Beyond the Doundoumba and Djembe Guinean orchestra model : Alpha Rhythm Roots - Djembe Drumming Blog
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Beyond the Doundoumba and Djembe Guinean orchestra model

by Alpha (Administrator) on 12/30/11

In Guinea, traditional music has multiple origins. The two following group of people are considered the groups playing the most widespread type of music: - Jelis - Blacksmiths

 - Jeli music involves:

             *Kora [string instrument]

             *NGoni [string instrument]

             *Bala (fon)


It is always played towards a specific person or name. It is accompanied by praising through singing, and uses complex instruments with a sophisticated repertoire of pieces (rhythms). This type of music is almost never played outside of Guinea nor outside of its context, which is explained by the fact that Jelis are families that only marry between themselves and perpetually pass on their knowledge from parents to children. This is the reason why it is very difficult to find instructors for Kora and NGoni etc.., which are Jeli dedicated instruments.

- Blacksmith music involves:



              *Bala (fon) ) – (Not always, but predominantly in the bass coast of Guinea)



Blacksmiths have always been at the centre of the communities. They carve wood and Iron / metal tools used by the entire community, and they are the one who invented the Djembe drum. Blacksmith music is always played for specific occasions with a focus on dancers – That’s its primary purpose. Nowadays, a majority of Djembe/Doundoumba players are professional musicians, and no longer necessarily have tied to any Blacksmith family. In most Djembe group lessons set up in the Western world, the context of the class doesn’t always allow the instructor to include all the instruments, nor the dancing component, but Doundoumba and Djembe only, which are the instruments that sparked the highest interest.

The modern traditional orchestra has seen the unification of Blacksmith, Jeli, and other type of traditional music, mainly throughout performing groups like “Ballet Africans” , Percussion de Guinee”, and many other ballet ensemble throughout Guinea, in an effort to represent all type of music and associated culture from across Guinea to a listening audience. This contributed to the emergence of a new generation of professional musicians playing modern traditional Guinean music deeply inspired by traditional blacksmith and Jeli music.

Anyone learning to play the Djembe / Doundoumba, should seek more information about the other instrument and the different playing context, which will give them an understanding of the wider dimension of the music in Guinea.

For more information about the musical instruments: Bala(fon), Kora, Ngoni, Djembe, Doundoumba, and many more musical instruments played throughout Guinea, please visit the “Musical instruments” page of our web site.


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Comments (1)

1. Sudarshan said on 12/31/11 - 08:43AM
Great article! I once had the privelege of sitting with blacksmiths in Odienne, Cote D'Ivoire, as they did their work in the traditional method. In spite of the discomfort of the extreme heat (metal being forged over fire in a hut combined with the soaring seasonal temperatures of the area!), I found myself so caught up in the meditative, rhythmic nature of their work, that I stayed for hours. I could see that this work required an infinite amount of patience and strength. Thus it's not much of a stretch for me to imagine that the music produced by - and for - blacksmiths would be especially compelling, meditative, or even spiritual.

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