Question: Do you make up the “breaks” that we play in our djembe drumming ensemble or are they taken from some where else?

My response:

I’ve composed a few djembe breaks and collaborated with other drummers to create them; however, most of the ones that I incorporate are ones that I’ve learned from my teachers.
They are traditional in the sense that they have been passed down by drummers that come from core djembe areas in Mali and Guinea in West Africa. Some of these breaks have become well known because they were created within the national folkloric ensembles such as Percussions de Guinee and Ballets Africaines and were widely disseminated via the recordings and videos of their performances.
Many working drummers in Mali and Guinea have their own groups. They often create their own short breaks that they use in the context of the ceremonies and festivals where they play.
All that said, in most of the drumming I’ve experienced at drumming activities in Guinea and Mali, these things aren’t played at all. Drummers are more involved with the success of ceremony and playing the rhythms to accompany the dancing and singing that’s taking place. Also, the drum ensemble may consist of various drummers that were “rounded up” for a particular and don’t usually play together, therefore they may not be familiar with each other’s “breaks.”
Drum enthusiasts call this style of playing: “traditional” drumming. And the type of drumming found in organized drum and dance ensembles where the emphasis is on creating an exciting performance is called “ballet style” drumming.
If anyone has any questions about drumming from any culture, I’d be glad to do my best to answer it, or point the way to more information on the subject.

Gordon Nunn

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