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


I have the distinct pleasure of sharing with you a review of Famadou Konate's "Rhythmen der Malinke" written by Roderic Knight for the journal Ethnomusicology. I want to thank both Dr. Knight and Ethnomusicology for allowing us to use this review. You might want to visit their respective websites: and

I also want to thank Eric Charry who kindly agreed to write a short introduction to Dr. Knight's work on Mande music. 
Tom Daddesio 

Roderic Knight's 1973 UCLA dissertation on kora playing in The Gambia was the first of its kind. An accomplished kora player, Knight has written extensively on Mandinka music culture, including an unsurpassed article on drumming ("Mandinka Drumming," African Arts, 1974, vol. 7, no. 4, pages 24-35). His excellent Music of the Mande video series documents important aspects of Mandinka music in The Gambia and Senegal. He is a professor of ethnomusicology at Oberlin Conservatory College. 
Eric Charry 

Rhythmen der Malinke, Guinea.
One compact disc (duration 71:13) with notes (in German and French), transcriptions, photos, song translations. Recorded by Paul Bernhard Engel, notes by Johannes Beer, transcriptions by Engel and Beer. Museum Collection Berlin, 1991, Artur Simon, editor, CD 18. 

Review by Roderic Knight 
From  ETHNOMUSICOLOGY.  Copyright 1994 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 

If you know how to dance to the djembe, you will find this music hard to resist. If you don't, sit back, turn up the volume, and revel in the crystal-pure sound of 71 minutes of uninterrupted djembe drumming and singing at its best. Only afterwards get out the booklet and work through the excellent notes in your choice of French or German (but not English). 

This recording, featuring djembe virtuoso Famoudou Konate and six other drummers, presents fourteen dance rhythms from the Malinke drum repertory, recorded with a Sony DAT machine in a mixture of actual and staged events in Conakry, Guinea, in 1990. One color photo and ten black and whites show the instruments, musicians, and dancers, while numerous musical examples and three transcriptions in score enable a close scrutiny of what is going on. 

The notes begin with a brief general discussion of the broader Manding (or Mande) culture and history. They focus next on the Malinke-Hamana, who live east of Kouroussa, Guinea, and then on Famoudou Konate himself. Konate was the principal soloist with the Ballets Africains de Guinée for 26 years 1959-85, and most recently has been traveling to Germany on a regular basis to give concerts and master classes. He has a personal repertory of over 60 traditional rhythms, and is regarded as one of the greatest Malinke drummers. 

The occasions for drumming are introduced in a general way first:
there are four annual festivals (two Muslim feast days and the millet and rice harvests) and numerous smaller festivals occasioned by circumcision, marriage, child-namings, and funerals. All that appear in the album are then fully described as they are presented. The introductory notes continue with an excellent overview of the role of music and dance in these festivities and continue with a description of the five instruments: lead and accompanying djembe (large goblet drum), and three sizes of cylindrical drum--kenkeni, sangba, and dunun, the first two of which have an iron bell attached. 

There is little to criticize in this album; it is thorough, informative, entertaining, and scholarly. However, there is one fault I wish to dwell upon, partly for the sake of reminding future producers of CDs: the photos showing the instruments and dancers (with the exception of the cover photos) are too small. They are reminiscent of the familiar assemblage of postage-stamp pictures on the backs of Nonesuch LPs.  Although the CD format has forced us to accept Lilliputian booklets for our jacket notes, one advantage is that even notes of minimal length virtually require a booklet. Therefore, since we have a booklet anyway, let us have one with enough pages to accommodate important pictorial documentation in full-page pictures, especially when showing large groups of people from a distance or details of instrument construction. In this booklet, curiously enough, without adding another leaf of pages, at least two of the pictures could have been enlarged to full size, since there are two blank pages. Fortunately the pictures, though small, are very clear. 

The heart of the documentation for this album is the discussion of "Rhythmic Phenomena."  In this section, Johannes Beer raises the familiar dilemma faced by Westerners learning to play African drums: "Where is the beat?" or "Where is count one?" Fortunately Famoudou Konate has been able, when asked, to superimpose this western beat on his rhythms, thus giving validity to Beer's transcriptions in western notation. Beer also demonstrates a thorough understanding of the structure of djembe music, pointing out and explaining such features as the "bloquage" (a cadential formula), the "echauffement" ("warming"--a repetitive figure), and the technique of "etirement" or "Verziehen" ("pulling"), whereby the second count of three-pulse figures is displaced towards the first count or the third count, with the effect of accelerating the tempo and intensifying the atmosphere of the performance. 

Transcriptions in full score showing all five drum parts are provided for three of the selections ("Balakulania" [2], "Mendiani" [5],and "Bolokonondo" [14]). These, coupled with Beer's notes make it possible for the listener to begin to acquire an understanding of this music from the performer's standpoint, something that has not been done for the djembe repertory until now. 

There are seventeen items in the album (three of the fourteen rhythms mentioned above appear twice). Nine of the rhythms (a majority, as might be expected), are in twelve pulses with triplet groupings; one (and apparently the only one in the entire repertory) is in twelve with quadruplet groupings ("Dununbe/Bada" [12]), and four are in sixteen pulses (items 2, 8, 10 and 17). A slight error will be discovered only in the French notes for one of these, "Balakulania" [2] which is described as being in 12 (p. 64), when it is in 16. 

In the notes for each item, the cultural setting and circumstances of the recording are carefully spelled out. Items 1-5 were recorded at an actual festivity prior to a circumcision, and together illustrate eight minutes from the apogee of the singing and dancing. The dances are "Gidamba," "Balakulania," "Soli" (twice), and "Mendiani." 

Items 6 and 7 are repeats of the rhythms "Soli" and "Balakulania," recorded at a session without dancers to more fully show the development of drum improvisation uninterrupted by dancers, whose steps or songs have the effect of starting and stopping different rhythms. 

Items 8-11 were recorded at a small festival arranged for the sake of recording, to which were invited several women griots (or, to give the Malinke term not provided in the notes, dyeli  musolu)--professional singers, with their tubular iron bells karija (my guess is that this is a "German" spelling, since the pronunciation is usually "kariya," or "karinya,"or "ngarinya").  At this session were recorded a dance for work parties "Kassa" [8], two for spontaneous entertainment "Mamaya" [9] and "Diagba"[10], and one for circumcision festivities, "Soko" [11]. The items presented are excerpts, but not incomplete: we hear the beginning and ending signals, and a performance of four to six minutes in each case. The brief song texts are all included in translation. 

Items 12-16 are from a category of dances called "Dununba," or "Dances for Strong Men," of which one is pictured on the back cover. About twenty such dances exist. They are danced only by men (whereas others in the repertory are danced by women, or men and women together) and are appropriate at all major festive events. The rhythms presented are "Dununbe/Bada" [12], "Bandogialli" [13], "Bolokonondo" [14], "Balan-Sonde"[15], and "Takosoba" [16], ranging in length again from three to six and a half minutes each. 

The final and longest example (8:18) is "Sofa" [17]. It is also the rarest, dedicated originally to mounted horsemen, and known only to a few drummers today. Famoudou remembers seeing a performance in which the warriors danced, actually mounted on their horses! Today it is more often performed at funerals for important village leaders. It puts more demands on the djembe player than usual, and features a more soloistic performance. 

As noted before, there is little to criticize in this excellent production. Two small items: (1) the figure used in the transcriptions for a soft tap on the drum--an eighth-note flag without a head--looks too much like an eighth rest, so is momentarily confusing; (2) in explaining the drum techniques (illustrated in three of the photos), reference is made to mnemonic syllables used for teaching.  It would have been nice to see a typical string of these syllables. 

The notes conclude with a seven-item bibliography of works in French and German. The presentation of this album has been excellently planned, allowing uninterrupted listening as the varied rhythms roll by, now in 12, now in 16, with subtle differences in the pitch and timbre of the drums occasioned by the different recording sessions. At the same time, one may seek and obtain a detailed understanding with careful study of the notes. Needless to say, this recording is a must for library collections, and highly recommended for individuals who already know, or want to learn more, about djembe drumming. 

Roderic Knight 
Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, Oberlin. OH 44074 
Note:  I have prepared a complete English translation of the notes, I will send a paper copy to individuals upon request, for $1.50 to cover copying and postage. My e-mail is: