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The Boston Globe (March 1, 2007)

Drumming for a new way of life

by Denise Taylor


The Amazones, performing Saturday at Brandeis, have been criticized at home in Guinea for playing the djembe, traditionally reserved for men. (DENISE TAYLOR FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)

If you think the Dixie Chicks took a big risk by criticizing President Bush, consider Amazones: The Women Master Drummers of Guinea. In 1998, this group of nine Guinean women began studying the djembe, a drum long reserved for the men of their country. The public was outraged. Some of their families disowned them. Others were told to choose between their new career and their husbands.

But Amazones founder Mamoudou Conde, who has managed the West African country's top national acts, encouraged the women to stick with it. They did, and with the guidance of one of the country's most revered djembe players, Aly Sylla, the women learned to master this ancient instrument.

And now they play with a fury, pounding out heart-racing rhythms and dancing into near frenzies. The troupe -- in Waltham on Saturday as part of a two-year world tour -- is racking up rave reviews and challenging social conventions.

"Women in the West play the djembe, but in Guinea, where the djembe comes from, no woman would even touch one. I wanted to change that," said Conde. "People are still shocked, but things have slowly changed."

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