Imagine people in a circle looking into each other’s eyes and gesticulating as they follow the frantic pace of their yembé, an African percussion instrument that has its origins in the Mandingo empire.
Tradition has it that it was played by the numus, the blacksmiths, who were attributed extraordinary powers and who participated in the initiation ceremonies into adulthood. Often, one of the drummers would stand out from the others by playing a solo with which he challenged the others. Such solos are a display of power and endurance.
Ndeye Cissé, born in Senegal, began to play the yembé professionally at the age of 18. “There are men who feel intimidated and embarrassed when they see a woman playing the yembé; I understand them because this instrument is always linked to male strength. After all, they feel inferior when they see a woman who sounds as good as they do, “explains Ndeye.
She started playing the yembé at the age of 8, supported by the figure of her brother who had never seen a woman play that instrument like any of the musicians. The male environment marked her childhood, in which in addition to watching her brother making music she also joined the fans of a football team in the Las Palmas de Dakar district, becoming the only girl to be considered the best fan of the team. “In the beginning, we had to animate our fans during matches, but when we saw that it could be a job, we started a professional music group, and that’s how Djembe Rythme was born.”
Her debut on international tours was accompanying the Senegalese football team (at the World Cup in South Korea and Japan).
Later she was part of the musicians who accompanied Youssou n’Dour, a popular singer and composer of mbalax music, in which traditional and European instruments are mixed.
A feminist without having to proclaim it, Cissé is convinced that “at some point, there will be a change and women and men will share the zone of success”. Meanwhile, she is proud to belong to Jigeen Ñi, the first Senegalese group made up entirely of women. The messages of their songs have already become a reference point in the national awareness of gender equality.
Cissé is an example for young women who shyly and fearfully approach a yembé or a sabar. For this, she decided to live in her own country with her mother, and to give percussion lessons to a group of students with whom she hopes that, little by little, it will become normal for a woman “To have a love and passion for these instruments”. She advises them to “believe in themselves and be aware that it is a job that involves sacrifice”, without losing the smile and the innate rhythm that spreads with their yembé.