Banjo man

Banjo man

A poem on reflection on meeting a banjoul player in Gambia many years ago

”Banjo man oh banjo man, an addict to your instrument
That some decry and pedigree deny
but long before the harp and fiddle, pipes and drum and pipes of aeolian
In Gambia they played the BANJOUL, for centuries or more.
The ‘jelly man’ told me so.
He holds their culture as did our Druids
I played with him banjo and banjoul
I think the Celts did pass that way
So when in session don’t decry the humble banjo
Its not an insult to tradition
but goes far back to Celtic vision

Re: Banjo man

I obviously know less about poetry than I thought. But what is a banjoul? Can you provide a link to a picture? I only know of Banjoul as a place. And sorry (really) but ‘Celtic vision’?? I need to eat some breakfast I feel queezy.

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Re: Banjo man

I used to play a bunch of "jelly roll" (Ferdinand) on the banjo. I was banjo crazy for a while…was arranging Monk for plectrum bnj before I gave it up.. (for harp and fiddle).

Oh, and anyone interested in this should watch Bela’s epic, "Throw Down Your Heart"

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Re: Banjo man

John, are you perchance referring to an ‘akonting’ when you say a ‘bajoul’. Or is it just my ignorance?

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Re: Banjo man

My guess is it’s meant to represent how someone was pronouncing banjo, though it could be a combination of banjo and soul?

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Gobby’s right its an akonting - 2 melody strings and a short thumb string. It’s even played clawhammer style.

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I was searching for ‘Banjuol’ and it turns out that the capital city of Gambia is called Banjul.
And ‘Jelly Man’ may mean eunuch.

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Thanks for all your comments and interest. On reflection I think that the instrument in question was an akonting but he said it was a banjoul. I’ve looked at pictures of an akonting and that’s what it looked like.At 78 my memory is not so good. I’m not a claw hammer player but when I had a go claw hammer seemed to work. A bit context may be useful-I was sitting playing a few tunes after a meal in a local eating house when I became aware of a very noble looking man dressed in a long green silk gown listening with interest. He told me he came from a local tribe of musicians, who preserved the local culture and invited me to visit his village. Unfortunately I heard he was taken into hospital and so I never saw him again. He unlike many of the street performers declined my offer of monetary reward for his playing and seemed rightly offended at this. He was not busking but on his way to a gig. The comment on ‘jellyman’ is interesting. He didn’t claim this title, someone else described him as such. Thanks for educating me on this instrument

Re: Banjo man

Yhaal House is correct about the meaning of a ‘Jelly Man’. It means he has been castrated. Oddly, that often made them important and sometimes quite powerful figures.

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Re: Banjo man

19th c. American historians referred to the instruments brought by slaves from West Africa as the ‘banjar’ maybe that was a mishearing of ‘banjoul’ ?

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There is an Edinburgh duo called "The Jellyman’s Daughter" which is a very clever if impossible name. :-)

They play mainly "Americana" style music but mainly original compositions. Actually very good for their chosen style and highly regarded.

Re: Banjo man

Thanks Johnny et al. Enjoyed listening to ‘Jelly man’s daughter,’Deroll Adams and Donavon. This discussion’s taking some interesting turns!but very worthwhile.

Re: Banjo man

Thanks John.

Sorry for hijacking the discussion. I found the original topic very interesting and informative too.

Re: Banjo man

Listened to ‘jelly roll’ Catty, great tune, which I hadn’t heard before even in my trad jazz days ,thanks.

Re: Banjo man

Yes John. your encounter with the Jelly Man and his story of the akonting must have been an experience worth recounting. Maybe you should give thought to re-writing your poem. The history of how the banjo evolved from Western Africa into the USA is an interesting topic, as indeed is it’s further evolution into the banjo playing of other cultural traditions. And certainly, the tenor banjo has been no insult to the Irish tradition. Careful of that word ‘Celtic’ however. It sets the nerves of some of us on edge (but lets not get into it guys!)

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Re: Banjo man

In west Africa the former Mandinka empire is now parts of the countries of
Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, Guinea and Guinea-Bisso.
That culture has a hereditary caste of musicians/historians/spokesmen that we usually
call griots (from a French term) but they call themselves Djelli (i.e. "Jelly").
A very good book to read first to get some sense of the how the Djelli fit in to modern west Africa
is Banning Eyre’s book "In Griot Time" which is about how he lived in Mali in the "compound" of
Djelimady Tounkara, the great guitarist from the Rail Band.
(besides ITM, west African music is another passion of mine— I studied Kora with Mamadou Diabate).