DJEMBE-L FAQ Lyrics to Songs, V6c
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From: Dean@wiscasset.net (Alh. Seikou Omar
Sent: Monday, January 10, 2000 12:52 AM
Subject: 2% Reply: [djembe-l] Re: lyrics anyone
Hi there all:
What you will find is vocal expressions, more than lyrics. These
expressions tend to just be repeated over and over. Not necessarily song
lyrics, just singing of expressions. The voice is yet another instrument,
and griots are the ones that will have song lyrics (kora, balafon, their
one-string versions for violin or guitar, etc...) Here you will find mostly
praises to God using verse from Al Kur'an. Sometimes, it will become named
dignitaries in a government relating their noteworthy exploits, and of
course, individual family trees, with exploits dating back through to the
sixth grandfather. These will be particular to the Griot and his own
family's experience with that family tree during the ages. Very impromptu,
and effective- but following a specific formula aimed at receiving a gift or
donation from any relevant (...richer) relatives- and, yes, the host!-
present at the singing for that family's gathering. If a good donation is
received, he will relay this info on to the next Griot passing amongst the
guests (at larger gatherings, maybe three or four of these mini-groups will
be thus circulating about, waiting their moment to praise the host and
hostess.) If no donation is received, that will be sung about as well, in
an attempt to humble the host or hostess!
Lyrics that are crafted to relate to life's dramas and social statements are
rare and not traditional. They tend to draw attention to the artist, and
the fickle finger of consensus can turn against oneself easily enough! You
can expect contemporary "pop" groups to have life oriented and social
commentary lyrics, accompanied by traditional drumming rhythms... just hope
for album translation liner notes from their local language the group sings in!
Sometimes a story of the heritage of the village can be included, depending
on the greatness of the griot to tie it in with the family tree. All this
will be impromptu again, and have the flavor of the representative Griot-
from this or that griot family- whom is doing the singing.
Djembe players are not known to be griots, but can come from a griot family
themselves. Up til now, djembe players formed djembe bands and hired out
themselves to play by invitation- to entertain guests- at a family ceremony.
The only other place for a djembe player was to be included somehow in one
of their country's National Troupes (...to become exploited by their
manager!), or worse yet, to perform in a private Cultural Troupe for
tourists at hotel resort functions, and airport arrivals (... yet another
way to become exploited- especially the younger, starry-eyed members!).
Lyrics for this type of performance will be biased towards a brief
entertainment slant, and somewhat related to an accompanying rhythm the
troupe plays and dances to, while in their group costume dress (maybe even
related to what the lyrics tell of).
Body and limb movements will become the dance steps, often with soloing
done by individual dancers while having an especially active lead drumming
In essence, repetitive expressions will tie in with the traditional rhythm
being played, and an associated repetitive dance movement, chosen by these
Now, we see individual djembe "masters" floating about the paying venues
outside their home country. Teaching flim and flam to newbies. Usually
this will be in European settings, or perhaps the coveted (legal or
otherwise!) USA setting! Everybody there seems born to come to America!
Most will live and die waiting for that moment to step out in front of an
America following. The pretext is to make their family back home
financially more comfortable- and some money usually does filter back home!-
while the end result is they usually never return there... except for the
occasional big splash, short lived visit home, then back to making and
spending money abroad.
We are now supporting this much sought after lifestyle, by accepting any
African coming down the pike as a "master", because he has a flurry of
beats, an advanced drum vocabulary, and a sweet smiling non-verbalizing
intensity. Not all djembe artists are blatant con men, but by accepting
them as a "master", we provide them that known temptation of human
character. Without a point of reference, one can become loyal to unknown
individuals, who were they to play this same way in their home village, most
probably will be just another mediocre wannabe artist that spends an overly
long time away from their homes... occasionally sending home a few bucks!
Lyrics don't tell of this. It is more the hidden agenda of an individual
trying to exploit money from those more well to do. Legitimate artists are
a rarity in any culture... worldwide, and are always much sought after.
(Master djembe players need be included here!) They are the ones to honor.
They are the ones to ask what their lyrics are. Seek the best...
So let the listener beware... you don't always get what you pay for, but you
always pay for what you get!
Asalaamu Aleikum - Alhadji Dean