“Mutual gifts cement friendship”
-Ivory Coast Proverb
From his modest beginnings to the present, Trabi Lizie has gifted the world with the distinctive style of Djembe that originates from his beloved Gouru Village in the Ivory Coast. Unquestionably a master drummer, Trabi currently resides in Brooklyn, NY, where he serves as the visionary founder and Artistic Director of the Bolo Bolo Blauweh African Djembe Drum Group.
It is with great excitement that we launch the Bolo Bolo Blauweh blog, which will focus on the ancient artistic expression of Ivorian style djembe and convey the story and culture that speaks through the Djembe voice. This blog will provide information on how the rituals, customs, values and wisdom teachings that are the life-force for the language of Djembe can benefit the western world, which seems to be crying out for substantive ritual that can strengthen identity, community and ultimately heal humanity from the vices that occur when superficial and barren norms exist.
Today our blog will introduce the journey of Trabi Lizie from his Gouru village in the Ivory Coast to his current life in Brooklyn, NY. This will be one of many blogs that will primarily focus on the passages that birthed one of the world renowned Djembe/Tompolan players of our era.
On January 1, 1970 a baby boy entered the world to the festive and joyful polyrhythms of singing, clapping and dancing. The love filled atmosphere ensured that this special child was destined for something spectacular. Like in most African customs, the naming of a child is a significant rite. The name carries the mission and destiny of the child. The name Trabi Lizie was bestowed to the boy. Trabi in the Gouru language translates to mean son of the ancestors and Lizie means woman’s friend. As evidenced by his calling as a keeper of the sacred tradition of Djembe and Tompolan, Trabi is the embodiment of the legacy of his ancestors. His drumming captures the breadth and depth of his people and he literally conveys the soul of his ancestors. The folklore of the village teaches that the attribute Lizie will ensure that no matter what happens in life, the powers of a woman’s dynamism will always support him.
In the village atmosphere, absent of light and electricity and under the bright and powerful moonlight is where Trabi learned the sacred art and science of drumming from his father Basidi Bi Boti. He traveled with his father to many ceremonial functions and played strong accompaniment. His young talent began to emerge when he demonstrated the depth of the musical language and values of his people. The popular Gouru accompaniment “Sedee Ko Sedee,” played with the base was how Trabi began to build his timing, endurance, precision, clarity of notes and overall discipline as a drummer. The tonal quality that we hear in Trabi’s drumming today is attributed to being able to produce impeccable notes from the lower registered Djembe and Tompolan drums. The gazelle skinned roped with no rings were the ways that Djembe’s were crafted during the earlier years of Trabi’s playing. These were the days when the drums were tuned by fire.
Trabi’s call to the drum was recognized early in his life. As folklore tells it, Trabi’s mother sent him a Djembe from Abidjan, which gave birth to an intimate relationship with this instrument. He carried the drum everywhere and even slept with it at night. The drum was an obsession and young Trabi would cry when he had to part ways with his Djembe. Maximizing on his son’s growing passion, his father and Uncle Zamble Bi Zaway began to teach and expose him to the ways of Djembe. Djabley is another influential Djembe drummer that Trabi enjoyed studying and playing accompaniment with. Additionally, Amaday Pierre was a phenomenal Tompolan drummer who played the Bodi drum
The Gouru people are known for their sophisticated knowledge and expertise as farmers. They are also renowned for their powerful mask traditions. Ceremonial and ritual masks are significant in the traditional culture and art of people of the Gouru nation, as well as other ethnic groups of Sub-Saharan Africa. Masks have a spiritual function and they are used in ritual dances, ceremony and cultural events. The invocation of Spirit through the medium of the mask is summoned through the sacred language of the drum, the acrobatic movement of the dance, and the ritual costumes which conceal the masks-wearer’s human identity. It is this atmosphere where Trabi honed and cultivated his craft as a folkloric drummer.
Additionally, in the Gouru villages, competition helps to strengthen character and bring out the best in its people. The healthy competitive spirit is no different in a drummer’s journey. Trabi often tells the story about his nemesis, Gouble Zamble from the hills and the fierce drum battle where Trabi was victorious. It was from this event where Trabi earned and gained recognition throughout his village, which eventually led him to becoming a renowned keeper of not only the Gouru tradition, yet his popularity would lead him to the capital city – Abidjan, where his influence and reputation as a drummer grew exponentially.
The expansion of his drumming knowledge came through playing and performing with Les Guirivoires under the custodianship of the legendary Rose Marie Guiraud. Les Guirivoires served as the first national ballet of the Ivory Coast and is internationally renowned. It is here where Trabi would spend countless hours learning the drum tongues of the Beti’, Kouyaka, Mawkah, Bleusa, Lobi, Baule, Ayin and Getay to name a few. The process of learning another drum language requires humility and sacrifice. After intensive long morning work and study sessions with Les Guiivoires, at lunch time Trabi exchanged his lunch and experienced hunger in order to learn lessons from some of the master drummers from the abovementioned drum traditions throughout the Ivory Coast. Trabi learned his instructions well and has embraced the virtues of the Bolo Bolo Blauweh, which in the Gouru language means the bird that sings in all of the languages.
Now in the United States, Trabi has launched the Bolo Bolo Blauweh mission and is spreading the rich heritage and the powerful drum culture of the Ivory Coast. Bolo Bolo Blauweh is a collective of Djembe drummers, educators, artists and cultural custodians from the African Diaspora who are deeply devoted to preserving, transmitting and applying the profound wisdom teachings, customs and legacy of the people of the Ivory Coast. Through the powers of rhythm, sound, folklore and ritual, Bolo Bolo Blauweh guides humanity to a healthy self- identity, stronger kinship bonds and indigenous intelligences that can transform the wounded soul to an enlightened, self-actualized being.
Our next blog will focus on Trabi’s journey to the United States and the joys and challenges of establishing indigenous drum customs in a modern technical world. Additionally, you will get to meet the members of the group and hear their reflections and experiences with learning this powerful ritual, art form and sacred musical language.
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Bolo Bolo Blauweh Scribe