“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 is a comprehensive exploration into the life, work, and philosophies of Mamady Keïta, a master djembefola (master djembe player) from the Malinke ethnic group in Guinea, West Africa. This work was published in African Arts in 2015 and provides valuable insights into Keïta’s contributions to the preservation and global dissemination of djembe music and Malinke culture.

Mamady Keïta’s Background

Mamady Keïta was born in 1950 in the small village of Djomawgna Balandugu in northeastern Guinea. He hails from a lineage that traces back to the founders of Balandugu, emphasizing the deep roots of his family and cultural heritage. Keïta has devoted a significant part of his life to preserving and celebrating the traditions of the Malinke people, whose culture flourished during the Mali Empire’s peak in the 13th to 15th centuries.

Keïta’s Musical Journey

Keïta’s journey into djembe music began at an early age, marking the start of a lifelong dedication to the instrument and its cultural significance. His talent and passion for the djembe led him to become the youngest member of Ballet Djoliba, Guinea’s national ballet, at the age of 14. Throughout his tenure with Ballet Djoliba, Keïta developed original productions and adapted traditional music for the stage, which contributed to the popularization of Malinke music and dance.

Pedagogical Innovations

A significant portion of the interview highlights Keïta’s pedagogical innovations, especially his creation of twelve “solos originaux” designed to teach Western students the rhythmic phrases that accompany traditional dance steps. These teaching methods were developed in response to the learning styles of his international students, who required a more systematic approach compared to traditional African learning contexts. Keïta’s educational contributions have played a crucial role in making djembe music accessible and teachable across cultural boundaries.

Keïta’s Role as a Cultural Ambassador

The interview also sheds light on Keïta’s role as a cultural ambassador, bridging the gap between traditional Malinke music and global audiences. Through extensive travel, workshops, and performances, he has cultivated a worldwide community of djembe enthusiasts. His work emphasizes the importance of cultural exchange and understanding, showcasing the djembe’s power to unite people through the universal language of rhythm.

Conclusion and Legacy

Tanya Y. Price’s interview with Mamady Keïta offers an in-depth look at the life of a man who is both a guardian of tradition and an innovator. His efforts to preserve Malinke culture while making it relevant and accessible to a global audience have solidified his legacy as one of the most influential figures in the world of djembe music. Keïta’s story is a testament to the enduring power of music to transcend cultural boundaries and connect people from diverse backgrounds.

This detailed account not only serves as an educational resource for those interested in African music and culture but also inspires readers to appreciate the rich cultural heritage that music like the djembe carries with it. Keïta’s commitment to preserving tradition well ensures that future generations will continue to enjoy and learn from the profound musical traditions of the Malinke people.