Four hours after leaving Bissau, the driver of the old Peugeot van points out the nearest road to Tabatô.
We left for a small village with wandering pigs, chickens and goats.
As is also usual in these parts, sacks of charcoal are decorated.
Women in mutual hairdressing mode show us the right path. We followed him, in the middle of the cashew forest, the main livelihood of almost all the villages in the region.
Another group joins us. They are residents of Tabatô. They go to their tabanca.
Some balance loads on their heads. Neither that nor the little Portuguese they speak prevents us from establishing an elementary communication.
After passing a bare soccer field, we come across the houses at the final destination.
In the temporary absence of Demba, with whom we had arranged to visit the village, Fili, another of the Djabaté brothers, welcomes us.
They are prodigious musicians from the village, heirs to the common nickname that defines the “djébates”, “the builders”, in this case, of the balafons that the community has perfected and played for a long time.
Fili shows us a room in one of the houses where they are kept.
And outside, where they burned and dried the wood that, based on gourds, produces the characteristic sound of an African xylophone.
Cicerone Demba and an Initial Tour of Tabatô
Demba appears. She takes on the role of host and the responsibility of introducing us to the community elders and leaders.
We found them in the shade of a tree, in front of the pink mosque in the tabanca. the jilabas and kufis white women who dress confirm the Muslim faith of the tabanca.
Demba installs us face to face. Translator is assumed.
It helps us to explain what we did and how we could help to promote the secular art of Tabatô. We see ourselves approved.
Demba begins a tour of the village. He begins with his stepmothers' house, the women who took care of him after his mother's death, when he was still a child.
From their stepmothers, we passed on to the other brothers, from the same father Aladjer Imutar Djabaté (one of the leaders who had validated us) but from different mothers.
Tabatô: the Tabanca of the Great Djabaté Family
In one sitting, we met Bubacar and Mutaro. Of the brothers, we see in the young Mutaro, the one most similar to his father Aladjer. It is he who hosts us.
In terms of living geography, Bubacar proves to be the most familiar. With his youngest son in his lap, he tells us about his other existence, that of Lisbon. Of the life he leads in Arroios, Martim Moniz and at Castelo de São Jorge, where he sells handicrafts and supplements the money from his musical shows.
In Lisbon, but not only, Bubacar Djabaté is often presented as the master of the balafom. In the image of another famous name generated by the tabanca and resident of Lisbon, the also singer Kimi Djabaté.
Mutaro, on the other hand, had never been to Portugal. Even so, he surprises us with an almost-perfect Portuguese that we praise him for.
At hot times, its porch guarantees shade for socializing with brothers and other natives of Tabatô from different generations, many of them curious children.
We indulged in a traditional Muslim lunch, a big helping of rice and chicken, drizzled with a spicy okra sauce. We share the repast with the brothers and several other diners.
They, from Tabatô, eat by hand. We, outsiders, with spoons that, out of respect for what we were used to, they allow us to use.
After the meal, Demba summons us to a new conference with the elders. We confirmed our monetary contribution for the visit and the exhibition with which the tabanca would arrest us.
We chose the place that seemed suitable for the photographic and video work that we were going to carry out. We opted for the space between the mango tree and the mosque, the same as the initial meeting.
With the essentials resolved, the elders, Demba and the brothers, summon the djidius(musicians) of the village.
In a flash, they roll out a large red carpet covered in African motifs.
A wicker screen sets a background for the orchestra. In this space, the balaphonists, the drummers and jambés and even one of corá.
Iaia Djabaté, brother of Aladjer Imutar, dictates a final adjustment. At the same time, the musicians tune their instruments and give a short rehearsal altogether.
Tabanca em Peso's Goosebumps Performance
Demba, tells us that what follows is something that, to our satisfaction, the tabanca holds us. You djidius de Tabatô begin to play.
And, us, filming them.
In the center, flanked by children who imitate them, Fili and Mutaro, the outstanding balaphonists, generate accelerated rhythms and melodies that the drum and iron players accompany.
Women add their voices to them.
Queta and Fatou propagate them with megaphones in hand, in the same sinuous tones to which the dancers and choirs undulate their bodies and long colorful dresses, followed by the now drummer, Iaia Djabaté.
We still get chills with the genuineness and intensity of the performance when Baidi, the most exuberant of the jambé players, in a yellow costume and a whistle in his mouth, assumes a frenetic role and enriches the already incredible diversity of sounds and visuals.
In this ecstasy, four themes are completed.
Bubacar, who participated as a drummer, translates the ceremonial words of Imutar Djabaté.
After the performance, little by little, the djidius return to their homes and their day clothes.
Demba, retrieve the incomplete tour.
We pass by the water pump, where several girls from the tabanca fill bowls and socialize.
Also by the football field, where men and boys play a dusty game.
As a protocol duty, Demba also introduces us to the Fula chief of Tabatô and the Fula sector of the tabanca, in political terms, the predominant one.
Tabatô and the Migration of the Mandinka Djidius
It's something that only historical context of these parts of West Africa explains.
Let's go back to 1866.
A wave of coalition and imposition of Fula Islamic states overthrew the Mandinka Empire of Kaabu (Gabu).
Among others, this coalition took the Boké region, south of Guinea Bissau (today part of Guinea Conakry).
However, until then, stabilized and prolific there, the Mandinka subgroup djidiu he was forced to find new stops.
They traveled north. It is said that they stopped at Koiada, at Sintchan Ocko, on the current border between the Guineas. And in Gabu, already in Guinea Bissau, destined for Geba, west of Amílcar Cabral's native Bafatá.
As Demba explains, “during his journey, the local Fula chief (Mamadu Alfa) recognized the value of the presence of the djidius. He granted them the land they needed to settle in present-day Tabatô”.
With djidius from Boké, the balafom arrived, the instrument they played at the behest of those who required their animation and which served as their livelihood.
An Art that the Times and Guinea Bissau made less Profitable
They often did so at weddings of wealthy and powerful people, where they sang and told their story, where they accompanied the bride and groom to their married home.
These performances yielded them a good profit, one or two cows from the régulo and additional contributions from families and participants.
Later, several djabatés spread the art of Tabatô around the world.
In 1940, Bunun Ka Djabaté exhibited his skills as a balaphonist at the Colonial Exhibition in Lisbon. Cherno Djabaté, in always artistic China and in Korea.
Over the years, compounded by the post-colonial chaos of Guinea Bissau, the djidius' opportunities and rewards have diminished.
In another era, full-time prodigious musicians, the Mandinka of Tabatô now have to secure crops and raise cattle.
This notion helps us to understand the importance of the financial contribution we make.
Gathering under the Starry Sky of Guinea Bissau
We had dinner in the same shared mode.
Soon, we regained living together on Mutaro's porch, with the same brothers, with Fanta and Satan, Bubacar's twin daughters, with other teenagers and children, who were more and more at ease with us and having fun.
Under the sky dotted with other stars, Mutaro, Bubacar and Demba play the guitar and sing.
The children accompany us, in tune, in a dazzling display of intergenerational harmony that, the next morning, back at Fili's house, we see replicated.
The Super Kamarimba and Memorable International Participations of Tabatô
Ali, Demba, Mutaro, Fili, Baidi, other Djabatés of the same generation and their descendants play, sing and dance under another of Tabatô's musical names, the family band Super Kamarimba.
We applaud them and thank them for the commitment they dedicated to us, being, as we were, such a small audience.
The time has come for us to say goodbye. Demba takes us to his father Aladjer Imutar's house. This one sits on a bulky pink sofa. We send you the stipulated payment.
The old man praised the way we had shown up, alone, walking into the village, instead of being guided, as usual. He recalls how much the recovery of Tabatô's importance depended on visits like ours.
In this same logic, he tells us glories of other times.
The year 1982 in which the late president Nino Vieira invited the tabanca to represent Guinea Bissau in a an international festival internationally in South Korea. “We were in second place, behind Tanzania. And we only took five elements, he stresses.”
“We are certain that, if they had performed with more musicians and dancers, with the beauty that we had seen and filmed, they would have won.” we answered him.
Like us, the leader of the musicians knew this to be true.
And that his talented Tabatô deserved all the support that, in vulnerable and unstable Guinea Bissau, he has been lacking.