What rhythms to start with??
When it comes to learning West African Drumming, people sometimes ask me, “which rhythms should I learn first?”. Well, the best answer would be one that you are familiar with – either you have heard it before, or know it on the djembe. Learning to dissect something familiar makes the dissecting that much easier, as you have some context already.
If you are totally new, then may I suggest a great e-book, Dark Art of the Dunun?
Seriously though, the rhythms that I chose for the book represent a broad cross section of the more popular bell patterns, and therefore learning these ones first will give you a greater grounding in the more common dunun parts.
For 4/4 rhythms, then Baga Gine, Kuku and Djole are crowd pleasers – they have fairly straightforward parts which to the untrained ear sound complicated, they can be played slowly and still sound good, and simple arrangements can be made without too much prior “performance” knowledge.
Some of the easier 12/8 rhythms would be Soko (for at least the dununba and sangban), Garangedon and Soli. The tricky bit with 12/8 rhythms is that they ‘generally’ have some off parts, which can be difficult for a first timer to get their head around. As long as you aren’t expecting to be able to play ALL of the parts straight up, then these 3 should be included in your early repertoire.
Of course, if you have a group, you should be focusing on the rhythms that most people know – important to be able to play together is knowing the parts of the same rhythms, by the same name. More than once has a drum circle gone off on a tangent because what one person has been taught as Kuku is not actually Kuku!!
So try these ones first, plus any that you are already familiar with, and have fun!!