Djembe & Mande Music Page/Review Section
(last revision 01/11/01)

228 EAST 26TH St. #1C
NEW YORK, NY 10010
(212) 889-9486
YEAR: 2001

Anyone who has been a serious student of Mande drumming will be aware of the contradictions inherent in attempting to transmit traditional djembe and dunun patterns using instructional media.  The most serious constraint is the loss of direct interaction with an African teacher.  The result is that many instructional products attempt to compensate by translating the process of teaching and learning into a more westernized mind-set, complete with counting, drum machines, click tracks, box and/or standard musical notation and many other artificial (to the African experience) contrivances.   Although some of these strategies may be useful, the cost is often that the student may never really learn to LISTEN, and an accurate internalization and understanding of the feel of the music is lost.

Michael Markus has a solid foundation in both the western world of musical training and performance (Bachelors of Music degree in Percussion Performance), and the process of both learning and teaching West African drumming.  The extensive list of African teachers who he has studied with includes M'Bemba Bangoura, Gbanworo Keita, Laurent Camara, Mamadouba Camara, Ousmane Sylla, Minto Camara,  Epizo Bangoura, Papa Ladji Camara, Lansana Kouyate, Karamba Dambakate, Alisco Diabate, Abou Sylla, Bangaly Bangoura, Yousouff Koumbassa, Yamoussa Soumah, and Marie Toure.  He has also traveled to Guinea, West Africa several times to study with the master drummers of the national companies Les Ballets Africains de Guinea and Ballet Djoliba. Michael teaches drum and dance workshops across the USA to people of all ages and backgrounds, and is also the founder and director of Magbana, a professional drum and dance company.

The title "Play-Along Series" aptly sums up the focus of these products; "To give students a tool to work with in their individual practice."  Anyone studying Mande drumming will find these CDs to be valuable practice partners. The 8 disc series includes:
Djole & Liberte
Doundounba (Konowulen I and II)

Kassa & Soko

Kuku & Soli


More Doundounba (Dunungbe and Takosabar)

Sorsornet & Guinea Fare


These instructional CDs are the closest - and most accurate - representation of studying with an African I have found in an audio format.  The CDs are purely musical in content, with no spoken word instructions or explanations.  The design of the series presupposes that the student has an understanding of hand technique, "sticking", and some of the basic conventions of modern Mande drumming such as starting or stopping a rhythm with a call.  Each CD offers two complete arrangements, complete with call, multiple djembe, dunun, sangba, kenkeni and bell patterns. Markus is careful to qualify that the recordings do "not represent a complete or absolute version of the rhythm", but are introductions to a living rhythmic form which varies from village to village, generation to generation and player to player.

Using the Kassa disc as an example, each complete rhythm arrangement is explored over 12 tracks. The format is organized so that each segment can be can be looped individually.  The demonstration tempo is an easily grasped 95 BPM, and each example is repeated 4 times, staying in time. Careful listening and basic skills will allow you to take immediate advantage of learning from these CDs.  All drums are live (no drum machines or midi samples!)  Following is the basic structure each rhythm is presented in, one track at a time:

1)  Four clicks establish the pulse, followed by the call for the rhythm.
2)  4 clicks and the call, followed by the first djembe accompaniment pattern

3)  4 clicks and the call, followed by the second djembe accompaniment pattern
4)  4 clicks and the call, followed by the third djembe accompaniment pattern

5)  4 clicks and the call, followed by the first djembe accompaniment pattern. Then a second call and the second djembe accompaniment pattern joins the first.  Finally, a  third call and the third djembe accompaniment pattern joins the first two. Although  it's not pointed out, the three djembe parts are played on drums accurately tuned to
three different pitches, making the interplay of the parts easy to hear and understand. This track allows the student to hear the interaction of the djembe parts distinct  from the dununs and bells. This section ends with a lead djembe "wind-up" or echauffment  preceding the ending call.
6)  4 clicks and the call, followed by the dunun (and related bell) pattern.
7)  4 clicks and the call, followed by the sangba (and related bell) pattern
8)  4 clicks and the call, followed by the kenkeni (and related bell) pattern

9)  The dunun, sangba and kenkeni - with bells) are layered in as in 5) above

10) 4 clicks and the call, and all djembe and dunun patterns start simultaneously from the call. 
Patterns which start with pick-ups begin at their appropriate spot in time. 
11) The structure of track 10) is repeated, with the tempo now at approximately 125 BPM.

12) The structure of track 10) is repeated, with the tempo now at approximately 145 BPM.

The examples are played with great feel and a strong sense of implied pulse. On a few of the more difficult rhythms like Takosaba, a click is played to help the student locate the dance pulse. The djembe patterns are played with crisp, distinct tones, slaps and basses. The same is true for both the open and press notes on the dununs. This combined with the excellent recording quality of the entire series makes it very easy to distinguish the overall melody of the patterns.

Tracks 10, 11 and 12 continue for approximately 9 minutes each, and give ample time for the student to find and settle into the groove.  Playing along with these tracks is great for building speed and stamina, as well as internalizing good time. The performances swing along with solid, stable grooves and will serve the aspiring player who lacks an opportunity to stretch out by playing dance classes regularly. The CDs also provide an excellent tool for working on your solo licks - with a hot, tight ensemble for support.

There are also three more CDs available:                       
Dance Practice I   - Kassa, Soko, Mendiani, Doundounba (Konowulen I)
Dance Practice II  - Kuku, Soli, Tiriba, Sorsornet
Dance Practice III - Djole, Guinea Fare, Liberte, Doundounba (Takosaba)

Each disc contains four rhythms, each at a medium and fast tempo (and the fast is FAST!).  The individual patterns are not broken down separately; it's simply Call and GO!  Although these CDs are clearly a practice resource created with dancers in mind, they again offer a valuable play-along tool for drummers. The development of many djembe and dunun players is often stalled by the lack of opportunities to consistently play at dance class tempos. As these titles contain the same recordings as the medium and fast tempo tracks on the Play Along discs, these three CDs offer an alternative for the drummer who is already familiar with the rhythms and simply wants the play along material.

Each CD's liner notes include brief information on the region, ethnic group, purpose, history and cultural background of the rhythms.

Although no instructional item can ever replace a live teacher, Michael Markus' Play-Along Series offers much to the serious student. These products avoid what Markus describes as "spoon feeding content to students to give them a false sense of knowledge". The presentation is challenging enough to engage the learner in serious listening - a necessary skill for any musician. The material on the CDs is clear, and musically accurate. This series easily rates as the premier CD instructional on West African drumming - highly recommended!

m. wall