Tuesday, November 15, 2011

African Female Drummers Nimbaya! (formerly known as the Amazones) Guinea, West African's First Female Djembe (Drum) Group

Edited by Azizi Powell

[Updated June 24, 2017]

This is the first post of an ongoing pancocojams series on Black female drummers. This post focuses on Nimbaya! female djembe drummers of Guinea, West Africa. [revised June 24, 2017]

Click for the second post in this series.

Click for the third post in this series.

This post is presented for folkloric, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Nimbaya! for their musical legacy. Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publishers of these YouTube videos.
If you know the language and the meaning of the word "Nimbaya", please add that information to the comment section of this post. Thanks!

"A djembe ... also known as jembe, jenbe, djbobimbe, jymbe, yembe, or jimbay, or sanbanyi in Susu; is a skin-covered drum meant to be played with bare hands...

It is a member of the membranophone family of musical instruments: a frame or shell (in the djembe's case it is a wood shell) covered by a membrane or drumhead made of rawhide or some other material...The primary notes are generally referred to as "bass", "tone", and "slap", though a variety of other tones can also be produced by advanced players. The slap has a high and sharp sound, the tone is more round and full, and the bass is low and deep...

There is general agreement that the origin of the djembe is associated with a class of Mandinka blacksmiths known as Numu. The wide dispersion of the djembe drums throughout West Africa may be due to Numu migrations."

"Nimbaya!, previously Amazones Women Master Drummers, welcomes in the new age, presenting West Africa’s traditional musical arts in a graceful proficiency that clearly differs from the masculine drumming style...

Before this group formed, no females in Guinea were permitted to learn the art of djembe drumming. In 1988, with the support of the Department of Culture of Guinea, group founder Mamoudou Conde brought together 15 women from the four different regions of Guinea. Some of these women faced disownment from their families by pushing the boundaries of tradition, but after training for years to become master drummers, the women began to tour the world…playing instruments that have traditionally been denied them."

"...From 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 <> 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.
-Saidou Dioubate, National Director of Culture of the Republic of Guinea, Conakry and edited by Nathalie Roy & Mamoudou Conde".
Note: "Djembefola" means "djembe player. "Bala" is a traditional name for "balafon".

Nimbaya! The Women's Drum & Dance Company of Guinea

"It’s the drumbeat that pulls you in… These women are in demand around the world, as much for their prodigious choreographies as for their fiery djembe rhythms. Their unique concept and their energy drive the crowds wild!

NIMBAYA! is a daring response to taboos stretching back thousands of years. Never before had women played the djembe in West Africa, the instrument being historically reserved for male players. In 1998, while managing the world-renowned ensemble “Les Percussions de Guinée”, Mamoudou Conde realized the world was ripe for change and decided to create an all-women percussion and dance ensemble.

Chosen from among those living in the most difficult conditions - jobless and often with children to support - the women artists participate in the development of a lucrative art-form, one that has facilitated a change in their economic independence. Each artist strives to break free of the financially precarious lifestyle imposed upon her by society. In choosing to become a percussion player, these women have demonstrated their desire to control their destiny."...

Example #1: African Women Djembefola

Uploaded by chicagodjembeproject on Oct 11, 2006

African women playing djembe in Guinea, West Africa

Example #2: Amazones - Women Drummers of Guinea @ CCC 092007

Uploaded by rpmime on Sep 20, 2007

The Amazing "Amazones - Women Drummers of Guinea" performed at the 'One World Under One Roof', part of the World Music Festival (2007) last day here in Chicago.

Example #3: NIMBAYA!

Uploaded by Nathalie Roy on Jan 18, 2010

THIS IS STUDIO RECORDING - Formerly named Amazones Women Master Drummers, NIMBAYA! Drum & Dance Company is the first professional all-female ensemble on traditional drums. they have toured USA, Canada, UAE, Brazil, Europe, South Korea...


Example #4: Archives: Amazones Master Women Drummers in Philadelphia

GRIOTWORKS Published on Jul 23, 2009

Presented by the African Diaspora Arts Collective, Amazones women drummers of Guinea come to Philadelphia to bring hope and inspiration to youth, particularly young girls. Video by Jos Duncan [2007]

Example #6: NIMBAYA! EDUCATIONAL video

Sekou Conde, Published on Oct 23, 2011

Example #6: NIMBAYA!'s Auditions, Charleston SC - Im in Heaven!!!

BRENDA J. PEART, Published on Oct 29, 2012

Im lost in the drums, nearly forgot it was auditions.. They're JAMMIN'!!!
NIMBAYA! is an ALL Female Percussion group from Guinea, the first to tour the world!!!!
This is part of the auditions held in Charleston SC, even drawing in dancers from Charlotte, North Carolina!!!

Sitting in with them from Charleston by way of Buffalo NY, JAMES HARRIS, by way of Columbia SC, Thomas OLA Mosley....


Example #7: Beating the Odds: The Women of Nimbaya!

colacollkoalas, Published on Apr 9, 2015

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  1. These videos are great! It's always been a little strange to me that drumming in the US is seen as such a male activity. (Well, a lot of music is seen as male - save for voice - which is also odd.)

  2. Umlud, thanks for your comment.

    It's interesting that you wrote "that drumming in the US is seen as such a male activity". I'm not a drummer or a musician of any kind (except for myself), but I've certainly heard and read African American males (and even some African American females) express the opinion that women shouldn't even TOUCH drums let alone play them. However, for at least the last 20 years I have seen (in person and in videos) an increasing number of female drummers in the United States, many of whom were African American. It alsO appears to me that since the 1990s, a large number of White Americans are purchaing and playing djembes and other African drums (particularly the three types of dunun drums that accompany djembe). And many of these non-Black drummers are female.

    From the outside looking in, I thought that there was/is more acceptance among White Americans for female drummers of African drums than there was/is among African Americans, and I still think that there's MUCH less acceptance emong Africans in Africa for female drummers.

  3. I wish for Nimbaya to come in Wales (U.K)... It would be great to show that women can drum and that is not a question of gender. That is ironical and contradictory...

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous.

      I agree that it would be great to show that women can drum and that it's not a question of gender.

      When you wrote "That is ironical and contradictory" I think you might have meant that some males might think that females drumming would be ironical and contradictory since "drumming" is usually traditionally considered a male performance custom.

      I'm glad that is changing.