Drummers of West Africa performance

Kenne Thomas

I wonder if the halls of Classical and Romantic interludes will ever stop pulsating! A special event was presented at Symphony hall in Chicago, Illinois, Monday night, Feb. 7.2000. "The Drummers of West Africa", under the emphatic direction of Master Drummer, A true Djembefola, DouDou N'Diaye Rose, gave a spirited concert to the delight of a capacity audience. In from the seasonably mild winter evening the warmth and joy from the stage filled out into the crowd carrying away everyone to the shores of Africa. This was witnessed by the spontaneous outbursts and rousing applause that followed each and every cadence and visual cue from Rose. The stage was bare but vibrant with the colorful costumes of the men and women who make up Rose's troupe and the plethora of drums which they carried and played, with hand and stick.

Their kinetic energy seemed to get more frenzied with the egging of the audience and got to a point where stage and seating became almost one. At one point during "Rosettes", a call and response piece, drummers came out from the audience to the stage. No one could deny that this masterful ensemble had gained entry into everyone's hearts by the time the beautifully sung chant was done and the drummers exited for their next number, which featured the women of the ensemble. The only low point would be the lack of translation for their vocal numbers. Many in attendance were of African background as they were able to respond to the words with appropriate acknowledgments. But those who didn't understand were left to appreciate the sentiment which the singers expressed endearingly.With only a brief intermission they seemed as fresh as ever to play their 5 number set, begging the question of the root of their stamina.

Rose is an elderly man, by western standards, but he plays with a vigor rivaling that of a youthful player, like his sons and daughters, who make up most of the troupe. A note of mention must be made that at the time of this performance Dou dou had just been informed that one of his sons had passed away in Africa. Nonetheless he carried on with an emotion possibly evoking the spirit of his beloved son.

This giant of a musician is humble in his needs, asking the audience for their understanding of the plight of most of Africa. But when he leads his powerful drum group he is dynamic, coercing chorus after chorus of thunderous refrains from the the various drums they played, Sabars, Lamb, and Meung-meung, to name a few. The short pipe drums, the gorong yeguel, which N'Diaye designed were played with a ferociousness that had them sounding like cannons. All of the drummers were extremely dexterous with the sticks and played clave style rhythms on their drums, in cascara style with an undeniable rhythmic intensity that was felt by all. Echoes of Pentecostal revival meetings were witnessed by the improvised dances of the women and even the men. No emotions were held back at this event. No, on this evening the hallowed halls of Mozart, Chopin, and Holst had to give way to the Sabar, the Khine, and the Bougarabou drums.
We are all for the better from it.

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