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Published: Friday, 10/24/2003

A symphony of skins

BY STEVEN CORNELIUS
BLADE MUSIC CRITIC

For 74-year-old Senegalese drummer Doudou N'Diaye Rose, music is a family affair. Everyone in his 35-member ensemble is blood, either a child or a grandchild. And the father is king.

“They all want to make him happy,” says the ensemble's tour manager, Stephane Brunet. “Every concert is special. It's a stage show, of course, and Mr. Rose is the music director. But everyone is also looking at the father.”

The Drummers of West Africa perform at 8 tonight in the Valentine Theatre.

Rose's ensemble sits at the crossroads between tradition and innovation. Power is with the patriarch, but women, traditionally banned from drumming, play with as much force as the men. Ancient rhythms are sounded, but are expanded, embellished, and juxtaposed in novel ways. Drum power moves the body and heats the atmosphere, but individual parts are arranged as if for a symphony orchestra, with full-blown themes and even melodies.

“In Senegal, many of these rhythms have specific meanings. But here in America, Rose is trying to show how drums are part of a universal language,” said Brunet.

What remains traditional is the relationship between performers and audience.

“There is a sort of communion between the two. For the players the reaction of the room is very important. They joke with the people and try to please everybody. When the response is good the playing gets even better and stronger,” said Brunet.

Rose has collaborated with the Rolling Stones, Miles Davis, Peter Gabriel, and many others. He has four wives, 40 children, and, Brunet said, too many grandchildren to keep track of.

The Drummers of West Africa perform at 8 tonight in the Valentine Theatre, 401 North Superior St. Tickets are $15 to $45. Information: 419-242-2787.



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