Senegal's 'living treasure' drummer and his family orchestra
Sunday 31 October 2010
When he was a child of 10, Doudou Ndiaye Rose "got sidetracked" on his way to school in Senegal by the beating of a tam-tam.
Now at 80, the renowned drummer is at peace knowing his children and grandchildren will uphold the tradition.
One of his sons, Moustapha Ndiaye, led an ensemble at Paris' Cite de la Musique (Music Centre) this week in a festival on "Senegal: Myths and Realities". Though Doudou's music was a featured theme, the master stayed in Dakar for health reasons.
Doudou has performed with such greats as Miles Davis, the Rolling Stones and percussionists in Japan, and been declared a "living human treasure" by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. But one of his biggest delights is remembering the sounds of his Dakar childhood.
"I was born on July 28, 1930, in the middle of the Plateau district. Every day, the tam-tams played for marriages, baptisms and circumcisions. Whenever I left the house, the sounds distracted me. It's as if they said, 'Doudou, don't go to school, you must come and play the tam-tam'."
Mamadou, usually known as Doudou, was born into the griot caste of musicians and story-tellers, guardians of the cultural heritage. But his father, an accountant, did not want his son to be a musician. When Doudou defied him, they went for seven years without shaking hands.
Doudou was working as a plumber when he met Mada Seck, who worked at the cargo port and "knew all the secrets of percussion".
"I was in his group and when he left one day, for Ivory Coast, he told me, 'Here are my instruments, here are my charms, you can replace me'."
But Doudou wanted to travel deep into his west African country to learn "seriously" about his gift.
"I never wanted to play blindly! I met the elders so that they could teach me the very precise language of drums that everybody recognised then: how to announce a bush fire, that a snake has bitten someone and what kind of snake, that a woman who has just got married has gone to the conjugal home and that the husband is happy with her."
When the elders noted that Doudou had managed to learn "more than 100 different rhythms", they bestowed on him the title of "chief drum major".
A large portrait of Senegal's first president Leopold Sedar Senghor looks down over the living room of the master drummer Senghor chose in 1960 to produce an African version of the national anthem. Beside this hangs UNESCO's "living human treasure" citation.
Despite his fame, Doudou is known in town simply as "Tonton" or "Uncle", the man with "four wives and at least 15 girls and 15 boys" who heads a family orchestra.
For 50-year-old Moustapha, who teaches percussion at Paris' Cite de la Musique, Doudou has always been "a generous father but a little strict when it comes to percussion. If you couldn't follow, you would feel a little tap of a stick on the head."
Nowadays, the master's grandchildren often come to rehearse on the rooftop terrace of Doudou's first wife before their ensemble, "Les Roseaux", heads abroad to give concerts. The smell of goatskin that covers drums wafts out from a small room stacked with dozens of the instruments, including a tiny model for one of the youngest, four-year-old Papi.
"I thank the Good Lord," says Doudou, relaxing in the traditional "boubou" or ample robe. "My children have learned the language of percussion well. I can even no longer play and just listen to them."
tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 3 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 4 Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting
- 5 Man hospitalised with pneumonia after downing eggnog at office Christmas party
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Alex Salmond has 'broken his word to the Scottish people' says Scottish Lib Dem leader