation, anecdotes, songs, jokes, Papus' unforgettable impersonations, impromptu jams and more. Their good humor was infectious and energizing. Some of these same people tended to be rather strict taskmasters in class, but the students generally appreciated being pushed to their limits from time to time.
The faculty treated the participants to a tremendously high-energy performance on Thursday evening, then came out again Saturday night for a public show, accompanied at times by some of our more advanced drummers and of course the dancers, who put on a tremendous exhibition of stamina and skill. Our two youngest participants demonstrated their prowess on the djembe. Papa Ladji Camara exhibited both drumming and dancing agility. Madou Dembele was featured on one longer set. Djimo Kouyate played kora and sang as well as being master of ceremonies and even officiating a wedding ceremony.
The tuition for the Institute was $350 if received between April 10-30, $375 if received between May 1 - May 31, and $400 if received after June 1). Room and board for 7 nights was $221, which included 3 meals daily for 5 days (Mon.-Fri.) and a health service fee.
Quite a number of this year's participants had been to at least one of the two earlier institutes. What better recommendation could there be? It is fair to conjecture that many of us left Greensboro scheming of ways to get back again to Eric Charry's next Jembe Institute. In the fall, Eric Charry will leave the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to teach at Wesleyan College, so it is a bit uncertain what form the Jembe Institute will take in coming years. For more information, see http://www.wesleyan.edu/~echarry.