Summer West African Drumming Class

I will be teaching a West African drumming class at Brighton Music Center on Wednesday nights beginning July 11 to August 22 from 6:30-8:00 p.m. The class will be for beginner to intermediate level drummers.

Over the course of six classes we’ll learn the basics of hand drumming and play djembe drumming pieces from Mali and Guinea in West Africa. Participants will have the opportunity to learn the djembe and dun dun and rhythms associated with each piece. We’ll also learn songs that go with the drumming, as well as musical arrangements for the ensemble. There will also be an opportunity to learn drum solos that go with each piece.

Classes will take place in July 11, 18, 25 and August 8, 15, 22 – there’s no class on August 4.

You can pay for the course in two different packages: all six classes for $75 or three classes for $50. If you’d prefer to drop for a single class the cost will be $20.

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