Image Traditional Jola drumming
from The Gambia

About the Music

ABUKO, THE GAMBIA--Sitting on the ground in front of his mud house, repairing a boom box with a broken pair of pliers and an improvised screwdriver, Saikouba Badjie hardly looks like an international recording artist. But Saikouba is a master of the solo drumming tradition that is a hallmark of his people, the Jola. And this month [June 1996], the world is seeing the release of a digital recording devoted to Saikouba's artistry. Saikouba's recording has perhaps become the first published in-depth recording of bougarabou, the traditional one-person drum orchestra of the Jola.

In carrying on the bougarabou tradition, Saikouba ranks among the hardest working drummers in West Africa. Unlike drummers from neighboring cultures, who generally perform in troupes of three or more, Saikouba drums alone, accompanied only by the bells on his wrists and the singing and clapping of the dance circle. When he performs, Saikouba typically starts in the evening and plays through the night, without stopping. For some occasions, he plays for several days, pausing only for light meals.

ImageA dancer clowns with
bougarabou drummer
Saikouba Badjie in the

Saikouba finds plenty of work. He and the handful of other professional bougarabou drummers provide much of the dance music for the Jola communities in Senegal and the Gambia. Like other West African peoples, the Jola incorporate dance into many aspects of their lives. From the frequent naming ceremonies for infants to the grand funerals for elder women, dancing and drumming weave through Jola life.

The bush starts here

Saikouba can't tell you how old he is. Though he lives only a short walk from the large Gamtel satellite dish along the Gambia's southern highway, the sandy path to his thatched-roof house crosses into the rural world that West Africans call the bush. Here, written records mean little.

The birthdate on Saikouba's national identity card indicates he is in his 60s, but the stamina of his performances suggests the date is off by 20 years. "His mother just maybe make up something," explains Mamadou Ly, who served as a consultant for the recording. A founding member of the National Ballet of Senegal, Mamadou grew up not far away.

ImageSaikouba pauses along the
the path to his house in Abuko

This afternoon, Saikouba tinkers in the shade of a mango tree, while two chickens walk around his outstretched legs. A friend sits on a salvaged tractor seat, brewing strong green tea over a small charcoal brazier.

The real work begins at dusk

Saikouba's real work starts at dusk. This evening, a group of farm women have hired him not for a special occasion, but simply for a night of entertainment.

Saikouba heats two drums by a small fire to brighten their tone, then leans them and two larger drums against a wood frame. The women form a circle with him, and he begins a performance that will last until dawn.

ImageSaikouba prepares for
another performance

As the women take turns dancing in front of him, Saikouba teases their sense of the pulse with a driving but unpredictable bass, while improvising melodic conversations by juggling the tones and overtones of his drums. Each dancer seems to float for a few seconds, as the conversations unfold against the swirling sound of the bells on his wrists and the steady pattering of his hands.

An assistant mops Saikouba's face with a rag to keep the sweat from blinding him and holds a jar so Saikouba can sip a tea-colored extraction of indigenous roots. "The Jola root makes you strong," explains the assistant.

"Outside West Africa, few people realize that traditional music is still so popular there," says Village Pulse producer Carl Holm. "If you grow up dancing to grooves that have been refined over generations, it's not easy to settle for any other type of music--not even for the drum music of the culture next door."


"It's a physiological fact that listening to the Village Pulse label's Bougarabou: Solo Drumming of Casamance actually gets my heart racing faster than my morning cup of mud. Playing the disc at work is a disaster, because I end up zipping through jobs in record time, defeating the whole purpose of charging by the hour. This collection of solo pieces by Saikouba Badjie, member of the Jola people of Senegal's Casamance region, is anything but stark. Saikouba augments his superkinetic hands with bracelets of jangling banana-shaped bells and the women accompany him with palm-frond clackers, clapping them in double or triple time and contrary to his rhythms for a dizzying dose of complexity. Shouts and other vocalizations also add to the excitement. A four-cut improvisation is the centerpiece of this pristinely recorded cd, functioning as a virtual history of bougarabou drumming as Saikouba begins performing on a single drum then progresses to all four. Until this century, according to Adam Novick's liner notes, the Jola played just one drum, adding two later, then finally graduating to three or four in the late '70s perhaps as a response to the popularity of Cuban salsa in the region. Solo Drumming is a terrific disc, but don't play it if you're trying to cut down on stimulants."
--Bob Tarte, The Beat

This is a stunning recording of traditional bougarabou drumming... If this stuff doesn't get your pulse racing, you'd better check it to make sure you have one.
--PJL, Dirty Linen

"Highly recommended."
--CMJ New Music Report

Audio Samples

[Button] From track 2, "YeYe" (MP3 format, 29 sec, 468 KB)

[Button] From track 1, "Mansaba" (MP3 format, 31 sec, 487 KB)

Catalog Reference

Title: Bougarabou: Solo Drumming of Casamance
Artist: Saikouba Badjie
Cat. No.: VPU-1005 (CD)

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