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MAMADY KEÏTA BIOGRAPHY
Early History & Childhood
Mamady Keïta was born in 1950 in Balandugu, (Guinea, West Africa), a village of Wassolon, near the Fé River. His father was a master hunter and a fida tigi (master of the plants--a healer). His mother, wishing to know the destiny of the child that she was carrying, consulted a soothsayer who announced that it would be her last son: “The child must be left to amuse himself because it is there that he will make is name.” When he was old enough to crawl, Mamady descended on all the pots and pans in order to turn them over and beat on them. “My son will therefore be a djembefola” his mother said to herself, and she had an instrument constructed to his size. Very quickly he surprised everyone by his natural gifts. No one could believe their ears and they would ask themselves how such a small boy could draw such a sound from a drum. Mamady “Nankama” (Mamady-who-was-born-for-that), and “Balandugudjina” (the devil of Balandugu) are his two nicknames.
Mamady was taught and initiated into the history of the Mandeng and its music by Karinkadjan Kondé, an old djembefola (djembe player) of his village; in Malinke they say “Words come forth from an old mouth to enter a new ear.” Curious about everything, he would not rest until he knew all the rhythms of the Wassolon, and then of the Mandeng and those of the neighboring ethnic groups.
National Ballet Djoliba
Sekou Touré, the president of Guinea until his death in 1984, wished to spotlight Guinean Culture through music and dance, and organized a system of local, regional and national competitions that would attract the best artists of the land into the National Ballets of Guinea. Out of over 500 competitors, Mamady Keita, at the age of just 14, was selected as one of five percussionists, and one of only three djembe players. Mamady was the youngest member of the 45 artists that comprised the National Ballet Djoliba, and was named lead djembe soloist at age 15. At 17 the young drummer was cast in a Harry Belafonte film titled “Africa Dance.” After 15 years in the Ballet Djoliba, at the age of 29, Mamady became the Artistic Director and fulfilled this function until 1986 when he left the Ballet for good; this was the first time that a drummer was given the position of Artistic Director. For over 20 years Mamady travelled around the world with Djoliba, only resting between tours for short periods in his native country.
Desiring to get out of the cocoon formed by the ballet and to establish his own name as an independent musician, he joined Souleymane Koli’s “Koteba” based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. He stayed with the band for a year and a half and completed two more world tours. It was in this period that he was cast in his second movie, “La Vie Platinée.”
Mamady Establishes a Global Presence
By 1988 Mamady’s name began to travel beyond West Africa. A group of percussionists in Belgium who had a non-profit organization called Zig Zag negotiated to bring Mamady to Brussels to teach and perform at their music school, Repercussions. Later that same year, Mamady established his own performance ensemble, Sewa Kan. The name refers to a Malinke proverb which says, “Ni kan tiyen, sewa tiyen. Ni sewa tiyen, kantiyen,” translated: “Without music there is no joy, without joy there is no music.”
In 1989 Mamady recorded his first album with Sewa Kan titled Wassolon, produced by Zig Zag and Fonti Musicali in Brussels. He has gone on to record an additional 11 performance cds both individually and with Sewa Kan. (see “Mamady Keita Discography” below)
Bringing International Students to Africa
Mamady is the first percussionist to organize a drum and dance workshop in collaboration with the Republic of Guinea’s Secretary of Arts & Culture; his first camp in 1990 was officially recognized as an international cultural exchange and 35 European students were hosted by the Secretary of Arts & Culture in Conakry for an intensive 4-week drum and dance camp. Mamady has continued to bring students to his Guinea camp since 1990.
Tam Tam Mandingue, the first International School of Percussion
In 1991, Mamady opened his own school of percussion in Brussels, Belgium called Tam Tam Mandingue, “drums of the Manding”. The school rapidly gained an international reputation and in just a few years he opened branches in Paris, Munich, Conakry, USA, Japan and Israel. Today there are over a dozen Tam Tam Mandingue schools around the world.
Djembefola: Mamady’s Life Featured in an Award-Winning Documentary
Also in 1991, Mamady’s life story was put on the big screen in an award-winning documentary film titled “Djembefola, the Man Who Makes the Djembe Speak”. Directed by Laurent Chevallier, this film introduces us to Mamady Keita, the world’s greatest djembe player and shares his magical and emotional journey back to his birth village of Balandugu, (Guinea) after a 26-year absence. In the film Mamady hears from his older brother how the local soothsayer predicted his destiny when he was still in his mother’s womb. The film won several international awards and propelled the culture of the djembe around the world.
In 1994, Japanese producer Nonoue Katsuo from Sponichi Creates, produced a documentary film titled “Mamady Keita and 38 little hands” which followed Mamady to a tiny island in the far south of Japan, called Mishima, where Mamady took 16 Japanese children under his wing to teach them the culture and music of the djembe. Together, Mamady and these 38 little hands traveled north to perform in Japan’s largest cities but in the end had to say a very emotional goodbye.
1995 – 2005: Mamady Records/Produces An Astonishing 8 CDs, 3 Instructional DVDs, a Book, and Documentary Film
In 1995, Fonti Musicali and Mamady Keita traveled to Conakry, Guinea to produce a LIVE recording titled Mogobalu, featuring two of Guinea’s elder djembe masters, Fadouba Oulare and Famoudou Konate. This double disc also features many of Guinea’s finest vocalists and musicians playing such traditional instruments as the Balafon, Kora, Bolon, and Flute. In 1996, they returned again to Conakry, Guinea to record a second LIVE album titled Hamanah, featuring djembe master Famoudou Konate. This album is dedicated to the rhythms that belong to the dununba family of rhythms: “the dances of strong men.”
In 1998, in addition to recording his fifth album, Afo, he also released a series of instructional videos produced by Sponichi Creates and Nonoue Katsuo of Japan. In January of 1999, Sponichi Creates produced a second documentary film, which followed four very lucky Japanese children together with Mamady as they return to Mamady’s birth village, Balandugu. Once in his village, the children took classes with Mamady side by side with local children and at the end of one week they all performed together for the surrounding villages in a great celebration.
Later that same year, “Mamady Keita: A Life for the Djembe”, a book co-written by Mamady Keita and Uschi Billimeier of Germany, was published by Arun-Verlag. The book is not only practical, with 60 rhythms notated and an instructional cd with 21 rhythms included, but it also gives historical and cultural information on the instruments and the rhythms themselves. Today a bestseller, it is regarded as the best reference on the djembe and traditional rhythms, and is on its fifth edition and available now in 4 languages (German, French, English and Japanese). Back in Brussels, Director Laurent Chevallier produced a second documentary film titled “Mogobalu” in which Mamady discusses what it is to be a Master drummer, from initiation and knowing the secrets of the djembe to the responsibilities of passing on this tradition to the next generation and ensuring its survival. This film features excerpts from an extraordinary concert with Mamady & Sewa Kan at Couleur Café in Brussels, recorded in 1998. In this concert, some of Africa’s greatest musicians are featured including, Manu Dibango, Mory Kante, Kadja Nin, Paco Seri, Doudou N’Diaye Rose, Famoudou Konate and Soungalo Coulibaly.
In 2003, Mamady began making his transition from Europe to the United States. In collaboration with Tam Tam Mandingue USA, he produced a video (now available on DVD) titled “DjembeKan” (the sound of the djembe), which features four solo performances captured during his teaching tours in the United States from 1998-2002. These recordings offer a rare look at Mamady’s homage to the master drummer who initiated him, and take the viewer on a musical journey beyond this universe, showing the true power of the djembe and Mamady’s incredible gift as a master drummer.
With his move to the United States, Mamady also set up his own production company, Djembefola Productions, which has allowed him to manufacture and distribute past and future products around the world.
2006 – Present: Mamady Continues His Work Today
Mamady’s home base and headquarters for Tam Tam Mandingue is located in San Diego, California, USA. He continues to spend many months of the year traveling the world and carrying out his mission to preserve and share the tradition and the music of the djembe. In addition to his workshops all over the globe, Mamady offers a 2-week intensive drum workshop in the US each year, as well as a camp in Guinea, West Africa. For information on Mamady’s international schedule, click on Mamady Keita Calendar. For more information on Mamady, visit www.mamadykeita.com . To purchase Mamady’s CDs, DVDs, and Book please visit: www.ttmmarket.org
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