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Beyond the Doundoun and Djembe Guinean orchestra model

Transferred from an older blog: Original post date 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 at least:

*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 at least:



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



Blacksmiths have always been at the centre of the community. 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 as its primary purpose. Nowadays, a majority of Djembe/Doundoun 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 does not always allow the instructor to include all the instruments, nor the dancing component, but Doundoun 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 precursor performing groups like "Ballets Africains", "Percussion de Guinee", and many more ballet ensemble throughout Guinea that followed them 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 / Doundoun, should seek more information about the other instrument and the different playing context, which will give them an understanding of the wider dimension of music in Guinea.

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

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