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Mamady Keïta and Famoudou Konaté -- Grand Masters Bring "Djembe Fever" to The MIM

The African djembe drum may be a familiar sight for pop music fans -- it's popped up onstage with plenty of Western artists like Paul Simon, Ben Harper, and Peter Gabriel -- but intrepid percussionists will have a chance to hear the drum played by two grand masters, Mamady Keïta and Famoudou Konaté, who will be taking up residency, performing, and teaching classes this weekend at The Musical Instrument Museum, courtesy of Arizona Drum and Dance.

"We bring in master drummers to teach classes periodically during the year," says Larin Evangelista of Arizona Drum and Dance. "We are bringing in two gentlemen who are considered worldwide to be the grand masters of West African music."

"In Africa, over the centuries, there were all these different tribes," explains Arizona Drum and Dance Director Bernd Gey. "Around the 13th or 12th century, a large empire was formed, the Mali Empire. The people in that empire, you hear different flavors of names, different countries have different ways to say it, but it's the Malinké people. There's casts -- the leather workers, the hunters, the blacksmiths -- and the blacksmiths were associated with the drum. In our time, everyone knows [the] djembe, they see [it] on every street corner. But it comes from this ethnic group; the blacksmiths would play it."

Arizona Drum and Dance will be offering an entire weekend of djembe activities, starting with a screening of Djembefola! Discover West African Drumming on Friday, June 10. The screening will be followed by a special appearance by grand masters duo.

On Saturday, June 11, Mamady Keïta will instruct a beginner's drumming workshop, while Famoudou Konaté will helm an intermediate drumming workshop. Sunday, June 12, sees the roles reversed, with Konaté working with beginners and Keïta teaching the intermediate class. Pre-approval is required for the intermediate courses.

Gey says the classes give glimpse into the sociological foundations of West African societies.

"The concept of "the individual" is not very high...The music is very intricate, very complex. You form certain rhythms , [and] the structure, the way the music comes together, is very much an image of the form of [the musicians'] society...When you listen to African drumming, you can hear rhythmic melodies, [and] it comes out as the sum of what everybody does."

For pricing information, see The MIM's official site, and for information on classes, including pre-approval for intermediate courses, contact Lorin at [email protected] and visit Arizona Drum and Dance's website. 

Here's a glimpse of the grand masters performing together in the '90s:

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