The Chicago Djembe Project: West African Djembe Drumming, Youth & Adult Classes, Performances, North American Managers for Famoudou Konate

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Lilian Friedberg: Heritage

An autobiographical essay (1999) submitted to an (as of yet) unpublished book about women in drumming, edited by Jaqui MacMillan.

heritageThere is a long history of drumming in my family, but I didn’t know that in 1985 when I first encountered the djembe drum while living in Germany on the shore of the Baltic Sea. Years later -- after two trips to Guinea, West Africa and years of intensive study with some of the top-name professionals in my field (Famoudou Konaté and Family, Alseny Camara, Daouda Kourouma, Soungalou Coulibaly, Silvia Kronewald and Paul Engel) -- I learned of the Native American women’s drum traditions of my Great Grandmother, an Ojibwe from Minnesota who died in 1993 at the age of 107. After nearly a decade of self-imposed exile in Europe and Africa, I returned to the Midwest and learned that the town I was born in, Sheboygan, meant -- in the Ojibwe language -- “to drum and to transmit.”

It was a woman who introduced the Powwow drum to the tribes of the Midwest. She is named Tailfeather Woman and her legacy lives on in modern-day Ojibwe lore. Today, I know the value of lineage and descendancy with regard to drum traditions and, while I trace my personal experience with drums back to my own origins in the Ojibwe tradition, my musical and professional experience with the drums of the Malinke people is inextricably bound to the traditions of the people who have been my teachers, mentors and friends -- both in Africa and in Europe. One basic tenet of the Ojibwe belief system is that “we are all related.” The djembe drum has given me first-hand, tangible awareness of the interconnectedness of indigenous peoples in Europe, Africa and the Americas. The drum traditions may not be the same, but the philosophy behind them is.

I see in the drum a teacher and tool that can help us all trace our human roots back to a single source: The Earth, Our One Great Mother. The drum can re-introduce us to a long-lost sense of being part of the human comm-unity. In my instruction and performances, I try to help people along on this path of discovery by staying true to the tradition and teaching not only technique, but also lineage and heritage as I know it to have been passed down to me through teachers like Famoudou Konaté and in the spirit of my own ancestors. I am concerned with hand-to-hand, heart-to-heart and human-to-human transmission of information concerning the djembe drum traditions of the Malinke people.

My publications on the subject of drums and drumming include: “Djembe: Drum with a Thousand Faces,” in Percussive Notes, Vol. 31, No.8, December 1993; “Teach the Children: A Report from the other Side,” Percussive Notes, Vol. 34, No.1, February, 1996; and “Running in Vicious Circles: Racism and the African Drum,” Race Traitor, No. 5, Winter 1996; (Reprinted in Colors, Vol. 6, Issue 2, 1997).


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