On my first trip to Mali my friend from Maui, Hawaii and executive producer Paul Chandler introduced me to my new drum teachers Aruna Sidibe, Brulye and Siaka Doumbia who he had been working with on several projects and also been studying with them as well.
I stayed in Mali almost three months studying with them, going to various playing events such as wedding celebrations, ceremonies, social functions and hanging out at the community center run by Karim Togola in the quartier of Sabalibougou. It was a life changing experience to say the least.
Prior to going to Mali I had been touring in Europe playing with a small trio. I had been e-mailing Paul and he invited me to Mali. After almost going and hearing about many of my friends and students experiences in Africa for over 20 years it was finaly time to go. I had hesitated because I was scared of getting sick, which never happened.
At first I was in culture shock, there were almost no people from other countries there and I stood out like a sore thumb. At first I was quite self conscious, everyone was constantly watching me. It turned out they were just curious and eventualy I made friends with everyone around my neighborhood. They got used to me and I got used to them.
I rented a house with Paul who was busy during the days teaching at an english school . I had instructions written down in french and I would take a taxi every day to the center where I took my classes. After I learned my way around and where all the important spots were such as the grocery store, internet cafe and a restaurant, I bought a cheap Chinese motorcycle to get around on. The gearbox and electrical system never worked well nor did the horn unfortunately but somehow I managed.
After following the drum crew around downtown Bamako for a party we were playing at I realized if I could survive riding my motorcycle through Bamako traffic I could ride a motorcycle anywhere. It is pretty crazy driving there. My friends were in front of us and got cut off by a large landrover. Siaka who was driving skidded and swung the bike to it’s side. Morey who was on back jumped off and landed flat footed in a karate stance despite having a djembe drum on both shouldes.
My friends made me a special seat cover for the bike and during my lessons someone would always borrow the bike to go get or go do something. I was not used to this community sharring but quicky excepted it once I learned everyone shares in a community there!
Since my lessons were out in the open everyone could witness the Tubaboo (white guy) learning or in many cases struggling to learn. People were friendly and when I got stuck on a part everyone , even non drummers would try to help me get it. The advanced local drummers would sit behind us observing and when I would finaly get a hard part everyone would cheer and clap.
I did not speak french or Bamana so our only comminication was through the drums. There was no room for being self conscious and I had already been through so much ego death over a long term relationship break up that it just did not matter to me how bad I was.
Luckily I had my trusty Sony camcorder and recording devices and after every class I would sit down, watch and write out the parts and phrases they would teach me. I was always amazed at how much I missed or how easy a part was when I was alone and there was no learning pressure. Drumming demystified!.
On my second trip back to Mali I decided to bring some high end recording gear and record several of the different groups and music styles there and to make some CD’s of it. Paul Chandler help arrange it through his vast and deep Mali contacts. He has been living there for several years and producing Mali music as well in his recording studio there.
The music for my CD’s I made in Mali was recorded at the local community center outside Sabalibougou. ‘Bougou’ means ‘Village’, although it is located in a city district inside a bustling marketplace outside Bamako, Mali.
The community center houses local dancers, drummers and musicians, most of whom play in the center’s award-winning group. Many famous district groups from outside the city – and deep in the countryside – also pass through the center. This is how we were able to find some of the other groups and music we recorded as well.
The music for the Old Masters album is traditional, “old school” Bambara-based djembe music. These arrangements were put together by master drummer Aruna Sidibe. He plays and is joined by his students and other musicians. The style is noticeably different than the one played by younger drummers or the “young gun” arrangements, the style currently favored in Bamako, for example.
The CD was made using a high-quality flash recorder and excellent microphones including an AKG 414 studio microphone as well as AKG C14. It’s surprisingly clear and concise, as are the arrangements, playing styles and techniques.
It is my goal to help, in a small way, to preserve the musical culture and heritage through the music my teachers, friends and I are presenting. This being a labor of love, so to speak, any profits made from these recordings go directly to the musicians.