Within five minutes of his arrival on April 6, 2018, my mentor, Professor Eric Charry of Wesleyan University, taught me something I did not know about interviewing musicians. Pulling up a photo of Nfamara Badjie playing bougarabou, Eric immediately notices that drum bodies are the traditional bougarabou shape, but the drum heads are not bougarabou. They are djembe, relating to the way in which the drums are tuned. Bougarabou drums are traditionally tuned by heating (putting the drums close to a fire), while the djembe is tuned with a hammer, a more viable system in the United States. I now know to ask how an instrument changes as it moves from one country to another and over time.
The difference in drums led to a discussion of the notion of ethnicity tied to a particular instrument. Is the essence of bougarabou and Jola the instrument or the rhythms and songs associated with it? Or a combination? At what point does the instrument change enough to not be bougarabou? Who gets to decide? Eric and Nfamara helped me to place the tradition of bougarabou within the Jola and within the various tribal cultures found in Gambia and Senegal. We also discussed the lineage of bougarabou musicians of which Nfamara is one of the last. Nfamara told us that some Jola believe that he is killing the culture because he is in the United States and not in the Gambia sharing and teaching the bougarabou.
Eric reminded me that I need to apply these same questions about changes in instrument or materials, across the genres and not just in music.
For information about applying for the Mentoring and Professional Development Program in Folk and Traditional Arts, please contact me at [email protected] to discuss an application.
New York Folklore and Schoharie River Center Partner for Smithsonian Educational Initiative
New York Folklore has been selected to create one of sixteen projects nationwide for the Smithsonian’s Stories from Main Street: Youth Engagement and Skill-building Program (Stories: YES). The program is a collaboration between youth participants of The Schoharie River Center and New York Folklore to develop stories around the theme of the Smithsonian Museum on Main Street Exhibition “Water/Ways”.
Stories: YES participants weave national narratives from the exhibition into the history of their own region by conducting research and interviews to create a project highlighting their communities. The program engages kids with regional history and contemporary local issues, while providing an opportunity to use professional equipment and learn real-world skills. Youth projects will be displayed locally and their digital stories will be shared on Museum on Main Street’s website. Equipment purchased through the project will be available for future student success.
Funding for Stories: YES is generously provided to Museum on Main Street (MoMS) with internal Smithsonian Institution Support from the Smithsonian Youth Access Grants Program. MoMS is a partnership between the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and state humanities councils. It was created to serve museums, libraries and historical societies in rural areas, where one fifth of all Americans live. SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, DC for over sixty-five years. It connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science, and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play.
Since 2010, New York Folklore has been working in partnership with the Schoharie River Center, a youth development program that engages youth in educational and scientific inquiry of their regions’ waters, to document the region and to create digital portraits of the Mohawk Watershed.
For information on the local Stories: YES project or to participate, please contact John McKeeby, Executive Director of the Schoharie River Center at john.mc[email protected] or Ellen McHale, Executive Director of New York Folklore at [email protected] or 518-346-7008.