”Warriors of Circumstance”
How does one save traditional African rhythms from oblivion? How does one explain the meaning of those rhythms, the history of the famous Guinean Djembe players and their experience as master drummers? How does one pass on the significance of the rituals of masks, circumcision or the initiation of uneducated and illiterate women living in difficult circumstances in an environment where such traditions are passed on only by word of mouth? How does one break down barriers stretching back thousands of years wherein women never played the djembe in Guinea?
How is it possible to assure the independent income of young women, mothers and housewives, verging on lives in poverty or exposed to prostitution? How is it possible to enable women to speak up for themselves in an environment where “women and children must never be heard… rather they should listen and obey…?”
For the most part, people who discover the djembe and its rhythms have little or no understanding of the cultural richness, or of the social and political complexity that marks the history of sub-Saharan Africa. Few know that African rhythms are not only the evidence of a rich musical art but they also tell stories and recount the history of this particular art. Those who only feel the rhythms on a physical, sensory level can’t appreciate the extraordinary artistic talents of African musicians or the refinement of the musical structure of their compositions. Thus, it is extremely important to begin teaching these rhythms to women. The woman as mother and primary caregiver has the ultimate responsibility to educate her children and share her knowledge and her expertise with them.
The creation and realization of “NIMBAYA!” aims to address three objectives, all of which are both diachronic and synchronic.
From the point of view of rehabilitating musical culture through the djembe, “NIMBAYA!” constitutes a response of sorts to the age-old traditions, which have demeaned the Djembe vis-à-vis other instruments such as the princely Cora or the ancient mythical Bala. “NIMBAYA!” is also daring considering the <<taboo>> imposed on women concerning the practice of the djembe. Never before has a woman played this instrument in Guinea.
From the point of view of the economic liberation, which took place in Guinea following the change of political regime in 1984, the women are engaged in a fight for survival through the development of a lucrative art-form, capable of supporting its members. Each ‘NIMBAYA!’ has chosen to break with the uncertainty and the precarious lifestyle imposed on her by her individual social situation - woman without education; woman with an ‘undesired pregnancy’, sent away from the family home; woman-victim of the duplicity of a ‘bad-man’; young woman from a family struck by poverty… In choosing to become a djembe-player, each of these categories of women shows her desire to dignify herself by dignifying her instrument.
But it is with NIMBAYA! That a brave new adventure is beginning - a socio-cultural and economic departure from tradition, which is fired by a fervent determination to attain the level of the great djembefola and to live by the sweat of their own brows. Hence the name ‘NIMBAYA’, recalling the bravura and courage of the intrepid warrior-women of the ancient kingdom of Dahomey (now called Benin). Equally daring is their goal to ‘demystify’ the djembe, an instrument historically reserved for male players and for many years, an instrument without nobility or notoriety. With ‘NIMBAYA!’ all these preconceptions melt away and what is left is a powerful, energetic and grandiose spectacle, which sends to the world, its message of peace, optimism and serenity.
Text written by:
Dr Saidou Dioubate, National Director of Culture of the Republic of Guinea, Conakry.
Nathalie Roy & Mamoudou Conde