The rhythms Mamady Keita draws from the djembe can make one feel as though awakened from centuries of sleep or even perhaps strangely nostalgic. They are at once familiar and fresh, offering the forgotten comforts of a mother’s heartbeat and stimulating senses unused in everyday modern life.
The djembe is a traditional West African drum made from a hollowed log covered with goat skin. Three thin, metal plates protrude from the drum, and these are fringed with small rings to produce a very soft tambourine sound. It is generally played together with three other drums — the kenkeni, sangban and dunumba — at village ceremonies, and dancers perform to their rhythms. This month, Keita and his band, Sewa Kan, bring this tradition to Japan.
Born in Guinea, Keita is a “djembefola,” an honorary title bestowed on those who have become thoroughly proficient in 300 different rhythms, understand the history behind those rhythms and have been initiated into the secrets of nature. As a djembefola, Keita understands how to communicate with nature, the trees and animals, and to embrace them all.
This is not Keita’s first trip to Japan. He first came as a member of the National Ballet Djoliba of Guinea. In 1994, he returned to teach his instrument to elementary school children in Mishima, a small village in Kagoshima Prefecture, in line with his belief in the importance of village life and what we can learn from it. “Human history began from a small village,” he once said. “To lose the tradition of the village is to lose humanity’s hometown.”
During this tour, Keita will also be offering djembe workshops and will be performing with some traditional Japanese drum professionals as well as young Japanese djembe players. Come see how the djembefola communicates with you. Perhaps he will help put you in touch with your deeper nature, where you come from.