KEEPERS OF THE TALKING DRUM

IMAGE Traditional Walo Walo
drumming from Senegal

About the Music

The Senegalese know the Walo Walo people as the principal practitioners of the nation's talking drum, or tama (TAH-mah). For longer than anyone knows, the Walo Walo have woven a distinct style of music on five tamas of various sizes and a single bass drum, called the lambe (lahmb).

Tama Walo True to Walo Walo
style, Tama Walo
mixes intensity
with comedy

Tama Walo is one of Senegal's leading tama troupes. The ensemble finds steady work performing in the unpaved neighborhoods of Dakar. Keeping their people's tradition, the troupe's drummers take turns improvising while the others supply a polyrhythmic chorus of bending pitches. Keepers of the Talking Drum was digitally recorded on the outskirts of Dakar.

Image By tradition, the
Walo Walo play five
tamas and a lambe
(center). Spare tamas
allow for the inevitable
broken drum skins.

 

Reviews

"Although most of the music on Keepers of the Talking Drum was intended for dance purposes, I thoroughly enjoyed this recording as a listening experience. The recording quality is high and the liner notes are informative and well-written. Moreover, the music itself is exceptional. Each piece explores the tremendous rhythmic complexity that can arise when relatively simple individual parts are combined. The performers take turns improvising over this polyrhythmic texture of bending pitches, exploring the figure-ground relationship that is created. At times, the individual drum parts are highlighted by the soloists and become temporarily discernible to the listener. I found my attention darting between figure and ground, between these moments of recognition and a more general experience of all of the parts as a single, recursive gestalt. This was an immensely pleasurable listening experience, one that I feel others would enjoy as well (percussion enthusiasts or not). Keepers of the Talking Drum is a most welcome addition to the growing body of world percussion recordings."
--Jesse Stewart, Musicworks

"The tama is a type of small talking drum (of the underarm, squeezable variety) specific to the Wolof of Senegal and a particular specialty of one of the Wolof's sub-groups, the Walo Walo. Some listeners may already be acquainted with the sound of this drum (rather like the comic double-speed telephone speech of Carry On films) from its inclusion in the bands of Youssou N'Dour and Baaba Maal.

"Romantic subtleties aside, all drums can be made to talk by imitating the rhythms and pitch contours of spoken language. Throughout Africa, drumming as surrogate speech is used to pass messages, both solo as a form of 'bush telegraph' and within the musical fabric of group drumming for all sorts of events -- festivities, prayer, healing, and so on. One such event is music for social dancing, and drum talk in this context may be congratulatory, offering advice, joking or used purely for the music of the words represented.

"Either way, you don't need a degree in Wolof to appreciate the non-intellectual side of this music. The musicians on the recording really raise the roof -- grooves are thick and treacle-like and there's plenty of audible interaction between the participants, some amazing soloing and moments of humor. One only longs to complete the experience by seeing the dancers and perhaps joining in."
--Barak Schmool, Songlines

"* * * * [Four stars] The Walo Walo people have inhabited the delta of the Senegal River for centuries, [one of five] Wolof-speaking societies in Senegal. The sabar drum, as the keystone to much folk and pop from the country, is the most familiar sound to outsiders. The Walo Walo, however, have made the hourglass-shaped tama (talking drum) their central instrument.

"While all the members of the group come from Walo, the ensemble is based in Dakar, as are [many] professional musicians in the nation. They [include] Ousseynou 'Papa' Thiam, the primary soloist, who is backed by [four] more tama (each slightly different) players and a lambe (bass) drummer. They work together to set up a rhythm and get participants moving and clapping, and then the soloists literally talk to the audience, using a complex language of rhythms that have a literal meaning based on the spoken language. For all its structural complexity, the resulting music is quite fluid and the discussions are obvious in many cases. This is as social as drumming gets, far removed from the more ritualistic and static drum circles and healing music more readily associated with African drums.

"The recording was made in Senegal in 1997, right at ground level: The dancers and clappers are all there in this live, if staged, performance. The recording quality is excellent, and the liner notes are clear, interesting, and to the point, sparing the reader ethno-musicologist talk in favor of simple descriptions of the patterns, the people, and the place. They even offer hints finding the dance beat (listen to the clapping, not the bass drum!) and pronunciation guides for names and places."
--Modern Drummer

"Recorded live in Dakar, Keepers of the Talking Drum features hot -- and extremely complex -- dance grooves, praise songs and virtuoso pieces intended for listening, played by Tama Walo, a troupe of musicians and singers from northwestern Senegal. The group's usual lineup of five talking drums (known as tamas) of various sizes an pitches and one lambe (bass drum) is frequently augmented by three highly animated singers. And the liner notes are chock-full of information and photos that bring an added dimension of enjoyment to this infectious music."
--Ellen Collison, Dirty Linen

Audio Samples

[Button] From track 1, "Ganass" (MP3 Format, 20 sec, 310 KB).

[Button] From track 6, "Dagagne" (MP3 Format, 30 sec, 354 KB).


Catalog Reference

Title: Keepers of the Talking Drum
Artist: Tama Walo
Cat. No.: VPU-1008 (CD)

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