Lessons from West Africa
WMUR’s Karen Meyers sits down with Dave Kobrenski and takes you off the beaten path to explore how an artist and musician is bringing his cultural odyssey home.
World Drum Club Interview
Kalani Das and Dave Kobrenski
This past month, I had the pleasure of chatting with Kalani Das for his World Drum Club channel. We chatted about music and drums (of course!) but also about social and cultural issues, the challenges and benefits of learning the djembé, and lots more. Check out the full interview here.
Behind the Music
Sorsornet and Faama Denké
Music, Anthropology Jun 20 2022
A detailed look at the classic Mande song Faama Denké and the Baga rhythm, Sorsornet. Includes drum notation, sheet music, lyrics and translations.
Finding the Source
Chapter One (Excerpt)
An excerpt from the book, Finding the Source. An artist’s twenty-year struggle to overcome a painful affliction takes him ever deeper into West Africa, and into realms of spirit and healing he never imagined possible.
A melodic tribute and study guide
Music Feb 18 2022
The song “Kedjula Kanin” appears on Mamady Keïta’s album, Mandeng Djara, and features an exquisite arrangement and performance. Here is my own recording and study guide to the accompanying song, featuring flute, ngoni, and calabash. Includes Malinké lyrics and English translation.
Behind the Music
Soli de Daouda Condé
Music Feb 7 2022
A breakdown of the creative process behind the rhythm and song Soli de Daouda Condé, which appears on the Afroflute EP. Includes djembé and dunun phrases, balafon, Fula flute, and more.
Dance of the Strong Men
Music, Anthropology Feb 2 2022
The dununba is an event that belongs to a family of about thirty rhythms and dances, aptly referred to as “the dance of the strong men.” These are day-long feats of endurance by the strongest men of the village.
Original Song by Afroflute
Music, Inspiration, Africa Jan 26 2022
In the village of Fadama, the ancient traditions of the Malinke People dance among the living and breathe fresh air each day. Here, stories and songs take the place of textbooks for passing down a rich oral history that spans centuries. It is the griots who keep this living history alive, and Fadama’s population is comprised largely of griot families. As such, this unassuming little village has long been renowned as a place of knowledge, and dedicated to the dissemination of oral histories through the collective work of countless generations of griots.
Video: Finding the Source
Videos, Artwork, Anthropology, Africa Jan 15 2022
In this engaging mini-documentary, Dave Kobrenski shares his two-decade musical and artistic journey in West Africa. Under the tutelage of master musicians like Famoudou Konaté and Lanciné Conde, Dave became proficient in the djembé, Fula flute, and kamale ngoni. But the real lessons were far greater than that. Join Dave on his adventure into culture, healing, and the stories that inspired his latest book, “Finding the Source.”
Dec 15 2021
Musical collaboration with Slovakian musician, Martin Balaj. This is a modern rendition of the traditional song Awa Dabolé.
Conde Family Update
Africa Oct 28 2021
Big thanks to everyone who offered their generous support for the family of my dear friend, Lanciné Conde, who passed away recently. Here is an update on how your donation has already been used, along with some information on the plan moving forward.
In the Studio: Afroflute
Recording at Wind & Wood World Music Studio
Videos Oct 22 2021
Today, I’m heading into the recording studio to give you a sneak preview of a track from the upcoming Afroflute album. Check it out!
La harpe des jeunes de Wassoulou
French, Anthropology Aug 2 2017
The kamalengoni is a type of harpe-luth played originally by the Bambara people of the Wassoulou region of Mali. Here is its fascinating story. (French and English)
Kassa: the Harvest
Video with English translation
French, Anthropology Aug 1 2017
Video: For the Malinké people of Guinea, Kassa is the name of a family of rhythms and dances that accompany the work related to farming and harvest. The rhythms are played on the traditional djembe and dunun drums. Watch this video (with English translation) here.
Artwork Aug 26 2016
This drawing is part two of the Dembadon series. The Dembadon is a pre-marriage festival for the bride-to-be that is quite common in Conakry, Guinea, accompanied by much drumming, singing, and dance. The djembe is the drum played with bare hands that typically plays the “solos” that interact with and speak to the dancers. A djembefola is “one who makes the djembe speak.” Behind the djembe player in this drawing is also the dununba player. The djembes are always accompanied by three “dunun” drums (the bass drums played with a stick and that have a bell mounted on top). The dununba is the largest and deepest of the three dunun drums. This artwork is included in my book Drawing on Culture: An Artist’s West Africa Travelogue, which is available to purchase here. Dembadon II: the Djembefola 19x24” pencil on bristol by Dave Kobrenski
Drawing on Culture
Rediscovering my Muse in Africa
Artwork Aug 12 2016
In 2001 I first ventured onto the African continent as a wide-eyed white kid from New Hampshire who had, by a series of strange twists of fate, become very much involved in the music and culture of sub-Saharan Africa. Little did I know that this would only be the beginning of a larger adventure…
Artwork Aug 10 2016
This drawing is part one of the Dembadon series. The Dembadon is a pre-marriage festival for the bride-to-be, and is quite common in Conakry, Guinea. The festival features much drumming, singing, and dance. At the Dembadon, the bride-to-be is honored, and it is a time for her to celebrate with friends and family, and, in some cases, say goodbye to them as she goes to start her new life with her new family. In this drawing (part one of a three-part series), I’ve depicted the sangban player at a Dembadon festival. “Sangban” is the name of middle of three drums in the set of dununs (bass drums), and sangbanfola means “one who makes the sangban speak” — and is a generally compliment to the abilities and competence of the player! In the capital city of Conakry, Dembadon festivals are an important part of how musicians earn an income playing traditional music. The musicians are fed before the event in a communal meal, and during the festivities, money is thrown to (or placed on!) the drummers and dancers, and is collected at the end of the festival to be split up equally by the musicians. Usually lasting several hours, the festivities are led by the exuberant singing of the griottes, accompanied by the full ensemble of drummers (djembe, dununba, sangban, and kenkeni drums). The music played during the Dembadon is usually in the family of Soli rhythms, but nowadays it is quite common to also hear rhythms in the dununba family — the dance of the strong men — and danced by everyone! This artwork is included in my book Drawing on Culture: An Artist’s West Africa Travelogue, which is available to purchase here. Dembadon I: the Sangbanfola 19x24” pencil on bristol by Dave Kobrenski
The Ecology of Change
Real revolution starts in our minds
Essays Aug 4 2016
It’s time to participate in the “real world” again — the world of watersheds and forests, of biospheres and ethnospheres, of creating lives of meaning and purpose.
Dununba Dancer In Flight
New Artwork & Drawing Tutorial
Artwork Jul 24 2016
In the Malinké tradition of West Africa, the Dununba is the “dance of the strong men”. In a grueling and exuberant festival that can often last throughout the day, the Dununba dancers display their physical prowess while accompanied by the traditional djembe and dunun drums. Here is the latest drawing from my series depicting Mandinka culture in West Africa: a dununba dancer hailing from the Kouroussa region of Guinea gets airborne! This artwork is included in my book Drawing on Culture: An Artist’s West Africa Travelogue, which is available to purchase here. Dununba Dancer in Flight 19x24” pencil on bristol by Dave Kobrenski
Drawing by Dave Kobrenski
Artwork Jul 11 2016
“L’amitié est l’un des beaux cadeaux de la vie” — Friendship is one of the greatest gifts in life. Friendship is a universal thing. There’s something about visiting another culture, where the language and customs seem so different from your own, and seeing two friends walking together, hands interlocked and beaming with joy, to make you realize that we are all the same. I came across these young friends walking down one of the dusty paths in the village. Even though we did not speak the same language and had grown up an ocean apart, in some way I felt connected to them because I understood how friendship feels; it’s a feeling we can all experience and share. A real friend can make all your troubles seem small and the world feel brighter. “To be without a friend is to be poor indeed.” The people in this simple village have a great wealth of friendship and family. All the money and material possessions we have in the West pale in comparison. This artwork is included in my book Drawing on Culture: An Artist’s West Africa Travelogue, which is available to purchase here. L’amitié (Friendship) 14x17” pencil on bristol by Dave Kobrenski
Pencil & graphite powder on bristol
Artwork May 11 2016
As part of an ongoing series of portrait drawings that I began during my 2016 trip to Guinea, West Africa, I present to you the latest drawing in the series, titled: Ibrahim et son petit-fils, featuring a friend of mine from a village near Kouroussa. Ibrahim is a friend of mine from a small village in the Kouroussa region of Guinea. Something about him fascinated me. He had an aura of knowing something, or perhaps seeking to know something that was just beyond knowable. His eyes always held a faraway look, but also had a glimmer and a light. He’s lived quite the life, and told me many stories. He left the village when he was younger in search of work, and spent 15 years as a merchant marine, and saw the world…before returning home to the village to be with his family. He was worldly and kind; children always flocked to him. This artwork is included in my book Drawing on Culture: An Artist’s West Africa Travelogue, which is available to purchase here. Ibrahim et son petit-fils 14x17” pencil on bristol by Dave Kobrenski
La Griotte II
Drawing Process and Tutorial
Artwork May 2 2016
For the Malinké, dancing plays a very important role. Music exists for dancing; in fact the word for song, donkilo, is made up of the root words don (dance) and kilo (to call), so could be loosely translated to “come dance.” The music calls both young and old to participate in a joyful and healthy act of expression and joy. Here, a griotte woman shows her joy for the music at one of the many festivals that take place throughout the year. The drawing below is 14x17” pencil and graphite powder on bristol board, and was a great opportunity to do a portrait study and attempt to capture the personality and joy of a woman dancing in a village in Guinea, West Africa. Below, I outline some thoughts and challenges I encountered along the way. I hope you enjoy and find this useful! This artwork is included in my book Drawing on Culture: An Artist’s West Africa Travelogue, which is available to purchase here. La Griotte II 14x17” pencil on bristol by Dave Kobrenski
Le Vieux Fermier
Drawing Process and Tutorial
Artwork May 1 2016
In the villages in Guinea, much of daily life revolves around tasks related to subsistence farming. Rice, manioc, sweet potatoes, yams, and many other dietary staples are grown in the village. The work is hard, and it is not uncommon to see both young and old at work in the fields. Here, a man sorts through beans that will be sifted and then pounded with the mortar and pestle, and made into that evening’s stew… Le Vieux Fermier is 14x17” pencil and graphite powder on bristol board, and depicts a farmer in a village in the Kouroussa region of Guinea, not far from the Niger River. This drawing had many challenges, as you will see below. Enjoy! — DK This artwork is included in my book Drawing on Culture: An Artist’s West Africa Travelogue, which is available to purchase here. Le Vieux Fermier 14x17” pencil on bristol by Dave Kobrenski
Belle Femme du Village
Drawing Process and Tutorial
Artwork Apr 26 2016
At festivals in the village, which were almost always accompanied by much drumming and dancing, the women of the village were always singing and playing their karignon — a hollow tube of metal tied to their finger and stuck rhythmically with a striker. Dozens of these bells played together by many women, with their joyous singing and the exuberant sounds of the traditional djembe and dunun drums, forms quite a powerful musical ensemble. This artwork is included in my book Drawing on Culture: An Artist’s West Africa Travelogue, which is available to purchase here. Belle Femme Du Village 14x17” pencil on bristol by Dave Kobrenski
Toneholes and Tradition
How a 40,000 year old flute leveled the playing field
Articles, Anthropology Apr 7 2016
Sometime between 40,000 and 45,000 years ago, a group of early humans on a migration route out of Africa, along the corridor of the Danube River valley, carried with them a small but significant object: a flute. Carved from the bone of a griffon vulture, with…
Indie Reader’s Review of Djoliba Crossing
Reviews Jan 16 2015
★★★★★ “Djoliba Crossing is an excellent and beautifully-crafted introduction to the world of Malinké music and dance, explaining its relationship to daily life and to ritual activity.” — Indie Reader (indiereader.com)