The Odyssey
Base Camp
Trek Connect
Time Machine
Multimedia and Special Guests

Kavitha Dispatch

Jammin'.Groovin'.Diggin' the tunes!

In West Africa, the Music's been my favorite part
Here it's history; it's tradition-not just a work of art.

The griots were the social class
Who taught all the children about their past.
Through songs they passed the knowledge on
of traditions and folklore, of a time long gone.

Even today the music is key
During work, during play, not just to party.

In the fields and the cities, life can be so tough,
But combined with songs and rhythms, you can't get enough!
The music's unique, the instruments seem strange
Not guitars and trumpets, there's a whole new range.

The kora is a harp with sounds so deep
When the griots play it, it could sway me to sleep.

But the soul of the music is surely the drum
Just to hear the local rhythms makes me so glad that we've come.
Jamming in a group or drumming alone
The vibes are so great, so varied the tones.

The djimbe is a drum that's a favorite of mine
A head made of goat skin pulled tight with some twine.
The talking drum tells a tale that is rich
said to be 'talking' cause of its high varied pitch.

Whether plucking a kora or knocking the balafone,
The musicians here are among the best I've ever known.
From Youssou N'Dour's mbalax to the traditional Baba Maal,
Listen to their CDs-trust me you'll love them all!

Then I'm sure you'll agree what I've said from the start:
That West African music is more than just art.

Diggin' the Drums!

Click image for larger view
Pap, Mamadou, and Boacar jam for me to show me how good their West African instruments can sound

Our friends Pap, first on djimbe, then together with Mamdou on balafon and Boacar tapping the back of the bongo.

Click here to listen.

You must have the RealPlayer.

Baaba Maal is my favorite West African musician. Though I haven't been able to see him since I've been here in his homeland of Senegal, I was lucky enough to see his fabulous group when they played in San Francisco last year. Baaba Maal focuses mainly on traditional music from his Fula heritage. Using local instruments like the kora and the balafon and combining them with electric guitar and drums, he has helped revive interest in traditional music. Although Baaba Maal was not born a griot, he considers himself to be a social commentator. He feels musicians have a great responsibility since their work has such power of influence; his songs are often about youth, politics, and other social issues.

To listen to more music from West Africa to South Africa, be sure to check out the Multi-Media and Special Guests pages.

My friend Boacar playing a bongo

Although most things in West Africa are dominated by men, there is one woman who has broken through and made a name for herself. Mali's own Oumou Sangare is a beautiful singer who is famous for a style of music called wassoulou. Wassoulou uses a youth harp which sounds like a funky base. Oumou Sangare's main draw is her lyrics which address issues of concern to women in Mali and challenge traditional roles. She has sung songs about arranged marriages and a woman's freedom to choose her own lover and songs about the daily sacrifice of a woman's life in Mali.

Click image for
larger view
My friend Pap playing a djimbe drum

Youssou N'Dour is one of West Africa's most famous musicians. I first fell in love with his beautiful voice when I heard him wailing at the end of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes." Needless to say, we were all thrilled to find out not only that he comes from Dakar, Senegal but that he sometimes makes appearances and plays with his band Le Super Etoile at his nightclub Thiosanne.. Abeja, Jasmine and I were lucky enough to catch him on just one of those nights. The band plays mbalax music which combines traditional Wolof drum rhythms with western rock. The music was so much fun, but unlike everyone else getting down on the dance floor, we found it a little hard to dance to. Unlike the western music we're used to, with one main beat, mbalax combines many different rhythms from djimbes and talking drums. Youssou N'Dour's beautiful voice has brought him worldwide attention, and he has performed with Peter Gabriel, Neneh Cherry, and Tracy Chapman, to name a few.

Click image for
larger view
My friend Mamadou playing balafon
The most famous guitarist to emerge from the region is definitely Ali Farka Toure. Born in Timbuktu, Toure started off playing a njurkel, a one stringed lute made of horsehair, at the age of nine. But perhaps because they were jealous of his innate skill, the griots made him stop playing, claiming it was because he was not born into the griot social class. So it wasn't until he was 18 years old and had left Timbuktu that Toure learned to play the guitar. His music evokes a strong sense of place and illustrates the close relationship between the blues and traditional West African music.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at


Abeja - You think you've got problems? Try getting across the Sahara Desert sometime!
Team - Kevin Gets a Souvenir from Africa: Malaria
Jasmine - Lac Rose
Monica - The Ingredients of crossing the Sahara desert: Sand, Water and Landmines???
Monica - The People on the Bus Go Up and Down, Part II
Monica - Trying to sail the ocean blue!
Making a Difference - Abeja gets M.A.D.-- she's Making a Difference
Team - Bittersweet Recollections: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Mali

Meet Kavitha | Kavitha's Archive

Base Camp | Trek Connect
Time Machine | Multimedia and Special Guests

Home | Search | Teacher Zone | Odyssey Info

Meet Kavitha