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


Mamady Keita has dedicated his life to performing, teaching, and recording the traditional drum music of his people, the Malinke of Guinea. He toured the world with the Djoliba Ballet, the national dance drumming troupe of Guinea, for over twenty years. In the 1980s, Mamady moved to Brussels, where he opened his own school, Tam Tam Mandingue. Subsequently, he has started eight more branches of his school across western Europe and one in the United States. He began touring and teaching in the United States for several weeks each year in 1996. He has also recorded some of the finest versions of traditional djembe music available. To date (10/97), he has recorded four albums: "Wassolon", "Nankama", "Hamanah", and the double CD package, "Mogobalu". 

"Wassolon" was the first recording Mamady made. The CD contains 11 tracks of traditional rhythms, many of which have become well-known performance pieces for American drummers, including "Soli", "Dununba", "Djole", and "Kuku". One remarkable quality of these recordings is the sparkling clarity of each part. You can hear quite clearly the interplay between sangba, dununba, and kenkeni, between djembes, between bells, between lead drum and accompaniment. This  makes this -- and all Mamady's CDs -- wonderful resources for drummers learning djembe ensemble music. You can hear and understand what each person in the group is doing. 

The songs are executed flawlessly. Some arrangements are traditional,  some are "ballet style," with breaks Mamady has added. For example, track 11, "Tiriba," includes a solo section at the end, followed by an ensemble break and brief rendition of a totally different rhythm, "Abondon." This is Mamady's own recombination of traditional songs. 

Most tracks include singing, as well, which is another wonderful quality of these tracks. The melodies are sung with the rhythm, and the liner notes contain some transcriptions of the original words in Malinke and a translation. The only shortcoming is that the CD's producers decided not to include all of the lyrics in the notes. The liner notes do give the meaning and context of the rhythms. All of these are invaluable resources to the non-African djembe enthusiast. 

Finally,  Mamady is a blistering soloist. And it's not just that he has speed, but that his tone and phrasing are so clear. In every lick of a solo, he has something to say. He says it with clarity, intensity, and an unerring sense of musicality. When I first heard him, I was astounded by his powers of communication on the drum. 

"Wassolon" is a classic in the djembe lexicon. It is a "must have."  The music will open your eyes to the beauty and power of djembe music. 

Adam Rugo