On Feb. 12 we drove across Bamako to film djeli dun dun master General Diabate. We enter his compound and encounter an active domestic scene, women doing laundry, cleaning, preparing food, a multitude of kids being kids. General got his nick name as a child - something to do with his skill as a soccer player, never been in the military, but does work in a local hospital possibly as a surgeon though that wasn't made clear. General is a tall man with a stately and friendly demeanor.
He invites us into his living room where the interview is to take place and offers hospitality by having one of his daughters go out and buy sodas for everybody. The living room is just big enough to set-up cameras, lights and sound. The walls are painted a shade of bluish turquoise; An old television rests on a table in one corner broadcasting a soccer game which he turns off when we're seated. Small framed photos of family adorn the walls along with perfomance photos from Paris. Two clocks on the wall tell the time with extreme precision exactly twice a day.
For the interview, General changes from his house clothes into a colorful, light purple traditional costume known as a bouba. It is immaculately clean. The bright vividness of the bouba makes for a moment of concern with the camera crew but they end up going with it.
A djeli dun dun is carried by the musician by a strap slung over one shoulder. It's played with a wood mallet, the other hand plays a metallic bell. The drum has the sound of a powerful booming bass drum. A djeli dun dun player is a griot someone who communicates the history of their tribe through their music. General Diabate doesn't sing, he tells the history through different rhythms which have associations with various aspects of the tribal life.
For General's performance piece, the film crew is having him play walking up his street into his compound while also commenting on what he's doing. He's accompanied by two of his sons on the djeli dun dun. He's being miced with a clip on lavalier mic and the Rode shotgun. The lav works to pick up the commentary but both mics are woefully inadequate to capture the full power of the dun dun.
To get a good drum sound, we have them play a couple of rhythms stationary at one end of the compound. We are going to temporarily comandeer the courtyard and interupt their domestic activities and the children's play. Perhaps this is why General gets a bag of candy and gives a piece to all the children who need no prompting to come running up to him for their treat. This reminds me of Gurdjieff giving out candy on the streets of Paris in his later years.
The film crew doesn't want to see any mics in the shot so Lee and I set-up the Neumann stereo mic off to one side and a U87 beside the cameras. To try to get some of the low end with an ambient mic, I place an AKG D112 on the ground of the stone courtyard as close as they'll let me which is still about 10 feet away. I'm suprised by how well this works.
The sound of the dun duns shake and reverberate through the courtyard. The clatter of the metal ringing bells carries the higher frequencies in a way that I can only describe as purposeful chaos. The booming drums and rattling bells are loud enough to wake the dead.
The pieces aren't long but afterwards, in the true silence that follows, one gets the sense that something very powerful has occured, though exactly what remains unknown. Accessing new worlds through sound isn't something that contemporary science has found a way to measure as of yet.