My Mentorship with Eric Charry about Jola Bougarabou Drumming

My Mentorship with Eric Charry about Jola Bougarabou Drumming

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 Staff for the New Year

New Staff for the New Year

As New York Folklore embarks on new projects and programs in 2019, I am pleased to welcome two new additions to our staff. Kira Born is not new to our organization, as she (along with Chibuikem Ajulu-Okeke) designed and wrote our new website. However, Kira is transitioning in 2019 from “intern” to marketing coordinator, continuing to work with New York Folklore to bring her expertise in graphic design, digital photography and video, and media production to help New York Folklore better tell its story. Kira is a graduate of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, where she majored in Communication and Information Design.

Elinor Levy also joins our staff in 2019 as New York Folklore’s New York regional coordinator for the Mentoring and Professional Development program, a partnership program with the Folk Arts Program of the New York State Council on the Arts. Elinor will assist New York Folklore in publicizing the Mentoring and Professional Development Program in the lower Hudson Valley and New York Metropolitan regions, and will be the point of contact for potential mentoring applicants in these regions. Elinor is the Folk Arts Program Manager for Arts Mid-Hudson in Poughkeepsie. She has worked as a folklorist in many locations throughout the United States, including New Jersey and Las Vegas, Nevada. She holds a Ph.D. in Folklore from Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

As we are a statewide organization, we strive to be present in communities throughout the state. We hope to see YOU in this coming year!