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My day started nice and early today. I caught an early breakfast and got ready for our first TTM level assessment class. This class is dedicated to students who want to have a structured learning experience with the TTM grading. It is a well thought of curriculum and helps categorize the rhythms in a way that makes it easy to learn and for students to feel small successes along the way.

This class was taken by the TTM directors. We started off with the basics and went through the level one rhythms first. Each director took turns in teaching/demonstrating the rhythms. Each director exuberates a certain calm yet dynamic energy; one that implies a long journey within to find one’s rhythm and learn and accurately transmit the art of Djembe playing. I personally got to learn a lot about their individual teaching styles and methods.

We made use of time to go through rhythms until Mamady came in. It was then time for the intermediate class. Mamady taught them the warrior rhythm of Sofa with some of his introduction technique and breaks. Koumbana (my roommate from China) and I could hear the drumming from the privacy of our rooms. We could even record the parts clearly; some advantages of 40 drummers playing at once.

In the mean time I was preparing myself for the Advance level batch. I knew that Mamady really pushes his students, no matter what level they’re at but even more so when the stakes are higher. Since I am on the path to certification I knew that I had to push it. This was my way of testing myself. Honoring self choice, students are given the first day as a test. If Mamady feels that one does not belong in a certain group he bumps him/her up or down depending on their over or under achievement.

As the students took their seats I could sense the heat in the air. Mamady held no quarter as he started ‘Lekule’, a rhythm of the ‘Gerse’ ethnic group from Southern Guinea. The original instrument of the Gerse people is the ‘Bala’, an instrument similar to a medium sized djembe, made out of cow or antilope skin, with many tiny djembes attached all around it. The story is that there was this great Gerse percussionist who came up with and dedicated many a rhythm to his wife. He also sang her many songs. His wife’s name was ‘Lekule’.

The Dunun section is an adaptation by Mamady. The djembe rhythms were themselves the not very common ones… But it was only until he started his solo technique that things really started heating up. Many a googly was thrown, there were many forehead cringes, many embarrassed smiles but at the end of it all I think we all came through more realistic about our own level in the whole scheme of things. There’s always more to learn and newer milestones to pass… What’s most important is doing the best one can do every single day and the rest takes care of itself; mainly because, the reason say, a harvest rhythm is played is to celebrate a great harvest, or motivate the farmers and not to secretly judge the level of another as they played. Only joy was and shall continue to be the reason the Djembe speaks… Like you and me.

I felt happy to get through the advance class knowing that I can apply myself to keep achieving more and being as clear, precise and accurate about the material that I perform and pass on to my students…. Because, there are miles to go, before I sleep!

After a heavy lunch and some rest, Koumbana and I went through all we had done before to make sure we would be prepared for the Pyramid class to come. Our pyramid class started with Malinke language course 101. Here’s what we learned:

Isogoma / Isoma: Good Morning (when said to one person)
Aisogoma / Aisoma: Good Morning (when said to many)
Initele: Good Day (when said to one person)
Ainitele: Good Day (when said to many)
Inigura: Good Evening (when said to one person)
Ainigura: Good Evening (when said to many)
Inisu: Good Night (when said to one person)
Ainisu: Good Night (when said to many)
Tanate: How are you?
Tanacite: I’m well / fine
M’ba: Thank You (to be used by men)
M’se: Thank You (to be used by women)

P.s. I’ll be testing my students randomly in Malinke…, so be prepared!

We continued our stacking of technique patterns during our Pyramid class for Kudani and added a new rhythm called Kuruni. The performance is taking shape well as we gear up for our local performance on the 5th of August. Already we have a very supportive audience in the happy hotel staff all singing djembe breaks and air drumming… Let’s hope we have the similar effect on the Balinese audience who comes out to watch us.

After class Tara and I went to visit Mr. Aan, our djembe maker. His family hosted us with such love and grace that we had to show our love, the only way we knew how to… By playing Djembe….

After a long ride along the Balinese countryside, in the search for the famous, ‘Big Baby Statue,’ we got home in one piece without ending up on another island entirely…. Phew.

Tomorrow I have my first West African dance class with Sekou the super fit, calm, hawk eyed TTM teacher from Portland, USA. I can’t wait…

Come. Drum. Be One.

Taal Inc.

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