Making Music in a Noisy World
One of the foundational elements of the base camp in Malika is the music shop; where raw materials are crafted into vessels of melody. Djembes, koras (African harps) and balafons (African xylophones) are a few examples of the traditional instruments that Abdoulaye, Gilbert and others work hard to perfect. Each hand crafted piece represents the skill and pride of the Malika Monkeys, and the efforts of AYWA to empower local people in Senegal.
Like the Malika Monkeys themselves, the kora is an instrument that defies categorization. It is part harp, part lute and part guitar. A skilled player will use a combination of riffs and runs to create an enchanting ambiance for anyone in earshot. Abdoulaye has created several working models, each of which has a unique sound and look due to the slight variation in natural materials.
The djembe is probably the most well known and traditional sound in African musical heritage. If you don’t count the human voice, the drum family (percussion) contains the oldest instruments that humans claim. In each drum beat, the heart of our collective creativity and common ancestry resonates. Gilbert hand carves each djembe, stretches the skins, and and strings the ropes. He also repairs damaged or broken drums that are brought into the shop.
On special occasions, a group from the shop will play for tourists, visitors and work groups arranged by AYWA. Many of these performances are held in Phare Mamelle. These events create the opportunity to sell instruments and promote the Malika Monkeys brand.
Another local specialty is an African variation of the xylophone. Balafons consist of slow dried wooden keys, which are tuned by shaving away bits from the underside. Gourds are used as resonators to enhance the natural sounds. The final product can be played as a solo instrument or as an accomplice to others.
In addition to making instruments, Abdoulaye also manages the shop. Why take time away from his own paid work to help others? He does this because he “enjoys helping his friends to make a living”. He orders materials for the projects, organizes checkpoints throughout the process, and creates a bill of sale when the work is done. Abdoulaye is an excellent example of the kinds of people and values that AYWA seeks to develop in local communities.