Djembe & Mande Music Page/Review Section(last revision 02/11/99)
TITLE: MUSIC OF THE MANDE PART III GAMBIAN TANTANGO DRUMMING PRODUCER: RODERIC KNIGHT FORMAT: VIDEO (38 MINUTES)
(This video may be purchased by sending a check or money order for $30 ($20 for students) to Roderic Knight, 89 Pyle Rd. Oberlin, OH 44074.)
This video is part of a four-part series on the Music of the Mande produced by Roderic Knight, who is professor of Ethnomusicolgy at Oberlin College and a specialist in Mande Music. Part 1, Music for the Warriors, Hunters and Ordinary People, features instruments such as the bolon and siko drums, Part II, Professional Music: Mandinka Jaliya with the kora, includes performances by Jali Nyama Suso, Amadu Bansang Jobarteh, Bai Konteh and his son Dembo Konteh to name a few. Part IV, Music of West Africa-The Mandinka and their Neighbors has not yet been released.
(For more information on this series, see:
Prof. Knight's e-mail address is: R.Knight@oberlin.edu)
This volume of the series focuses on Tantango drumming (also known as kutiro drumming after the drums used by the Mandinka). Professor Knight filmed these performances while on a Fulbright-Hays grant in The Gambia in 1970. Since this video has certain limitations, which are primarily due to the technology available at the time, a brief technical foray is necessary. Professor Knight used a silent Super 8 movie camera to shoot this footage and used in-camera editing to capture a visual overview of the events. The audio was recorded on a Nagra III without interruption. During the process of copying the films onto video, the audio portion was dubbed on to the videotape.
While every effort was made to align the two, the music and images of this video are not in perfect synchronization. The transfer to video also resulted in picture quality that is rather grainy. While the lack of synchronization and picture quality might frustrate some viewers, this reviewer did not find the problem to be overwhelming. In my mind, Music of the Mande III is best considered as a video equivalent of a fine field recording: what you lose in recording quality is more than compensated by the immediacy and authenticity of the performance. In this regard, it should be added that the audio quality of this video, especially when viewed with a stereo VCR system, exceeds that of many of the field recordings that I have heard.
Among the Mandinka of The Gambia, the Tantango ensemble is the traditional form of drumming. Tantango ensembles use three drums: the kutirindingo or "little kutiro", the kutiribaa or "big kutiro" and the sabaro. Together the kutirindingo and the kutiribaa provide the signature rhythm for each dance, while the sabaro improvises over the top and signals starts, stops and breaks. All three drums are typically played with stick-and-hand technique. Knight filmed and recorded a series of performances in several different Gambian villages; these performance illustrate some of the different social contexts where Tantango drumming plays a role in Mandinka village life.
The first performance features Lenjengo which is a recreational dance which can be played for a variety of occasions at different times of the year. In the event that Knight captured, Lenjengo was played for a wedding celebration. Seruba or Fere was performed for the evening portion of this celebration, but since adequate lighting was not available, the Seruba sequence was staged for Knight's camera during the day.
In the second segment, Nyaka Julo, was played to entertain a group of women who were preparing a field for planting rice. In the third segment, Lenjengo and Nyaka Julo were played for a Kanyelango ("Young Mother's Play") initation ceremony, while in the fourth a Tantango ensemble played Nyoboring Julo during a wrestling match between young men. The final segment features the dance of Kankurango, a masked figure, who represents a demon-spirit and plays a role in social control in the Mandinka village.
This video comes with an excellent 20-page booklet written by Knight. Although the format of this booklet is quite simple (no color photos or glossy paper), the information contained in these notes makes it possible to view the video with an much more informed perspective. In addition to presenting the technical details of filming, editing and video transfer, Knight gives a general introduction to Mande society, the role of drumming in Mande society, Tantango drums and techniques for playing them. He also provides extensive commentary on the different pieces presented in the video, explaining the cultural context of the performance as well as discussing relevant musical details. Knight is one of the leading scholars on Mande music in the West, and the depth and extent of his knowledge are amply evident in these notes.
In conclusion, this video, with its accompanying booklet, is an excellent source of information on the social role of Tantango drumming in Mandinka society. Although realism or authenticity are somewhat relative terms, it should be noted that with the exception of the Seruba sequence, all the performances were recorded as they actually occurred. It is also safe to say that this video does not present an idealized or romanticized view of drumming in a village setting: a case in point is that in the Nyaka Julo sequence the drummers are actually standing in angle-deep mud in a rice field. This video is somewhat short (38 minutes), but bear in mind that since there are no interviews or scenic shots, the entire length of video is devoted to the performances.
In closing, while I don't wish to minimize the imperfections in the synchronization, nor the grainy picture quality, which might prove disappointing to some, Prof. Knight has produced a valuable document for the student of Mande drumming (Sabar students might also find this video interesting). This video is all the more valuable given the current lack of materials devoted to the GambianTantango drumming tradition.