Keeper of the Beat

From playing for the Pope to inaugurating The Body, Guinean-born master drummer Fodé Bangoura is both international legend and local discovery

In the years following the dictator's death in 1984, the government sent Bangoura to Amsterdam, where he joined Fatala, an expatriate Guinean drum ensemble named for a river back home. The group performed around the globe, playing the Eiffel Tower on France's bicentennial and opening for Peter Gabriel on tour. Bangoura's sudden decision to quit Fatala and move to the Cities came after a second swing through town in 1991, when the Guinean found himself falling in love with a Minneapolitan. "Love made me stay here," Bangoura says simply. He met his future wife, Jennifer, after a performance at First Avenue, and returned the following year to marry her, gaining permanent-resident status which allowed him to work for a stint at the Drum Center, a local learning circle for African drum enthusiasts. Two years ago, Bangoura's now 4-year-old son, Babba Bangoura, gave his first drum performance, and as we talk, Bangoura proudly shows off his son's small, specially ordered djembe.

The djembe is Bangoura's drum of choice, "the Stratocaster of African drums," as Van Tassel terms it, and "the drum par excellence of the Wassoulou region," according to World Music: The Rough Guide. Bangoura helped popularize the instrument throughout West Africa, and he has used it in lessons ever since, teaching all over Europe during his Fatala days and throughout America. The goblet-shaped drum is perfect for bandleaders and soloists, producing both high-pitched cracks and the deepest bass tones, yet its very name reveals the communal nature of those musical roles in West Africa: Roughly translated from various Manding languages, "djembe" means "everyone come together in harmony."

In both life and art, Bangoura seems to take the words to heart. His home has become a kind of social center for visiting African musicians. "Any time my people come over here for a tour, they want to bring me back," he laughs. And while he misses his homeland, Bangoura seems to have carved out a niche here. As he relaxes on the couch, several friends and then a Somali neighbor drop by the apartment. "I'm playing for the government tomorrow," Bangoura tells them excitedly, on the eve of his inauguration gig. Just like old times.

Give the drummer some: Percussionist Fodé Bangoura
Daniel Corrigan
Give the drummer some: Percussionist Fodé Bangoura

 

Fodé Bangoura will perform at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Blue Nile; (612) 338-3000.

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