Moribayassa is an excellent rhythm for beginners and is the first rhythm I usually teach my students. For this reason I thought it would be an exceptional first rhythm to discuss for my Rhythm of the Month section.
Moribayassa is upbeat and fun to play, has a beautiful story, and can change pace throughout the rhythm.
Moribayassa is the name of a very old rhythm and dance, which, to this day, plays a highly unusual role in the life of a woman.
If a woman has a really big problem, such as illness in the family or child-lessness, she will at first pursue all the opportunities for help in the village, even consulting a fetish maker.
When she has exhausted all of these resources, as her last hope, she takes a vow. “When this huge difficulty is over, I will dance Moribayassa.” Between this decision and the dance, years may pass. This vow is so significant that a woman can take it only once in her life.
Even today, the rhythm is played exclusively for this joyful dance of a woman who has overcome a difficult situation.
For this dance, the woman dresses and shows herself in a way that she normally would never dare to do: she wears old, torn clothes; shows her naked legs; and behaves like a crazy woman who is allowed to break all taboos.
In this way, she circles the village three or seven times, singing and dancing, accompanied by one or more musicians. The women of the village follow her and sing, too.
After that, the dancer changes her clothes and buries the old rags under a mango tree. In my village, Balandugu, this mango tree is called Moribayassa.
-From Mamady Keita’s book – A Life for the Djembe
Below is a recording I did of Moribayassa.? I recorded each part separately and then put the tracks together.? It is important to note that the solo I play is not a traditional solo, just an improv that I came up with on a whim.? You will hear 3 dunun each with a different sized bell on top, a lead djembe, accompaniment djembe, and the solo.
Here is the full rhythm Moribayassa
The main djembe part to Moribayassa plays bass note on the down beats throughout the entire rhythm.? Because of the nature of this rhythm, it can get really fast and if you are leading with your dominant hand and playing all the basses with that hand, you will tire out quick.? A more efficient way to play it is by alternating handing with the notes.? This means you play the phrase leading with your dominant hand, then the next time through you’d play leading with your non-dominant.? Some djembefola stick to a strict “this hand plays this note” and some say “play it how you want as long as you get the sound correct”.? I tend to follow the second philosophy while keeping in mind efficiency and timing.? The only time I agree with the first philosophy is in a ballet setting or performance setting where the djembefola have a specific routine.? In the recordings to follow, I have included a traditional call into the rhythm.? It’s a call and response between the djembe and dunun that signal the beginning of the rhythm.? You can also do a break in the middle of the rhythm using this same call and response.
The next part is often referred to as passport, or one of the ‘passport’ rhythms.? Because djembes are traditionally accompaniments to the complete rhythm, there are a few phrases that get passed around a lot in different time signatures.? A common one for 4/4 time is this specific passport rhythm.? I use the following handing: R–LR-RL with the following notes: Slap–SlapSlap-ToneTone.? Here is the cut from Moribayassa above
And here are the two djembe parts together.
The dunun section has a nice feel to it, yet each individual part is fairly simple to get.? I’ve taken cuts from the rhythm to emphasize each part.? Listen to how the bell pattern fits in with the dunun.
And broken down by drum.
Like most of the traditional rhythms, the dunun section can be adapted for a single player playing on all three dunun vertically (ballet style).? The main goal here is to keep the basic feel of the rhythm.? It can be as simple as accenting the main notes, or for more advanced students you can attempt to break up the rhythm and figure out handing to get as many notes as you can. There are 3 drums, and two hands, so sometimes you end up in the rhythm where all three drums hit at the same time, you have to decided for that rhythm which drums are most important, and which you can leave out. For example, in Moribayassa the sangban has two muted hits than happen on the down beat, with the kenkeni. Since the kenkeni is consistent throughout the rhythm, I’d leave off the sangban. There is no written rule here, it’s about trial and error, listening to the rhythm until it just feels right, and then adapting that to the dununs.
If anyone has more info to add to this, please do in the comments section, or if you have any questions, I’ll be happy to help.
One thought on “Moribayassa”
I love the story behind Moribayassa. Here in the Western world, do we have something similar in which to shed the heartache that woman who participate in Moribayassa do? If we were to break taboos and walk around like a “crazy woman”, we’d be held at arm’s length by society, wouldn’t we?