Mission Catholique is a busy place. This is where I meet Famadhi. Guinean living in Germany for 25 years. He teaches drums in Munich, plays in bands and recently joined André Heller's Afrika Afrika ensemble. His career, so traditional: joined one of the Ballets as teenager, toured for many years in Africa and Europe and eventually jumped off in Europe.
Currently back in Guinea on vacation. a group of his German students will join him here.
Soon I take him to the Ballet Sanké rehearsals. In general we do many things together, among them going to Doundounbas.
Doundounbas are fiestas or ceremonies where we invite a group of drummers, dancers and griots, weddings or promotions, or just a fête de village. Well - drums are djembées (jembe, tam tams), doundouns (bass drums), sangbans (smaller base drums), balafons (xylophones), griots are to chant the praise songs, and dance is -- dance is for everyone.
The amazing thing is, they (pretty much all) wear light blue colours on this late Saturday afternoon, on this pre-wedding doundounba, for the women only.
It is the djembees that make every limp of their bowies vibrate, old and young get down to their knees. bang their heads, shake their hair, sweat off, sweat till total exhaustion, again and again. Lined up in a row the women approach the band of drummers and the griot donate money for the band and singer(s), then perform their thing and run away laughing about their own (wild) performance.
It is less the bride and more the music, the band, the djembees and the griot(s) that are at the centre of interest. The bride herself, with her group, more then once approaches the band, donates performs a wild dance ritual and backs off again.
So it goes and I am happy to be at the centre of it, and that all are dressed in light shiny blue colours.
This is what Lansine and some 5 friends do, play Doundounbas. They're booked most days. "There are not many groups that are booked all the time, like us". So Lansine and Lansana do Ballet Sanké till 2 in the afternoon, Doundounbas later and evenings.
So-far it is the Doundounbas where my friends earn their money.
Another Doundounba and another one....
1 week in Conakry. Really I feel more and more like going home back to Vienna. At home is pre Christmas (silly) season. The calls to return are getting louder. Hasna, my wife is 6 and a half month pregnant with twins. But for days there is this feeling that something is in the making here in Conakry. Something is out there.
1 week and a half in Conakry. The Concours National de la percussion is set for next week, 28 ensembles, ballets, drummers for all of next week. They started running ads on TV for that. Now I know why my 6th sense made me stay. And we would see all of it, Famadhi and I, we are both exited and super content.
Repetitions of the Sanké Ballet have become so serious now, the big event nears really fast. There is another wedding this afternoon. Again and again not much sleep.
End of 2nd week in Conakry. Lansine asks me to drive the band in the Land Rover to the edges of Conakry for just another doundounba. Hmmm. Now I am part of the band, - I am the driver.
On the doundounba I am allowed to strike one of the smaller doundoun/dunun drums too. It is not that easy initially to keep the beat. But I manage and quite enjoy it.
Actually I would love to stay on and learn play the djembée. In Lansine and Famadhi and really all the others I'd have the best teachers I could hope for.
Ballet Sanké on the National Percussion Competition.
Wednesday more then 2 weeks in Conakry. The competition has been on since Monday, organised by Festi-Kaloum a Guinean event organiser and promoter who strives making Guinea known as the country of percussion. I happen to get to know Joseph Camara a director at Festi-Kaloum: "Many of the world best percussionists originate from Guinea, and many work in the major schools of percussion across the world. But we have not had many events yet in Guinea itself underlining this very fact. This we intend to change."
Ballet Sanké is on Wednesdays. The closing act on Wednesday 20th of Dec. To me the best show so-far. Training was all worth it. Jeanne's iron hand, her years of experience. Jeanne's dramaturgy touches what is inherent to Conakry: Garbage, waste, dirt which is everywhere, why? Let's clean it up! Do something about it. A definitely political subject. Modern. A bit of Zeitgeist.
Sanké Ballet is hotter then ever. They have a solid fan base here. The first time in 3 days that I see the crowd freak out completely.
Lansana plays a sangban, a medium sized doundoun drum, he tells me: "When I am on stage, even when I stare at you, I stare through you."
And he puts up this distorted look suggesting, "I am not here, but in my dream world".
After the show.
This morning at the rehearsal Famadhi and I said to them that we would invite them out after the show, -- if they played well. Maybe this is why they were so hot in the end. And so we deliver and everyone of the group comes along, Jeanne Macauley and her 25 peolpe. Artists need sponsors, mentors, financiers.
I as for me, I know once again that I have been really privileged being part of all that, that I have lived with the group for 3 weeks and that I can call them friends. And I want to return.
Turn page for more impressions from the percussion competition.