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By now, the rate of perception of the days passing by is inversely proportional to the amount of sleep one gets. Every morning, eyes gets groggier and hands feel heavier but the smiles cannot be seen diminishing from each and every one of us…

We started with the second TTM curriculum class where we ran through some level 2 rhythms. We warmed up with Soli De Manian, which is the Soli rhythm of the Manian people (an ethnic group from South, forest Guinea, namely the Beyla and Kerouani regions)

We then moved onto one of my favorites, Soliwoulen. This is a rhythm of the Malinke people where a fetish maker (red panther) dances and frees a person or a village of evil spirits.

Next on the list was Djagbe, a Malinke rhythm that is usually played at the end of Ramzan or the Tabaski festival. This has now also become a rhythm that is played to welcome a visitor to a village.

The next rhythm to be payed was a rhythm from a higher level called Kontemuru. This is a Malinke rhythm from the Faranah region about a dancer who created his own dance and travelled from village to village spreading his dance and joy. This is a very skilled and acrobatic dance.

Going through each of these rhythms is such a boon, considering the wealth of experience and love that underlays the transmission of this knowledge. Obviously, one has to play these rhythms for a long period to actually get into the feeling of the spirit of the rhythm.

Next was the Inrermediate class’s turn to play. They continued playing Mamady’s technique for the rhythm Sewa. Here’s where I tried to get some rest and also run through all we did so far considering there were only a few more days to go to end the workshop.

As the advance class session started, we learned the final technique for Koma (the rhythm we played during the previous class) and then moved onto Tiriba. This is a rhythm of the Landuma people from the North West of Guinea (Boke and Bofa regions). This beautiful dance created by a man called Tiriba. When he wore his costume, he would be called by the name, Tiriba. He would tour the villages dancing this dance. He would not play for money, but to spread joy. The second reason this rhythm is played is to mark the end of the initiation of young girls. Hence this is also a dance that is danced by the young initiated girls and their mothers. The popularity of this rhythm kept growing and now it’s played by many other ethnic groups as well. As the heritage of a rhythm changes from east to west, apart from the feeling, the phrasing of a rhythm changes drastically. As a culture differs from another, so does a rhythm. Having said this, just as there are differences there are unifying factors that break all cultural barriers. The Tiriba Dununba pattern is hauntingly similar to the Dhol pattern played during the festival of Lord Ganesha in India.

Mamady then spoke about the use of the mind, heart and conscience along with the muscles while playing a rhythm or more importantly, a roll phrase during a solo. More than blisteringly fast solos what mattered was that one is voyaging as close to where the rhythm comes from to transmit the feeling of that rhythm to wherever one is at the present moment. Mamady then broke into a flawless, fluid and soulful expression on his Djembe to end class. Throughout this solo, it did not matter whether there were cameras or people gathering around him. What mattered to him was his village or land in Balandugu. Nature, he said, is above all. It inspires, creates, destroys and shows the way for everything. That’s where he plays and makes he Djembe talk, like you and me.

Through lunch, I caught up with James Kwan (aka Karinka) from TTM Hong Kong. James is a very calm, centred and soft man. A multi talented musician, trombone player in Hong Kong told me how his journey with the Djembe started and how it was Mamady’s excellence and humility that attracted James to him. He also told us how as TTM directors it is their responsibility to bring such people together to share the mission of the Djembe, of one world and one rhythm.

Today was our penultimate pyramid class and so as expected, things began to heat up. We finished the rhythm Fe’ 2’s technique and moved to Soli De Manian. I can’t wait to bring this pyramid back to India and perform it with the Taal Inc. Rhythm Ensemble for their next gig. (heads up!)

After pyramid class we had our customary Mamady Q’n’A session over dinner. Here’s when people get to know their master better. The topics discussed were the true qualities of a master djembefola, his philosophy and responsibility. Today with the viral nature of the djembe there are many quacks in the name of djembefolas and it is our duty to be clear as to our intent of learning. It is important to know if one wants to learn the traditional, street or ballet style of playing. All said and done, this process that Mamady is taking us through is rooted in tradition and built for the future.

Mamady told us about his journey as a Djembefola since he was 12 years of age. He had to leave everything he knew since he was the youngest, most talented Djembefola in the region and was selected to play with Harry Belafonte’s ensemble and so he packed his bags and went to train with his fellow selected musicians. Soon after things changed and he was a part of Ballet National Djojliba that travelled touring the world bringing West African music to the world. Mamady has been on the move all his life, in body, mind and spirit… A true dedicated master.

Speaking of dedication, since time was short, Sekou wanted to share with us (the bunch of enthusiastic dancers) as much info and dance moves as he could. It was decided to have a night dance class. Kelvin, Jeremy, Namory, Hiroki, Sue, Bing and Michi stayed back after their harrowingly long day to drum for the class. We danced the rhythm Soko. This is a Malinke rhythm from the Faranah region and is a pre initiation rhythm; a rhythm and dance that’s performed once the date for circumcision has been decided.

We finished With class at about 11:30pm, tired, sweaty but pumped and ready for more. The atmosphere was full of positive and conducive learning vibes. Like Jeff (from team Australia) said, “We’ll sleep when we’re on the plane!”, as we went through the vibrant and elegant coreography. Unlike most folk dances from back home in India, West African dance is way more physically challenging. Musically and rhythmically it is very beautifully syncopated, so much so that a dancer and a djembefola will not even consciously know the complexity of his or her achievements. It must be so to retain its charm and beauty.

I decided to wind down with some cultural exchange with team Korea (led by Namory), Jeff, Kumbana, Nini and Benjie.

Tomorrow morning we prepare for our last dance class and our final day of intermediate and advance level classes.

I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate Linda to be the second person from Australia to be certified as a TTM teacher by Mamady Keita today. Good on her for her courage, calm and hard work.

With a mind full of rhythms, a heart full of joy and some Bali moonlight, I bid you, goodnight.

Come. Drum. Be One.

Taal Inc.

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