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Foli – West African word used for rhythm

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In my experience rural West African people have a strong connection to sound, drawing inspiration form the natural environment and trusting that reality resides predominantly in what is heard and said.

Foli, a mandinka word describing speech or to produce music, is an ongoing project, which explores phonetic descriptive sounds of translated drum patterns. In West African culture, phonetic speech is still the traditional method of teaching, and their oral history, ritual and sacred rites of passage are passed onto generations through percussion and other forms of ancestral music. The vocabulary of music is described through the lips of the speaker, providing a description of how the sound would transfer when hands physical connect to a drum, which in turn creates sound to occupy space in the external world.

In my enquiry I am working with Mamadou Camara, a Guinean musician who I co-manage the group Kouma Kan Africa in Kartong, The Gambia. Mamadou has taught me traditional West African drum rhythms through phonetic speech since 2012. Through this method Mamadou has learnt and retained the instrument parts for hundreds of traditional Mandinka rhythms. The example orally presented by Mamadou is Soko, which is the opening rhythm that we perform at festivals.


Director - Tony Spencer
Concept - Tony Spencer
Performer - Mamadou Camara
Photography - Kye Wilson

© Tony Spencer


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