I was lucky enough to spend about a year on the African continent in 2010-2011, arriving first in Ghana. It was here that I pretty quickly realised how inherent music and rhythm are to daily life in West Africa. From colleagues singing while treating patients, to the traditional dance and drumming at Ashanti Akwisadae ceremonies, through to the ceaseless loud hip life music on long distance buses- rhythm wasn’t accessory to life, it was inherent and inseparable; and it sneakily got into my blood.
On returning to Melbourne, and being a little Africa homesick I sought out a way to revive that feeling. Hence, I stumbled across Jeremy’s Camberwell djembe classes and pretty soon got hooked. The people I met were a wonderful, social group and immediately I felt part of their community. Having no musical background, djembe and the African style of learning was perfect for me ie. playing via listening, watching, feeling, and noting how the instruments communicate, rather than the western style of counting notes and bars.
I also love that to understand, appreciate and play West African music, learning the background story to a rhythm is important to understand the context in which it sits. It amazes me how these rhythms stretch back often over 50 generations, and remain crucial ways of passing on morals, stories, lessons and celebrating life events- it’s timeless. Getting lost while playing cruisily in a jam and the frenetic buzz of performing are pretty addictive too.
A few months ago I was able to head back to West Africa and explore a bit more. I got to spend time listening to, playing with, learning from and living with some incredible musicians in Senegal, Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso which was magical. Being surrounded by music 24/7 somehow subliminally prints rhythm in the brain too. Seeing how instruments are made by hand in backyards under mango trees, getting to improve my djembe, duns, or my new interest- balafon, and expanding my musical family makes me feel very lucky.
This music has a life and culture of it’s own and I’m really excited to get back to playing here in Melbourne!