West African Music Study and the Patience to Teach and Learn

At rehearsal with master musicians Abou Sylla, Ibrahim Aminou (talking drum), and Alseny Sylla (djembe) practicing Sörsörne for the 9th Annual Children in Nature Workshop at the George Washington Carver Museum in Austin, TX. Filmed by Deborah Peyton.

I’ve been playing and learning from Abou Sylla for over five years now and I’m always impressed with the patience taken to distill West African music for Western students. Lots of West African music is approximated in European notation as being in 6/8 which divides beats into multiples of three. On the other hand, the common 4/4  time signature that divides beats into multiples of two encompasses most mainstream American music. So due to lack of exposure to rhythmically complex music, Western ears are slower to pick up the complexities of 6/8 rhythm. I’ve had many lessons taking hours to learn a passage that would come second nature to those who grew up hearing these “polyrhythms” all their lives.

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