A Saturday drum class with the Senegalese master Ibrahima Camara could go on for five hours.
"He really wanted us to get it -- the details of the rhythm and the right feeling about it," remembers Damon Weinstein, who studied with Ibrahima in Cambridge for about seven years. "Cause first he’d say it, he'd say it like in English, he’d say it in language. You know, he would say it in a way that I could understand the simple side. But then he’d move it, he’d slide it, from that simple thing to the feel of it."
In Dakar, Ibrahima had been lead drummer and musical director for the National Ballet.
"It was like he brought Africa to America and he brought America to Africa," Damon recalls.
Ibrahima wove the cultures together through drumming, and sometimes, through metaphor.
"I remember one time he’s telling us, 'Hold on, stop, look at the skin on your drum. Imagine that’s your lover’s back, that’s her skin. Don’t hurt her!'," remembers Damon.
His long, long lessons were about life as well as music.
"He had a huge heart, and he was a huge ball of feeling," Damon recalls. "Everything he ever did was just so right off the top. It could be confusing. Suddenly he'd change it. He’d change rhythms on us mid-stream—we’re doing this and he’d be, 'No, no, we’re doing this now,' and people couldn’t even take it! Like, ‘But you just said you're doing that.' And he'd say, 'This is what I'm saying you're doing. It’s not what I said before, it’s what I’m saying now.' And to keep up is like taking a breath, and here we are now.
In 1997, he brought Damon and the other students to Dakar to play in the National Theater. He gave an "Ibrahim-ic" pep talk beforehand.
"Something to the effect of, 'If you play the rhythm off, you’re gonna offend the people! You cannot play off, you gonna play on!’ He was so strong. He was like, ‘I know you’re gonna do it, 'cause you have to do it.”
The rhythm was music. But the rhythm was also knowledge: when to speak with words, when to speak with sound, how to recognize the living essence in all things.
Ibrahima Camara died last October in Senegal, where he had returned with his wife and children. Students and friends in the United States had sent him money for medicine, but it didn’t reach him in time. He was 72 years old.
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