Djembe & Mande Music Page/Review Section
(last revision on 08/23/99)


The title is JOURNEY INTO RHYTHM: The Rhythms of Guinea, West Africa Vol 1 & 2. The instructor is Karamba Diabate from Boke, Guinea, a Griot of the Malinke people. Karamba's extensive performing career includes tours, recording and performance with Famoro Kuyatey's "Kiké", Fils Rais, Fatala and the Ballet Bagata. He is a brilliant musician of the djembe, djun djun, ballaphon and krin. Many of us who have attended West African drum and dance camps around the U.S. have experienced Karamba's fiery playing and infectious joy.

The video (I've seen volume 1 of two) is an intermediate to advanced level instructional, although there is a tremendous amount for any beginner interested in West African music to learn. For example, the video does not include yet another section on bass-tone-slap technique. However, the beginner is given numerous opportunities to observe a master player's hands in action, both teaching and playing the accompaniment parts as well as in performance with the group Dankonta. This ensemble features Jahamen Mobley, djembe-l members Kim Atkinson and Aaron Gross on djembe, Kenyata Pool on sangba and Jason Hann (also on djembe-l) on djun djuns.

The format is clear and straightforward. Each rhythm is introduced with information on its history and purpose, with a preview segment of the rhythm being performed in the background. Karamba then teaches the call, 3 djembe accompaniment parts and a djun-djun arrangement for one player playing the kenkeni, sangba and djun djun. Karamba's English isn't university perfect, but he is clear and understandable. For those who have never studied directly with African teachers this will be an opportunity to practice close listening skills and familiarize yourself with the accents and inflections. I wish I'd had a video to do that with before I missed fully understanding the first couple of days of my first camp!

The trickier parts are presented with a sort of impromptu "click track" using sticks played by one of the other performers to help identify where the pulse is within the pattern. Once all the basic parts are taught, Karamba, Kim and Aaron demonstrate the basic collective rhythm at a slow to medium "learning" tempo, including some soloing from Karamba. There is a front camera as well as an overhead which shows the individual drums from the player's perspective, and can pull back to show all the parts simultaneously. This makes for an excellent "play along" section.

The video quality is excellent. I'd guess from the rich vibrant colors that this was shot on film. For those of you who have your VCR patched into a good, stereo, be prepared for some incredible sound! The video was shot outdoors at a beautiful location in Ojai, California - in short, this is not just an great learning tool, it's extremely pleasing to the eye and ear!

Following each instructional section, Karamba and Dankonta perform a modern ballet arrangement of each rhythm, complete with calls, group breaks and extended solos from Karamba on djembe. One of the great things about this video is that it gives us an chance to watch a contemporary musician from a traditional background performing modern arrangements of the music of his culture.

It's a multiple camera shoot, with plenty of close-ups and the ensemble is smokin'! This is a rare opportunity to observe a West African performing djembe solo phrasing on video, and Karamba offers up plenty to work on! Sharp-eyed learners will also discover that each performance section includes yet another djembe accompaniment part not covered in the instructional section, as well as a separate sangba accompaniment with the bell.

The rhythms on volume 1 include Kassa, Yankadi-Macrou, Fulafare and Konkoba (in 9!). Once you have honed your learning and observational skills go back to the opening performance on the video, Chaapry; the parts are easy to see and hear! Volume 2 covers Djole, Soko, Kuku and Komodon, with an blistering opening performance of Mandiani. Both videos are approximately 60 minutes. Since the second video was produced during the same sessions, I'm sure it's every bit as brilliant! The promotional materials which accompanied the video call it "a comprehensive learning experience that focuses on playing the djembe in an ensemble setting". I fully agree - you can stay busy learning from these videos for a long, long time!

You can order from THIRD EAR PRODUCTIONS, 2279 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90046. 1-888-535-1425.

The videos are $39.95 each, plus $4.50 shipping (for one or both). Aaron Gross is the producer of the video. He can be reached at the number above, his fax is (213) 650-6765. E-mail address is:

If you have a hand-drum related business, better order a bunch because people are gonna want this! For the rest of you, I really encourage you to get a copy - and NOT make copies for your friends! My friends have been begging me for a copy of my review video. I'm asking them all to purchase their own copies. Aaron has really done an outstanding job at presenting a genuine West African Griot in action and has plans for many more follow up projects of the same high caliber. I, for one, want to support this in being a financial success for Karamba and Aaron so we can see and hear much, much more!

Michael Wall (808)737-3786