Djembe and Mande Music/Review Section 
(last revision 12/20/99)
ARTIST: Various
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In recent years, Village Pulse has released a series of CDs devoted to several percussion traditions from the Senegambian region that have tended to be overlooked by drum enthusiasts. In “A Land of Drummers”, the producers of this series, Carl Holm and Adam Novick, have assembled tracks from six of these recordings (the only Village Pulse release that isn’t represented on this CD is “Keepers of the Talking Drum” by Tawa Walo, which was released after the sampler).
(Readers might want to consult Roderic Knight’s review of three of these recordings:

As is generally the case in West Africa, the Senegambian region is ethnically and culturally diverse and this CD reflects that diversity: the musical traditions of the Wolof, the Mandinka, the Balanta, the Jola and the Firdu Fula peoples are all represented. Although there are some obvious similarities between them, the tracks chosen illustrate the distinctiveness of the various traditions.

Sabar Wolof: Dance Drumming of Senegal by Mapthé Diop Due to the recordings of Doudou Ndiaye Rose (see a review of the Djabote video by Michael Wall, and a review of the Lac Rose CD by Karen Haumbaugh), sabar drumming is probably more widely known among drumming enthustiasts than the other traditions that appear on this CD. The first track, “Reuss/Tatou Lau bé”, features a tasty tama/sabar call and response intro and fine tama soloing over the sabar ensemble. The second track, Thié Bou Dienne, is at once driving and intricate and showcases savory sabar soloing.

Tabala Wolof: Sufi Drumming of Senegal by Boubacar Diagne
While the previous two tracks illustrate a secular Wolof drum tradition, these next two feature drum music played during the ritual ceremonies of the Qadiriya Brotherhood, an Islamic order that was introduced in Senegal in the 18th Century. The first track, “M’Balax” is based on a m’balax rhythm that is popular among the Wolof; it is a slow and haunting piece that is characterized by a fascinating dialogue between drums with very distinct sonorities. On the second track, the tempo picks up a bit, yet the music remains deep and reverential in a rootsy kind of way.

Mandinka Drum Master by Mamadou Ly
The Mandinka are the western-most branch of the Mande family, but unlike the Maninka and Bamana, the Mandinka don’t typically play djembe. Instead Mandinka drum ensembles use three drums: the “kutirindingo” and “kutiriba”, which play the supporting rhythms, and the “sabaro” which does the soloing. According to the Mandinka, these drums were discovered by a Firdu Fula hunter (see below). The ensemble featured here is lead by Mamdou Ly, who helped found the National Ballet of Senegal. Ly leads his ensemble through two energetic pieces, including Lenjen, a very popular Mandinka dance rhythm.

Balanta Balo: Talking Wood of Casamance by Malang Mané
The next two recordings introduce the balafon music of the Balanta people of Senegal who use a large balafon called "kadj" that is played by two musicians who sit side by side. Malang Mané is the lead balafon player and he is accompanied by Oumar Sadio; their play is intriguing both in terms of melody and rhythm and ultimately demonstrates how futile it is to try to separate the two. These tracks also contain beautiful singing by Oumar Sadio.

Drums of the Firdu Fula by Amadu Bamba
The Firdu Fula are a branch of the Fula (also known as Fulbe, Fulani and Peul) who live primarily in the Casamance region of southwestern Senegal. The Firdu Fula play the same drums as the Mandinka but their style of play is distinct. In the first track “Hayé”, the drummers lay back for a minute or so, then add dynamic accompanyiment to a funky call and response vocal. Here again a important feature of Senegambian percussion is the intricate dialog between the different musicians.

Bougarabou: Solo Drumming of Saikouba Badjie
Among the Jola, who also live in the Casamance region as well as in the adjoining areas of Guinea-Bisseau and The Gambia, Bougarbou drummers perform harvest and naming ceremonies, marriages, etc. Unlike the other recordings on this CD which feature ensembles made up of several several players, the Bougarabou tradition centers around a single drummer playing up to four drums of varying pitch. It has become a cliché to say that a given drummer sounds like several, but in the case of Saikouba Badjie the cliché loses its triteness and becomes quite apt. It is marvelous the way Saikouba Badjie maintains an irresistible dance groove, while throwing in seemingly endless variations that drive the music forward. The first track “Mansaba” stands out with a very distinctive style of call and response singing.

The liner notes in English include short introductions to the different musical traditions represented as well as background information on each song or rhythm. While the reviewer would have appreciated more extensive notes, the producers do furnish an adequate overview of the music recorded. The aural quality of the recordings is excellent: the different instruments can be heard quite clearly and the recording captures both the power and nuances of the playing.

In conclusion, this CD succeeds on several levels. First, it gives the listener a succinct introduction to the Village Pulse catalog thus making it possible to purchase the recordings that are of greatest interest. Second, it offers a clear sense of the diversity and quality of Senegambian percussion. In particular, this CD affords us with an excellent opportunity to compare and contrast these different traditions. Which brings me to the final and perhaps most important point: this CD succeeds in providing the listener with 50 minutes of exciting music. As someone who, initially, was not very familiar with these traditions, it has taken me several months to get my ears around these styles of play, but the effort has been amply rewarded. I am certainly no expert, but I have become an enthusiastic fan. Lovers of djembe music should find these recordings both challenging and satisfying.

Tom Daddesio

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