Michael J. Taylor, more commonly known simply as ‘Taylor’, is a bi-racial human who has been teaching, performing, and recording West African percussion since 1994. He authored the book “Remembering Your Ancestral Fire” published May 2023. He is also the owner and driving force behind Holy Goat Percussion, he imports, sells and repairs West African drums, teaches, is a Tam Tam Mandingue Djembe Academy Senior Certified Instructor, is the director of the Tam Tam Mandingue Djembe Academy – Chicago, School of Percussion and is a Lead Facilitator with Sewa Beats USA. He created the shamanic ritual the DRUMeditation™, created from his early times drumming having out-of-body experiences and astral travels, then reshaped after readings and validation with Elder Dr Malidoma Patrice Somè. His main instruments are the djembe, dunun and Malinke flute (tambin), but he plays a wide assortment of other drums including bugaraboo, congas, frame drum, bongos, and doumbek. Click here for his full CV/resumé.
Check out the interview I did with World Percussion and Rhythm Magazine, Nov ’07
- Check out the interview I did with World Percussion and Rhythm Magazine, Nov ’07 (In this article, I referred to the caste of blacksmiths as the ‘Nalu’ – that was a typo – the caste of blacksmiths in djembe culture are the ‘NUMUN’.)
- See some of my videos on YouTube
- WBEZ (the Chicago NPR affiliate; 91.5 FM) had previously aired a spoken word and music piece entitled “Drumming and Community.” Click for a broadcast recording from Sept 4th, 2002.
- WBEZ featured the track “Stalker” from Silence on the “Local Music Corner”. Click for a broadcast recording from Sept 27th, 2002.
Taylor has studied in Africa and America with a number of expert djembe and dunun players, among them: Grand Master Drummer Mamady Keita, (click here for some live Mamady!) Grand Master Drummer Famoudou Konate, Master Dancer Moustapha Bangoura, Mahiri Fadjimba-Keita, Yaya Kabo, Master Drummer Gbanworo Keita, Master Drummer Laurent Camara, Master Drummer Abdoul Doumbia, Master Drummer Madou Dembele, Minto Camara, Arthur Hull, Yaya Diallo, and Jahamen Mobley.
He graduated from Illinois State University in 1991 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications, majoring in public relations with a minor in philosophy. He went on to work as a computer consultant for corporations including Transamerica, Comdisco and the Gateway (computers) Country Stores while pursuing an acting career.
Heeding the call
So how did he end up playing djembe and teaching West African percussion? Good question. The short answer: Divine serendipity. The long answer involves ancestral guidance and a game-changing meeting(s) with the Master Diviner Elder Dr Malidoma Somé.
“In the Dagara culture the drum is a transportation device that carries the listener into other worlds. Only the sound of the drum has the power to help one travel in this specific way. The magic works only when the drummer coaxes special rhythms, not just banging noises, out of it. The journeys that can be taken with the drum concern not only the listener, but the drummer too. Where the soundship goes, everybody goes. To refuse to drum is to refuse to travel. To forget how to drum is to forget how to feel.”
—Malidoma Patrice Some
Elder medicine-man, diviner, shaman of the Dagara culture in what is now called Burkina Faso, West Africa, from his first book “Of Water and the Spirit”
For other stuff, read the article “Light” on the Writings page.
From the horse’s mouth, “What I have done and do now as a percussionist includes a whole range of things. I have performed and/or recorded with artists and organizations from West Africa, Asia, South America, Australia, North America, and Europe, including members of Les Ballets Africains, Ballets Djoliba, Les Merveilles d’Afrique and Les Ballets Africains de Silimbo.
I am founder and artistic director of the ‘djembe orchestra’ ensemble Kaben Kafo, performing djembe and dunun rhythms and songs primarily. The name “Kaben Kafo” (let’s play together) was gifted to me by Mamady Keita, when I was telling him about a new ensemble that I was to putting together, focussing on going deeper into traditional repertoire and that it needed a name. Kaben Kafo is comprised of some of Chicago’s most studied and gifted djembe/dunun professionals, getting together to breathe deeply with the intricacies, complexities and depth that is part of the deeper recesses of djembe music. currently our instrumentation is djembe, dunun, balafon, malinke flute, tama, bolon. Secondarily, Kaben Kafo branch out into other forms of ethnic drumming. I also create and perform in original performance art pieces with the the Fo’ and other artists, combining drums, spoken word, and theater.
The djembe is known in some areas of the world as the “healing drum“. Based on my own out-of-body experiences had while drumming on the shores of lake Michigan by myself, I created the DRUMeditation sessions.
I have created 2 ground-breaking instructional dvds; one focused on traditional djembe technique entitled Remembering How To Drum and the other focused on the essential repetition that comes with mastery of the djembe entitled Akaran Iko Iko. I have recorded three cds of original West African djembe-based music: A Touch of Chaos in the Rhythmic Soup has been in stores since 1996; Silence has been out since late 2001; and Silence in the Rhythmic Soup – Rhythmic Environments for Yoga and meditation was released Spring 2003.
WBEZ (the Chicago NPR affiliate) featured the track “Stalker” from Silence on the “Local Music Corner”. Click for a broadcast recording from Sept 27th, 2002.
WBEZ had previously aired a spoken word and music piece entitled “Drumming and Community.” Click for a broadcast recording from Sept 4th, 2002.
I teach djembe and dunun both privately and in classes at locations throughout the city of Chicago. Check the schedule for a class near you. As a teacher, I combine a broad range of experience in theater, music, communications, and philosophy with knowledge and respect for the traditions of West Africa and the cognitive effects of rhythm. I encourage my students to explore both the traditional rhythms and their individual expression on the drum.
In addition to my adult classes, I have taught drumming successfully to children, high school students, and the behaviorally and mentally delayed youth through the Chicago Park District, After School Matters, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Old Town School of Folk Music, Tam Tam Mandingue, Intl, Urban Gateways, and other organizations.
It has been fascinating to watch young students begin to understand what it is to “understand” on a deeper level as they learn to drum. The potential for drumming to improve education overall is clearly very high. I look forward to incorporating more djembe/dunun classes in the schools in years to come.”
You know what they say about drummers and computer geek’s: drummers have more fun. But seriously, my mission as a drummer is to serve two things: the self and the community. As I take advantage of all that the drum has to offer in my journey as an individual, I seek to help others do the same.
I believe that drumming provides a conduit to the primal self that can free individuals from constraints on their bodies, minds, and spirits. My goal here is to facilitate freedom on and through the drum— freedom to express the whole self.
At the same time, the drum is really a community instrument. For all the separate reasons that drummers drum, when we play together and everyone is in sync, time, space, and individual differences disappear. In today’s world, I see a deficit of community because people are so focused on their differences that they don’t know they can feel anything other than separate and divided. But I believe drumming wakes people up to the reality of our all being connected. I seek to exploit this aspect of the drum as a “magic carpet” that can show us the way to a better, more harmonious existence.