Finding Transcriptions: the long road to Paul Nas and his W.A.P.-Pages

Before giving a guided tour of Paul Nas’ amazing resources, I should clarify that not all sites demonstrate the same level of scholarship, accuracy, and concern for detail. One site, for example, promised “drumset percussion conga djembe bongo timbales lessons drum patterns rhythm african afrocuban latin

From here, I linked to “Traditional African Rhythms,” specifically the “African Rhythm Workshop.

This, in turn, led to a page full of links, one of which declaimed: “Learn to play the African djembe now!” Clicking this link produced a page offering Djembe Workshop media files for sale.

The course of study appears to be video perhaps combined with text files. The syllabus (overview) link evinces an interesting pattern. Not until the seventh rhythm do we get something recognizably Mande (the Djole rhythm), for which the djembe might actually be appropriate.

As an aside, the fourth rhythm is “Fanga,” a pattern I knew as part of Babatunde Olatunji’s repertory. Dr. Charry’s introduction to Baba’s The Beat of My Drum gave some interesting information on the pre-Baba history of the Fanga rhythm as played in the U.S.A. (see page 10).

Very frustrating!  But eventually I found a site with good notation of sources, information which my own scholarly double-checking has found to be highly accurate and sometimes very obscure, and best of all it is totally free. Paul’s transcriptions will be especially useful to anyone trying to learn, retain, and praactice Mande drumming.


WAP-Pages, the West African Percussion Pages of Paul Nas

From what I can gather, Paul Nas lives in the Netherlands (recall Mamady Keita’s residence in Belgium), and he has been a student of djembe and dundun ever since 1993. He’s had access to some of the best players and teachers in the world, and has collaborated a great deal with fellow students, by sharing and comparing rhythms. He’s amassed an impressive listing of 105 different rhythms, most of them in full arrangement and usually based almost entirely on work with actual teachers, rather than just transcribing recordings or posting easily-available printed sources and calling them his own. Paul shows that his scholarship is well above average, just by giving us such a great listing of his sources:

His key to reading the transcriptions is available in English, French, Spanish and Dutch:

Paul Nas uses a form of box notation, indicating the steady flow of pulses grouped into repeating cycles. By not using traditional Western music notation, Paul makes his resources available to a much wider audience. Although many ethnomusicologists have studied and transcribed African drumming for almost 100 years, and despite the fact that a good number of Ethnomusicologists also have developed their own notation systems (usually out of a desire to represent the music more faithfully, and without the baggage of assumptions, structural and otherwise, which might be implied by staff notation and metric indicators), still there exists a great deal of research by amateur enthusiasts totally or partially outside of the academic system. These players don’t share written rhythms in Western art music notation, but in any number of idiosyncratic methods which nevertheless (like Western notation, as well) indicate pulse flow and larger groupings.

Looking at Paul’s transcriptions, for example Mendiani, we see that he has reproduced not only the arrangement for djembes and dunduns, but even the obscure and hard-to-find lead patterns! In the case of this specific Mendiani example, Paul’s second djembe correlates exactly to the lead phrases taught by Mamady Keita. In the final analysis, Paul’s page is one you simply have to have in your “favorites,” because you are always going to need to refer to him. In some instances, he may have information which helps you take your own data to the next level. So you will always need to check.

Matthew Hill

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