Doudou N’diaye Rose, 85, Senegalese Drummer and ‘Human Treasure,’ Dies
Doudou N’diaye Rose, a master drummer and bandleader from Senegalwho became an emissary of his native culture’s joyous and complex rhythms to the rest of the world, touring with percussion orchestras in Europe, Asia and the United States, died on Wednesday in Dakar, Senegal. He was 85.
His death was reported by numerous news agencies, including The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse, which said it was confirmed by Mr. Rose’s nephew Doudou N’diaye Mbengue.
Mr. Rose was skilled on a variety of native African drums, but he was especially known as a virtuoso of the sabar. A tall wooden drum covered with goatskin and circled with pegs, the sabar, which is usually played with one bare hand and one stick, was traditionally used for communication between villages and to accompany myriad social occasions. Mr. Rose studied those traditions, absorbing what he called “the very precise language of drums,” in travels throughout Senegal and expanded the language, creating numerous riffs of his own.
He became a national figure, known as the country’s chief drum major, a kind of Pied Piper of Senegalese drumming culture and literally the father of its continuing prominence. He had dozens of children — as many as 40, according to some sources — and grandchildren, and many of them became drummers, performing vibrant compositions with impossibly layered rhythmic figures under his direction in an orchestra called the Drummers of West Africa and an all-female ensemble known as the Rosettes. Mr. Rose reportedly had four wives, some if not all of them simultaneously. Information about survivors was not immediately available.
Over the years Mr. Rose appeared onstage or on the bill with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, the Rolling Stones and Peter Gabriel, and he was among those named as “living human treasures” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. He made his American debut in 1988 with a 30-member version of his orchestra at the Beacon Theater in New York, a performance featuring exuberant dancers and vivid costuming as a complement to the orchestra’s pulsing rhythms.
“But even without the staging, the rhythms themselves would have held the ear,” Jon Pareles wrote in a review for The New York Times, “whether it was the high pattering of three talking drums, the rich cross-rhythms of half a dozen hand drums or a deep, full-group unison — all of them in fast-changing sequences that would tax a Western percussionist’s memory to the limit.”
Mr. Rose was born Mamadou N’diaye in Dakar on July 28, 1930. Though his father, an accountant, warned him against a career in music, the tug of the rhythms he heard all around him proved too great to resist. (Mr. Rose said that when he decided to ignore his father’s counsel, the two men did not even shake hands for seven years.)
“Every day, the tam-tams played for marriages, baptisms and circumcisions,” he recalled in a 2010 interview with the British newspaper The Independent, using a generic name for drums. “Whenever I left the house, the sounds distracted me. It’s as if they said, ‘Doudou, don’t go to school, you must come and play the tam-tam.’ ”
As a young man he made his living as a plumber until he came under the influence of a local master drummer, Mada Seck, who passed on his secrets and his instruments and encouraged the Mr. Rose to take his place. But he was determined to learn more, and he traveled the country to learn its rhythmic vocabulary.
“I never wanted to play blindly,” Mr. Rose said. “I met the elders so that they could teach me the very precise language of drums that everybody recognized then: how to announce a bush fire, that a snake has bitten someone and what kind of snake, that a woman who has just got married has gone to the conjugal home and that the husband is happy with her.”
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