▲ Story and photos by Brian Miller. Courtesy Jeju Life
To the Wolof, music is a thing of intense power and meaning. In the past, only wandering musicians known as griots were allowed to perform it. Through their songs they recounted historical events, told stories, transmitted oral traditions and recited poetry. That music was driven by the powerful beat of African drums, which in Wolof culture were played to do everything from casting spells, communicating with other villages and even healing the insane. Though the times have changed, there’s one thing that hasn’t: this music still has the power to stir the soul . And now the African Museum in Jungmun is offering you a unique opportunity to experience it live. Three times a day, six days a week, you can feel the power and excitement of Wolof music in what is arguably the most exciting and unique musical performance on the island.
Djembe Rhythm is the third band to be featured at the museum and hails from the 18 member Djembe Rhythm band in Dakar, Senegal. They’ve been together for nearly 10 years now, playing a number of special occasions- including festivals and concerts, weddings and births.
Band leader Elhadj Amadou Somb plays both the traditional Senegalese sabar and tama drums. The tama is a small drum worn under the arm. It’s known in Senegal as a “talking drum” because its wide tonal range allows a skilled player to “speak” to his audience. Papis Sorakhata Kouyate plays a 21 string harp-lute made from a large calabash and cow skin, known as a kora. Mid-performance he switches to a type of drum known as a djembe. Cheikh Sow plays a xylophone-type instrument called a balafon and dundun bass drums. Christine Menby plays the thiathia, sings and performs traditional Senegalese dances, including the bara-m’baye.
Songs and lyrics are usually improvised in traditional Senegalese music, though most Djembe Rhythm shows begin quietly, with Papis lightly plucking at his kora. He spends a few moments feeling out the mood of the room as he searches for a rhythm. Elhadj joins with a few gentle thumps of his sabar while Sow slips in on the balafon. The rhythm grows with each drum beat until it suddenly explodes and the room is filled with wild, frenetic energy. That’s when Christine, who’s often so meek and reserved, erupts into a scorching performance of the bara-m’baye, flailing her arms, tossing her head and pounding her feet on the stage. The guys drive the rhythm forward with crazed smashes of their hands, mallets and sticks as the sweat streams from their faces and the music blazes towards a final, deafening crescendo.
There are only two ways to get this experience live: you can see it now in Jungmun, or catch the next flight to Dakar. Show times are Tues-Sun at 11:30 am, 2:30 pm and 5:30 pm.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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