“To Preserve the Tradition Well”: An Interview with Mamady Keïta, Master Djembefola of the Malinke” by Tanya Y. Price

“To Preserve the Tradition Well”: An Interview with Mamady Keïta, Master Djembefola of the Malinke” by Tanya Y. Price (2015) presents a detailed insight into the innovative teaching techniques employed by master djembefola (master djembe player) Mamady Keïta, a renowned figure in the world of West African drumming. Through an interview format, Price uncovers how Keïta’s methods have contributed significantly to the global dissemination and pedagogical evolution of djembe drumming, ensuring the preservation of traditional rhythms while making them accessible to a wider, international audience.

Background on Mamady Keïta:

Mamady Keïta, born in 1950 in Balandugu, Guinea, is a revered master of the djembe, an instrument central to the musical traditions of the Malinke people of West Africa. His life’s work has been to maintain and protect the musical heritage of his ethnic group, while also innovating within the tradition to facilitate learning across cultural boundaries.

Key Elements of Keïta’s Teaching Techniques:

Systematic Instruction:

One of Keïta’s notable contributions to djembe education is his development of a systematic approach to teaching. Recognizing the learning styles of his diverse student body, which includes individuals from Western and Japanese backgrounds, Keïta has adapted traditional teaching methods to suit an international audience. This approach involves breaking down complex rhythms into smaller, more manageable components, enabling students to grasp the intricacies of Malinke drumming patterns gradually.

Creation of Solos Originaux:

Keïta has composed twelve “solos originaux,” or original solos, specifically designed to teach Westerners the rhythmic phrases that accompany traditional dance steps. These solos serve as educational tools that not only facilitate technical proficiency and rhythmic understanding but also immerse students in the cultural context of the rhythms. By doing so, Keïta bridges the gap between technical skill acquisition and cultural appreciation.

Emphasis on Cultural Context:

A significant aspect of Keïta’s teaching is his emphasis on the cultural context surrounding each rhythm. He educates his students about the origins, meanings, and traditional uses of the rhythms they learn, fostering a deeper connection to the music and its cultural roots. This holistic approach ensures that students gain more than just technical proficiency; they acquire an appreciation for the djembe’s rich cultural heritage.

Global Workshops and Performances:

Keïta has traveled extensively, conducting workshops and performances worldwide. These events serve as platforms for cross-cultural exchange and learning, bringing the traditions of Malinke drumming to global audiences. Through his international teaching endeavors, Keïta has cultivated a global community of djembe enthusiasts united by their love for the instrument and its music.


Tanya Y. Price’s interview with Mamady Keïta illuminates the master djembefola’s innovative approaches to teaching and preserving the djembe tradition. Keïta’s methodologies reflect a deep commitment to tradition coupled with a forward-looking perspective that seeks to make Malinke drumming accessible and relevant to a global audience. His work exemplifies how traditional art forms can be both preserved and adapted, ensuring their survival and continued relevance in a changing world.

Keïta’s contributions extend beyond music education; they represent a broader effort to foster cultural understanding and appreciation through the arts. By innovating within the framework of traditional Malinke drumming, he has ensured that this rich musical heritage continues to inspire and educate people across the globe.