Doudou N’diaye Rose, a world renowned drummer from Senegal died recently, and reading about him in The New York Times took me back to a visit to that country that my cousin Dorothy Woodson and I made in 2004. As curator at the time of African collections in the Yale University library, Dorothy was on an acquisitions trip; I was just tagging along.
All three of the West African countries we visited on that trip – Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso — have vibrant and thriving performance traditions but I’m afraid we did not take advantage of their offerings. Hot humid days traveling from one non-governmental agency to another and one bookstore to another, frequently needing to return to an ATM for the cash that all enterprises required, and lugging stacks of books and periodicals to DHL for shipping back to New Haven left us in no condition for an evening on the town. Besides, as middle-aged women traveling alone we hesitated to venture very far unaccompanied into dark, dusty streets. And it was after all a business trip. So we’d drink some wine, eat some dinner and rest up for the next day.
And so we never experienced an evening of Senegalese drumming such as that performed by Mr. Rose, named a “living human treasure” by the United Nations Educational. Scientific and Cultural Organization. The Times called him “the country’s chief drum major, a kind of Pied Piper of Senegalese drumming culture and literally the father of its continuing prominence.” In addition to fostering the tradition at home, he also performed around the world, appearing “onstage or on the bill with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gilespie, the Rolling Stones and Peter Gabriel.”
The closest we came to live musical entertainment in Senegal was the kora, a twenty-four stringed instrument made from a large casaba rind, that was played by a cheerful man in a restaurant we frequented. Our repeated visits to the restaurant taught us that the preferred method for tipping this musician was to drop coins into the hole in the back of the instrument.
The full extent of our experiences in Senegal can be seen in my book, African Tales, on this website.