The Rapidian

Badenya Drumming Ensemble blends tradition with originality

Underwriting support from:


/Jewly Warren

I had the pleasure of seeing the drumming ensemble, Badenya, several times this past year. I was surprised to learn they had only been playing as a group since January 2009. Most of the compositions are written collectively by the members Matt Jarrells, Kurt Schmiege, Deb Stetler, Kellie Ambrose, Lee Bristol, and Sean Henry. They make it look and sound as if they have come out of the womb playing together. 

Badenya is a Malinke word for tradition and community. It also loosely means the love between a mother and child. Ask Jarrells and he may have another definition. 

Dundun and djembe music originated with the Malinke people during the end of the second Mali empire in West Africa just before the unification of West Africa under one empire. This music has since spread throughout the world. When the slaves came from Africa they had no drums and had to communicate vocally. This communication eventually became the roots of blues and jazz music.

Badenya prefers to keep the tradition of this music while still making it their own. They say the compositions are about 50 percent traditional and 50 percent original.

Henry said the composition is no different from a jazz, blues or rock band. The basic foundation in a rock band is the drummer. With Badenya it is the dun duns. In a rock band you would have a bass and guitar keeping rhythm with the beat. Badenya will have a few djembes. The vocals are compared to the lead performer which is usually also a djembe.

Stetler said  the ensemble evolved out of a drum circle she ran in Eastown. Frustrated with playing the same old stuff, Stetler, Ambrose, and Bristol decided to start to learn some more of the traditional rhythms and write their own compositions. The result - on a snowy January night at the Green Well, Badenya was born. This past February, Jarrells and Henry joined, followed by Schmige in September, who brought an extensive knowledge of the traditional Malinke rhythms to the group. The group put together a wish list in sticky notes at Founder’s on New Year’s Eve. They have already done most of the things on the list. They said they will do the same this year.

Expect to see much more from Badenya in the future.  I am waiting for the cd which will be on the list this year.  You can find out more about where to see Badenya on Facebook and Reverb Nation, and you can view some of their past performances on Youtube.

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 is when they all start talking "drummer"... ga-dinka-dunka-ba-gunk... 

Nice video and article! These guys are fun to see live. Good mix of planned and improvised parts. Lots of talent there.

Not pictured or appearing in the article is Badenya founding member Steven Wheeler, also of Glean Infusion and Thunder Moon Drum Show