Traditional Fula
drumming from
The Gambia

About the Music

"Few people know that the drums of the Mandinka came from the Firdu Fula. Our people took the drums and made them famous, but the Firdu Fula have always played them to make their own style of music." --Mamadou Ly, Mandinka drummer and founding member of the National Ballet of Senegal

Digitally recorded in the Gambia, Drums of the Firdu Fula explores the traditional drumming and singing of the Firdu Fula people of the Gambia. The recording features a popular working troupe from Serekunda, led by Amadu Bamba [AH-ma-doo BAHM-ba].

Image Drums of the Firdu Fula
features the troupe of
singers and drummers led
by Amadu Bamba (far right),
shown here in Serekunda.




The Firdu Fula [FUR-doo FOO-la] play the same set of three tuned drums as the Mandinka, but with a completely different style of drumming and singing. Like the Mandinka, Firdu Fula drummers play interlocking rhythms that have been crafted over generations to weave music from the drums' different tones. The difference between the two styles of music offers a glimpse into the richness of traditional percussion in West Africa.

ImageThe troupe's singers are led
by Jaiteh Baldeh (JIGH-tay
BAL-day). Jaiteh was born to
a hereditary caste of singers.





The Firdu Fula drums have come to be associated primarily with the Mandinka--the Gambia's majority ethnic group--but according to oral history, the Firdu Fula played them first.

The Mandinka say a Firdu Fula hunter named Madi Fula [MA-dee FOO-la] first discovered the drums. He came upon them in a devil village in the bush somewhere in the Nyamina [NYA-mee-na] region. Entering the village, Madi Fula hid in a tree, and from there saw devils come and play the drums. He remained in the tree until the devils left, then convinced the chief of the village to give the drums to him. When the devils returned, they became enraged that people had taken the drums from the bush. They went on a murderous rampage, until they were stopped by marabouts (persons with mystical religious power). It is said the devils still haunt the drums and occasionally cause the lead drum to play itself.

The three drums are tuned to answer each other by virtue of their size. Two drummers create a supporting rhythm on the two smaller drums, while a third drummer improvises a solo on a tall and strikingly slender drum, called the sabaro [sa-ba-RO]. The soloist has great artistic liberty, but respects the traditional style of each rhythm.

Each drummer creates a variety of tones by striking the drum with one bare hand and a short stick, though for some rhythms, the supporting drummers switch to using two bare hands. In addition, each drummer wears a wrist bracelet of iron bells.


"I don't always enjoy drumming cds because my pop-oriented lazy listening habits keep expecting something from the material, and no matter how great the artistry, that failure to fill the entire aural space nettles me. Drums of the Firdu Fula (Village Pulse) by Amadu Bamba and troupe is the happy exception to my idiophonophobia. If you can stand the intensity, the unaccompanied drum tracks are so full you couldn't wedge in a melodic instrument with a long-handled shoehorn. In fact, the pieces featuring vocalist Jaiteh Baldeh aren't all that far removed from stark, drum-centered West African pop genres like Nigerian juju or, especially, Dr. Sikiru Ayinde Barrister's fuji. Speaking of pop, Knut Resirud's impish blend of Norwegian and Gambian folk musics on 1994 Shanachie cd Footwork featured a haunting cut called "Wrestling Theme," based on the wrestling rhythms of the Firdu Fula, and it's great to hear two versions of this "Jarawali" theme on Drums. A richness of features maintains my keen interest through each cut, beginning with the dramatic introduction of a simple initial rhythm to its continuing development with plenty of variation. There's also a range of timbres and tones from the crosstalk among tuned drums, rattles, an occasional whistle, and the wild solo sabaro [sa-ba-RO] drum. It's hot stuff that goes down easy, and popping on a pair of headphones is to step directly into the middle of the exciting mix, making this one of the best-sounding field recordings I've heard in quite a while."
--Bob Tarte, The Beat

"* * * [three stars] The exciting drumming of the Firdu Fula people of Senegal and Gambia features a traditional trio of three higher-to-lower tuned drums, 'mbagu,' which are played using one hand, one stick, and iron rattles around one wrist. Voices accompany the drums in a call-and-response style.

"The joyous sound enlivens social occasions from weddings to wrestling matches. Song forms open with a simple, determined pulse and eventually blossom into heated polyrhythms that deftly alternate between and straddle duple and triple feels. The stick/hand integration of these master players is seamless. [With A Land of Drummers,] these important, quality-sound discs are both very modern and timeless."
--Jeff Potter, Modern Drummer

"Amadu Bamba's ensemble plays crisply and tightly, their call-and-response singing fervent and gutsy but always tuneful. The sound quality is top notch; on headphones, it's a revelation."
--Erik Goldman, RhythmMusic

Audio Samples

Button "Jarawali" MP3 format (31 sec, 213 KB)

Button "N'Doke" MP3 format (30 sec, 207 KB)

Catalog Reference

Title: Drums of the Firdu Fula
Artist: Amadu Bamba
Cat. No.: VPU-1004 (CD)

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