The juxtaposed rhythmic patterns and simple, engaging melodies characteristic of traditional West African music has influenced many contemporary styles of music. Ethnomusicologist Gerhard Kubik traced the roots of the blues back to West Africa, calling it the "cradle of the blues.” Also rooted in West African music, Afro-Caribbean music eventually migrated to the USA to help shape jazz.
Paul Simon, Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, Corey Harris and many other artists and guitarists have successfully explored African rhythms and melodies across pop, rock, blues, folk, and jazz genres. Now you can too! Grab a window seat on the tour bus and join Zoumana Diarra - a Griot from Mali in West Africa - as he leads you on a tour across the West African Guitar soundscape.
Zoumana Diarra is a Griot. Griots are a kind of Troubadour, a traveling musician or singer who knows the history of a local tribe or family and makes sure that stories are told, re-told and kept for posterity. The traditional instruments of a Griot are Kora, Balafon, Djembe, and Ngoni. Today guitar has an important role in the music a Griot plays. We’re very excited to welcome Zoumana to the family with his first TrueFire course, The West African Guitar Guidebook.
Zoumana demonstrates and guides you through eleven essential styles and grooves that originated from different West African Countries. You’ll learn how to play Bambara (Mali), African Rumba (Senegal/Congo), Minuit, Gumbe (Guinee Bissau), Highlife (Ghana), Manding (Senegal/Burkina Faso/Ivory Coast) , Soukous (Congo), Njaro (Sahara desert), Mali Blues, Gwe Gwe (Ivory Coast) and Methode Kora. Each of these West African styles has several melodies, which when played together form intricate, compelling grooves.
The African Rhumba - "The African Rhumba is inspired by West African musicians from the French colonies who traveled to Cuba in the fifties. Musicians were paid by the local government to modernize their playing. Modern instruments like guitar were bought by the government for the musicians. Before they went to Cuba, African musicians played melodies. They didn't know what a chord was. Soukous originated from the African Rhumba. Two famous African Rhumba players are Dr. Nico and Roccherau.”
The Bambara - “This is the original Blues music. This is a minor pentatonic guitar style from Segou in Mali. Major pentatonic blues originated in Sikasso (Mali). The first guitars in West Africa had one string. The music played on this guitar was strictly pentatonic. They always played in the same key. Later the Bambara was played on the Kamelengoni. This is a six string guitar for hunters with five strings tuned pentatonic. A Bambara does not have chords, only melodies.”
Gwe Gwe - "Gwe Gwe is a traditional rhythm from the Bete people from Ivory Coast. Like many other rhythms, it later developed into a guitar style. One of the most famous guitar players in this style was Amedie Pierre. In the 80's Ernesto Djedje became the founder of the more modern Gwe Gwe guitar style.”
Methode Kora - “This style is based on melodies played on the Kora. There are two types of Kora melodies: Major and Lydian. The three parts are normally played by the Kora, Ngoni, and Balafon. Melodies are often played in octave style.”
Gumbe - “Gumbe comes from Guinee Bissau. It is a combination of several music traditions with a modern sound. It sounds like a samba, but is more polyrhythmic.”
High Life - “High Life is traditional music from Ghana with many elements. Modern High Life has European and Jazz influences. There are many kinds of High Life. This one is called Joromi. It has a dominant seven chord, which is exceptional. Ghanese High Life music was first played in the 1920's; a mix from traditional church music, military marching music and traditional music from neighboring countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone. After World War II it embraced more European and Jazz influences.”
Mali Blues - “There are different types of Blues in Mali. This type comes from Wassoulou and is major pentatonic. The groove is formed by combining multiple parts. Ali Farka Toure is one of the musicians that played this style.”
Manding - “This style was originally played on the Kora, Ngoni en Balafon. On the guitar the basic part is an octave pattern, called Dubbelgam, originally played on the Kora. The second part was played on the Ngoni. And the third part on the Balafon. Here we play all the parts on the guitar. All melodies have a name, which was given to it based on the first song that ever used it. Music is almost like a dialect in West Africa. If the language changes, the music changes with it. After World War II and the return of African enlisted soldiers, the guitar became the symbol of neo-traditional music. Two important proponents of Manding are Salif Keita and the Railband du Bamako.”
Minuit - “The Minuit is the basis of all guitar music in West Africa. It is diatonic music with three chords: C-F-G. The picking pattern is very syncopated. The melodies can be so much fun to play that people thought it would bring in spirits.”
Njaro - “Njaro is an old style from the Sahara desert. It comes from traditional singing and can sound very dreamy. This music is also played on the Ngoni.”
Soukous - “Soukous is a rhythmic pattern used for dancing. A mix of African Cuban Rhumba and traditional music from Congo. It is a very open style with a lot of room for improvisation. It is very popular among guitarists. 'Soukous' literally means 'To Shake.' It is characterized by intense guitar parts, repeating melodic patterns and sensitive harmonies. A famous guitarist in this style is Franco of OK Jazz, renowned for his finger picking.”
All of the West African style performances and their patterns are tabbed and notated for your practice, reference and study purposes. You’ll also get Guitar Pro files so that you can play, loop and slow down the tab and notation as you work through the lessons.
All of the jam tracks are also included, and as a bonus, we've added a Guitar Pro multitrack file for each style with all patterns, the percussion and bass parts included. This way you can hear the interaction between all instruments, a vital element in West African Music.
Grab your guitar and let’s tour the West African soundscape with Zoumana Diarra!