Leon HOU - Dunun Player from Shenzhen

Before 2008 I played drums and ended up being part of a punk band. In March 2008 our singer took me to a park. Some people were playing djembe there. I liked it very much and, at the beginning, we just organized drum circles then later, we started to play traditional Mandingo music. Since 2008 I have attended workshops with African masters such as Mamady KEITA, Cece KOLY and Famoudou KONATE, BANGOURAKE, Babara BANGOURA, and switched to dunun playing. I've just started playing the djembe again.
Since when have people been interested in learning djembe music and African dance in China?
Since 2006, there was a first djembe drum circle in Shanghai, then Shenzhen, which is my hometown, Guangzhou, Beijing, Hongkong... There is still a lack of dancers.
How is djembe music generally considered by people out of the djembe community?
Most of the Chinese who don't play djembe feel that it is a charming musical instrument, girls especially.
How do Chinese people communicate with African masters? What are the common expectations in learning situations?
Mostly in English. I personally speak Chinese and English, having studied French for three months, I think I might go to Guinea for one month to be able to communicate fluently in french . More and more people are attending more and more workshops with African masters in mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, even in Africa. Some Chinese djembe teachers try hard to play well, most of them learning with Mamady KEITA.

The most popular questions people ask me are:"How to play a good sound on djembe or dunun" and "Is there an easy way to play well and become a djembe master".

Most of the Chinese djembe teachers want to become master djembefolas. Most of them already have a musical background, like drums, piano... Some of them have written student books, but I seldom read them because they are just copies of already existing material like "A Life for the Djembe" or "WAP".
Based on what we can see on Youtube or Facebook it looks like the focus is about playing traditional music as closed as possible to the original.
Yes, because the experience of the West African music in China is quite short. At the beginning, some masters supplied a fixed framework for Chinese students, stating that "we" have to respect African tradition. Chinese students accepted it.
Do some people play the djembe out of the african perspective?
Jump", Singapore TTM director, Kelvin KEW realized a mix of djembe music, rock & fusion.
African and Asian people have in common a deep acceptance of hierarchy and elders respect. In my opinion, this shared mindset could be an advantage when learning this music. What do you think about that?
Yes, Asian djembe players respect traditional style much more than other areas of the world. This helps to play the trickiest grooves. Problem is some complex Mandingo rhythms are very difficult to get accepted by common audiences, like Dunumba rhythms for example - Dunumba is my favorite BTW!
Are djembe music and African dance an underground practice or are there links with other styles of music and dance? Do institutions show some interest in it?
There are a few West African professional dancers in China. At the moment the college doesn't show a real interest in it. Some drum companies started to set up "team building" drum circles for enterprises. Some medias also argue it's good for personal improvement to practice the djembe.
Do Chinese djembe teachers teach in a different way that African do? If so, how?
Yes, Chinese teachers mostly like to use notation, they always say "down beat, off beat" and like to count the beats, but in my opinion there's a lack of "African way" practice. The few teachers who have been to Africa use the "African way" to teach: students just have to keep playing along with them. One could say there is lack of words but their skills are good. Other teachers, which is most teachers, will explain more, but their skills are not so good.
What do you have in mind when you play?
I try to relate as much as I can with the other musicians. The audience's response is also a big factor which motivates me to keep playing well. Sometimes an image of notation can appear in my mind Happy. All of this guides me to play with the appropriate timing. It's also a great source of inspiration to play along with a masterful soloist while listening to his/her solo sentences.
What is your vision of how djembe music could evolve in China?
During 2014, Chinese djembe teachers and sellers organized five workshops with James KWAN (TTM teacher, HK) and Hiroki MURAI (TTM Director, the best djembefola of Japan) in HangZhou, Mamady KEITA in Zhaoqing, Bolokada CONDE in Shenzhen, Babara BANGOURA in Dalian and Famoudou KONATE & Babara BANGOURA in Taiwan. Six more workshops are already scheduled in China for 2015, and many people are working on this, so I think the vision should be much clearer than before.
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