The second track on our debut album TAKHAUDI DÉKAU is Temedi – Baby. In Susu (spelt in various ways, Soussou or Soso, in French but I’m sticking to the English spelling as I’m used to it) the main language used on the CD. It means, literally, baby girl, but it’s a term of affection for a woman such as a sister, friend or lover. It’s not quite darling; if people want to say darling they generally say cherie or sometimes use the English word. Temedi seems to be exclusively used by men. I’ve never heard a woman call another woman temedi and no woman has ever said it to me, or about me; they generally use my name or sister or cherie. This might simply be that I’ve not been around groups of women enough however … It’s not generally used for mothers or grandmothers, possibly it’s not quite respectful enough; although one of the words for mother, N’ga, can be used as a term of affection for a woman a man is friends but not lovers with (confusingly she can be younger than him but still addressed this way).
Moussa (Toumarankes’ leader and my husband) refers to Adja Daffy, who cooked for us during recording for the album and who has also been the cook for many of our workshops, as n’ga and she calls him my son even though he’s older than she is! Some of the band members call me n’ga from time to time although mostly they prefer Toumaranke or Jelimuso (the second being a term for a female jali or griot – the West African hereditary musician caste – and so an implied compliment). Recently Kossy has taken to calling me n’ga, a way of reminding me of my position in relation to him I think. I’m not just band manager and older than him but in a sort of ‘provider’ role, hence partly responsible for looking after him! I don’t always cook for the band. In fact I try not to as much as possible, partly so they don’t get too used to it and start to expect it and partly because I’m vegetarian and they don’t much like my style of cooking. But when I’m around it’s generally ‘through me’ that food happens, largely because i’ve got more money than anyone else .
No one in the band, other than Moussa, calls me temedi as I’m not close enough family and they are being careful to stay on the respectful side of familiarity! Even Okameo, who I’m closest too and have known the longest (longer even than I’ve known Moussa) doesn’t say temedi to me. Although he sometimes refers to me that way when talking about me to Moussa, the context is ‘your baby’, as far as I can grasp linguistically.
We’re by no means the only group to have a track called Temedi. Love, in particular the male suitor pleading with his chosen, is a common theme in Guinean music and theater. Sekouba Bambino, who’s a very popular Guinean musician, has a track called Cherie which epitomizes this. Love, in particular the male suitor pleading with his chosen, is a common theme in Guinean music and theatre. Moussa and the rest of the band are, obviously, influenced by Guinean popular music. One of the two groups closest to Toumaranke in ‘feel’ is les espoirs de coronthie who Frank Bessem calls ‘tradi-moderne’, the genre which best describes us. They have plenty of songs about women – nga being one. Then there’s Etoile de boulbinet, another tradi-moderne group. Their ‘cherie‘ has a slightly different feel, a celebration of the women they are associated with rather than a ‘pleading of a suit’. In MOUSSA KOFFOE‘s version the influence on Toumaranke’s music can be clearly heard, as well as the kind of ‘comedy’ element Moussa and Okameo in particular are so partial to. The ‘big trousers’, the slightly absurd male protagonist; dance and movement as a natural expression of emotion. Here’s a playlist.
The first time I saw any Guinea music videos I felt similar to the way Moussa felt when he saw other English people drinking more than one cup of tea in the morning. One of those ‘ah, this is a cultural thing, it’s not just you‘ moments… You can see this kind of ‘comedy element’ in our videos such as Rice Bag Comedy or Takhaudi Dékau: Inside The Chicken’s Mouth . Also in our general messing around Okameo monkeying around for example. Comedy is a huge part of how we interact with each other and others.
Temadi evolved partly in relation to another track Tellamou Tellamou, (women who ‘are not serious and talk too much’) which in the end didn’t get used on the CD. I found tellamou tellamou a bit tricky politically as it seemed somewhat misogynistic to me. We had quite a lot of discussion around it. It was a sort of social criticism of ‘city women’, women who were ‘not serious’ (the implication being that ‘fast girls’, those who live a more Westernised life in the city with lots of boyfriends, use birth control etc… are somehow morally reprehensible). I was uncomfortable with the lyrics and the concept of this track although I’d heard a fair few similar themes in popular Guinean music.
I’d said something along the lines of “but what about men who aren’t ‘serious’ and who don’t behave responsibly?” particularly in relation to the issue of contraception/ children. I know full well this kind of behavior has been indulged in at various times by most of the band and that Moussa himself has definitely had ‘non-serious’ sexual relationships with quite a few women. The ‘double standard’ operates just as much in Africa as it does everywhere else – somehow it’s ok for men to ‘sleep around’ but not for women!
After some uncomfortable discussion and that socially embarrassed half laughter of men who know damn well what you’re saying is spot on but who don’t want to look at it, we moved on. The thought process started by this discussion however resulted in Temedi, a track that’s warmer, more benign towards women. I had been hoping for a balance to tellamou tellamou in terms of a critique of ‘city men’s behavior but that particular seed hasn’t yet borne any fruit (or even a small shoot but we’ve got time yet…) This theme too can be found in popular Guinean music. It’s seems perfectly valid to behave dreadfully towards a particular women or women in general but sing about the importance of women and respect for women (this isn’t specific to West African culture or music either.) In the end tellamou tellamou wasn’t ok musically, so we couldn’t use it and my discomfort was shelved.
So Temedi develoved partly like this and partly as a kind of hommage to me and to Adja Daffy our cook and our ‘mother’. West African men do often recognize and honor the role of women. Okameo has said to me for years tout la vie c’est grace a la femmes and he means it too. Adja and I were the only two women involved in the recording process and very much symbolized the traditional relationship of women, especially African women, to men. Nurturers/enablers/feeders- servicing (in it’s true sense), holding space. This happens on Toumaranke workshops too although Okameo spans both sides of the teaching staff/kitchen staff divide as he’s head of housekeeping (& both he and I have had to step in and cook on more than one occasion). A lot of tasks are still very ‘gendered’ in West African society (I’ve written about this before, especially in Toumaranke Band Profiles. Kossy in context. The family compound.).
I’m Moussa’s muse, in some senses, as well as his wife and without me (and Martin, the sound engineer who was brought by me) there would have been no CD at all. It was my idea, my organisation, my fundraising, that made it happen. Some of this is due to the fact that I live in ‘the West’ and have white privilege as well as more education and opportunities than the rest of the band. Musically speaking it’s mostly Moussa’s creation, although as co-producer I helped shape it’s final form. I couldn’t have done it without Adja (or Okameo) but everyone was aware of the fact that without my saying ‘come on, lets DO this thing‘ – nothing at all would have actually happened. Some of the reasons I can organise workshops, recording sessions, events etc.. however, is because I posses ‘women’s skills’. Paying attention to who needs what to function well, what people like to eat, how to facilitate good communication etc etc.. All that ‘invisible’ work which makes things run smoothly. Adja, like me also a mother, used to caring for not only her own family but groups of people, is extremely good at this too so we’re an excellent team.
One of the things I’d been keen to do with the album was to have different instruments on different tracks so that everything didn’t always sound ‘the same’ instrumentally. I had some problems implementing this and I’m still not entirely sure why. Moussa and I had agreed the style would be musicale rather than ballet.
I still haven’t written about this difference but will do so one day, it confuses lots of people. Particularly as for non Africans the word ballet tends to conjure up pictures of thin white women in tutus and not an African dance troupe.
Briefly. The ballet style is generally a large ensemble of musicians, drum based, sometimes with a single balafon or flute or bolon or other traditional instrument. Usually the singing is the whole group although there may be some call and response in it . The music has an accompanying, choreographed, dance, performed generally by a troupe although occasionally a single dancer and sometimes the dance ‘tells a story’ In Guinea the most famous examples of this style are Les Percussions de Guinee and Ballets Africains de Guinée. This performance based style dates from the 1950’s with the independence of various African states from their colonial rulers. The musicale tradition, which Toumaranke epitomizes, is less well-known. Usually there is just one of any instrument and the music is not so drum led or drum heavy and more Western instruments such as the guitar or harmonica are incorporated. Often djembe is played in this style but in a very different manner. I’ve worked with excellent ballet players who are totally at sea in the musicale tradition.
A musicale group tends to be smaller and there is generally no accompanying dance troupe although the lead singer or others do sometimes dance. Often there is only one singer or at least a clear ‘lead’ singer with the rest of the group as ‘chorus’. I worked for many years with a musicale ensemble called Bafila, based in the Gambia, and both the other woman (who it was tended to vary and there were no ‘real’ jelimuso in that group) and I often danced, episodically, as did whoever was currently lead singer but there was no choreographed routine in the way there is working with ballet troupes. The emphasis in musicale is more melodic and less rhythmic. Groups such as Les Espoirs De Coronthe are a really good example of the Guinean musicale tradition.
Toumaranke, in it’s various forms, have talked about developing a track that’s just gongos, a track that’s just bolons etc for years and years without that actually happening. The nearest I go to it on our debut CD is the two instrumental balafon dominated tracks Sorsonet and Ninety Nine. I hadn’t wanted drums of any kind to feature heavily at all on the album and we’d decided no djembe, as there is lots of drum led West African music and we had planned this as a different beast. We are firmly inside the musicale rather than the ballet tradition, although most of us are capable of playing in both styles and the two do overlap a bit sometimes. About the only thing we stuck to when we were recording was that we didn’t use djembe at all. We had two sets of traditional Susu drums – Tumba and Gbundo. Often the correspondences between the drums was the trickiest thing for Moussa to co-ordinate, unless he was playing them, and he couldn’t play everything at the same time! Short of him doing just that, except for balafon, played expertly by our griot, Mamadou Ba, and then ‘layering’ everything we had to mange without highly skilled players of those particular things.
The start of temedi was planned as as one instrument at a time – drums first, tumba (which sound a bit like congas, that lovely deep, warm rich sound), then the sharper gbundu; so the beat gets well established before the balafon comes in with the melody. I had wanted drums first but we’d had a discussion about another track – Mhirri Kobi Kobi – which was a sort of more gongo-led one and I’m not sure if Moussa got mixed up or just overrode my decision so Temedi actually starts with the gongo, then the tumba comes in. then the gbundu responds/kicks in – then bala. This is an earlier version, with the drums starting; done before an argument – which I won – about the insertion of random English vocals. It was hard to explain why ‘happy new year’ is only ‘seasonally appropriate’ to musicians with limited grasp of English and who have heard that sung in hotels they’ve worked in! You can hear in this version (when the singing settles down a bit) the structure of the song developing – with the lead vocal ‘weynou weynou‘ – ‘talking talking‘is how it was translated to me (spelt phonetically, I can’t find anything written down and the only book I’ve got on Susu is in French – which I don’t really read, only speak – the nearest I can find is woyen – speak or woyenyi -speech). We’re just messing around in the first version really, and the singing is even more dreadful than usual but it’s interesting to hear how it’s developing. Both Hadja and I get ‘called’ in this and Moussa put quite a lot of non-Susu words in here. The ‘be myfair‘ is ‘broken Jola‘ and Okameo answers with various people’s names. Also the ‘marrymarrymarry’ part (the only English bit I allowed to stay in as it seemed appropriate). You can also hear how much Moussa ‘plays’ with the pitch of his voice – sometimes going into an almost comedy ‘bass version’. In the final album version (which you’ll have to buy if you haven’t got it, I’m not giving you everything ) there’s also ‘thankyou’ in various languages:
– jeffijanjif – Wolof – thankyou very much,
– ninbara – Mandinka
– Kai soom i (which I have no idea how to spell) Jola . I had always thought this was hello or good morning but seems to be one of those mysterious African greeting words that can be used for many things… (also Moussa doesn’t speak Jola so he may have misused it)
The start of this track was one of the most challenging aspects of the recording – we did it over and over and over. Here it is the early stages with Moussa trying to clarify the drum parts. Partly because it was newish and so hadn’t been practised very much and partly because it presented quite a challenge musically. Everyone was ‘rushing’ to get in – allowing quite a lot of space for a single instrument seemed problematic and it all got a bit macho and competitive. Possibly he didn’t feel Moese was solid enough with the rhythm to start it. The shakers finally got regulated – I played them – and Souleymane‘s tambourine part was changed to a constant sound which was less distracting (and not occasionally accidentally arrhythmic). It was one of the hardest tracks for Moussa as musical director as playing gongo, directing it, being the lead voice on it and trying to keep it all together meant even more multitasking than usual…
For Moussa one of the greatest tensions in recording the album was between the voice work and the instrumental work. He is an absolutely superb multinstrumentalist and I insisted he , rather than anyone else, played krin as it’s one of his best instruments. This meant a krin overdub on the track as he can’t play krin and sing – the krin’s too loud for the mike, Mamadou Bah’s balafon playing matches Moussa’s abilities on krin and for me as director/producer these two instruments and musicians were at the heart of everything – with Okameo’s bolon as support. Okameo’s very experienced, listens to where he needs regulation; like me is used to simply doing what Moussa says as we know he’s right (and more talented), and not needing to have an argument or ‘kick off’ about it but also know’s when to make a suggestion. Trying to keep a ‘live’ feel’ with a group of very mixed ability musicians, and me (a reasonable support player but not coming from inside the tradition I’m playing in), was challenging for both me and Moussa. Souleymane was the least experienced of us all – which he didn’t like as he wanted to be more able than me. Frankly my timing was better than his simply because I’ve been playing longer and was well trained for years doing hotel contracts while playing shakers. I can keep the beat as I’m told and I’m less inclined to try doing anything ‘fancy’ or show off.
The balafon is a bit more subdued on this track than on some of the others. There are no soaring solos here. Nothing as extraordinary as some of the little phrases on Toumaranke for example. There’s some lovely little embellishments and the ostinato (repeated phrase) is clear and lovely but he didn’t really ‘fly’ with this. I think he was affected a bit by how hard we had to work on the track. Like me he’s been trained for years in ‘supporting’ hotel work, rather than letting rip and he did find this hard sometimes. Some of the material we’ve got from early rehearsals, where he’s more relaxed, is ‘better’ than the recorded material – although even at his worst he’s superb; all the griots are, it’s all that early training, playing is like breathing for them.. He sometimes struggled with the discipline of support bala under Moussa’s direction – not ‘competing’with Moussa (and showing off to me in the hope of being taken to Europe). He particularly struggled with embellishing in the right places in relation to the singing.
The track is beautiful and precise in it’s finished form. The drum beat we did finally get right! It’s fabulous and exciting, drives the whole thing nicely – the two sounds combining wonderfully – the ‘fat’ rich tumba and the higher, sharper stick beats of the gbundu. When they got into it it was great and made me want to jump up and down (usually I know when something’s ‘right’ if I want to move, to dance). It would be a fabulous dance track/remix with that beat behind it.
The ‘sense’ of the lyrics is that weynou weynou, talking talking – is the amount of talking/persuasion a bloke (and his mates) have to do in order to get a woman to agree to marry them. This theme is much documented in West African music – the guy pleading his suit to an initially disinterested women features heavily in loads of West African music videos. Here’s billy konate doing just that and Bambino again. I had no idea I was playing into this well rehearsed game when I initially said no to Moussa, I did actually mean no. I said no to the whole idea. I didn’t want another complicated relationship with a poor West African musician. I’d had a disastrous marriage, we were friends – we respected each other and he was one of the few people I’d worked with (the other being Okameo) who hadn’t tried to hit on me… I didn’t want to lose his friendship, I liked working with him. I wanted nothing further to do with any man who used alcohol – he seemed to be in control of that but so did my first husband initially. When he first told me how he felt about me I was adamant – no – I thought it would get messy and difficult! It has, but not in the ways I thought!
I said no, no, no, no;- gave in to the idea of a relationship and then said no to marriage for a long time. I didn’t want to be married again, I didn’t want that responsibility, I didn’t want to struggle with ‘cross cultural gender issues’ no matter how much I loved him (and I love him lot!) . It was Moussa’s mum that did me in – she was so upset about the lack of respectability. He was too but I just laughed it off. I don’t, personally, give a fig for respectability (and my own parents gave up any hope of that from me long long ago…) but it’s important to her and I love her. She’s now dead and i’m really pleased we made her happy by getting married. The meaning behind this song is that if you are ‘serious’ about a woman you must marry her. Here we are, nearly five years married now (although still not resident in the same country thanks to poverty and bureaucracy).
As I’m writing this I’m thinking a lot about my women friends in West Africa. Adja, the many women I’ve lived next to, the women and girls in Kossys compound, the women and girls in the compound Moussa and I currently live in; who I don’t know very well yet because we’ve not had that place very long My old friend Neneh, a batik worker I’ve lost touch with. Okameo’s wife Asanatou, who again I don’t know very well yet… I’m thinking especially of my family in Guinea. my mother-in-law died in July 2017, with very little medical support. Women’s lives are particularly difficult in West African countries with no free healthcare because of the various problems which can be caused by pregnancy, especially when they are close to being malnourished. One of my sisters-in-law, Buntu, had a miscarriage in January 2017 and ll struggled with her health for a long time. without the crowdfunding appeal I set up, and the generous response, she too would be dead now. Currently my friend and Adja Daffy – has nowhere for her and her two children to live since the death of her ex-husband this Jan. I’ve set up a fundraiser to help her, anyone wishing to donate can do so here.