African ‘talking drums’!

While in Dakar in Senegal, we went to a concert of Senegalese world music star Baaba Maal and were utterly captivated by his tama drum player Massamba Diop. So after the concert, approached him to see if he was up for being recorded and being part of Orchestra of Samples – and of course he was!

Massamba is a master of the tama or talking drum from Senegal in West Africa, and with percussionist Tony Vacca he co-founded of The Senegal-America Project, bringing together musical traditions of West Africa and the USA. Samba, as he likes to be called, has now worked with Afro-pop superstar Baaba Maal for twenty years and during that time he’s incorporated the fiery Wolof traditions of his homeland into a very contemporary sound.  In his music, he likes to reflect both the ancient origins of his instrument and the now cosmopolitan environment of Dakar, Senegal’s very happening capital.

His career has also seen him record and perform with Peter Gabriel, Ernest Ranglin, Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana, Afro-Celt Sound System and James Brown. We recorded and filmed Massamba and his friends Inssa, Ousmane and Diouke individually and in a huge jam session where local kids couldn’t help but join in (or should that be interfere!). 2018 UPDATE NOTE: Samba collaborated on Marvel’s Black Panther soundtrack, providing the drumming for lead character King Tchalla’s theme – read more here.

And on a completely separate night, we saw an amazing performance from Grammy Award nominated Bassekou Kouyaté from Mali and were blown away by their on-stage energy, not to mention the virtuosity of Kouyaté himself! After the show, as we were leaving, we ran into his brother Oumar Kouyaté, also one of band, and so asked him if he’d like to join the project too – and he did, there and then (luckily our hotel was near to get the camera)!  Like his brother, Oumar also plays ngoni – the small 6-string West African guitar.

Bassekou Kouyaté was the first ngoni player to strap his instrument over his shoulder like an electric guitar and play a solo standing up. He created the first ever ngoni quartet and with a band’s style of playing he quite simply transformed the traditional music of the ngoni into something for the modern world. The ngonis they play are still acoustic, as in the old days, but he’s also developed a bass ngoni and added extra strings to make their instruments harmonically more flexible. Praised by the likes of Fatboy Slim and Damon Albarn, UK newspaper The Independent described them as “the best rock’n’roll band in the world”. We thoroughly recommend their award-winning albums Segu Blue and I Speak Fula.  Check out their Facebook page here.


With many thanks to the French Institute in Dakar.