A pillar in the Los Angeles African community with decades of experience and education shared within the community. Pop Diouf is a much appreciated and valuable cultural gem to the Leimert Park Village. A gewel (griot), master drummer, teacher and pillar in ‘The Village’s’ drum circles and drum classes. Pop is a positive inspiration, culture bearer and rhythmic reverberation of music, education and culture, for the healing and unity of the African community in Los Angeles and all points beyond.
By LaMar Anderson | July 23, 2021 | 6:00am
Many know you as “Pop”, let’s talk about your origin story if you will, and your journey to becoming a master drummer and teacher.
Yes, my name is Pop Diouf.
Where are you from originally?
I am from Senegal, West Africa.
How long have you been in Los Angeles, California, or the US?
For 21 years now. I’m from Senegal, coming from the family griot. So my family; they are griot [s]. The French say griot; we say gewel. I am a gewel. What I am doing here in my life; it is drumming, singing and dancing, and making drums. That’s how I make a living for my who family. So the guy who brought me here [US] in ’96 his name was Mark Garrison, he passed away, but I was in Arizona. After I was finished in Arizona, I went to Atlanta, then I came here to LA.
When you grew up in Senegal, you were a gewel or griot in the sense that we know it to be a carrier of history, storytellers, and oral traditions of music.
Yes, the griot is a storyteller.
You’re also a master drummer. Were you trained to be a musician as part of your upbringing as well?
Yes, I always say -music for me is my life because I got that from my great-great-grandfather and my mom too, that’s how I got the music. It’s inside like when they say “bloodline”; I got that from my blood. So I can not miss it, I have to do it, I love it, and I respect it, you know.
Everything that I have in my life, I have it from the drumming and the music. So when they say -music – it’s not only about drumming. Everything you do to make yourself happy; move, beat, feeling, energy, power, all these coming from the music. You see what I’m saying? You can lay down, sleep and play music, you can walk; even how you walk you can make music on that, you cooking you can make music on that. So music is music, yeah.
From the time you were small, it sounds like you were being trained in the ways of rhythm as griot [gewel] and the creation of sound and recognizing music from every aspect of life.
Did your training transfer to some form of schooling or teaching from child to adulthood to where you became recognized as a musician and master drummer?
Yeah, for teaching. So now, they have a lot of people teaching. But teaching is different. Some people they learn, they practice, got some [practice] and go teach. Like Africa, Senegal where I’m from, we don’t go to school to practice music. We just learn from like this [drum circle] when we were like seven years or five years [old] we start to play. Everywhere your parents go, or your brothers take you, and they help you little by little to start, that’s how you grow.
So, when you grow up, your teacher or father is supposed to let you know you are ready to teach. People don’t do that now; they just go teach. But our country, from a long time ago, before you teach your teacher or parents have to give you permission to teach because they wanted to make sure you know what your teaching. Someone who grows like that is different from somebody who practices because you can practice for twenty-five years, but you still don’t know the history. But if you take it from your parents, your family, your blood, you know the history, you know the song, you know the day you’re supposed to play, what month, what year-the time, all of this kind of stuff. And what kind of ceremony you play for this that’s why teaching is not easy.
At what age were you given permission to teach?
I was ready to teach a long time ago when I was sixteen, but my teacher was still teaching me more because he wanted me to be strong enough to know what I am doing. So when he asked me -are you ready to teach- I was like maybe nineteen-twenty I was in school. But soon as he gave me permission to teach, that’s when I messed up my school. I stopped going to school-no more school. Yeah, because that’s the time I started to travel.
Were you traveling as a result of playing music, or were you traveling to see the world?
No, everywhere I go in this world, they hire me to play music, everywhere. My first time I traveled was to France with my group. Before I do anything, I have my own group. That’s how I started to travel. I have traveled so many places, and I came to the United States. I go back home, and my mind and energy tell me to come back here; that’s how I came back here [US].
What’s the name of your group?
The name of the group is Balle Fette Bu Senegal. I’ve had that since I was seven years old, and I don’t want to change it. I keep that name for my business and everything that I am doing. It is Balle Fette Bu Senegal.
You’ve been touring with Balle Fette Bu Senegal and teaching; how did you find yourself in Leimert Park?
How I find myself here, before I came here, I lived in Pasadena. So, my ex-wife met me over there in Pasadena. So the first class I played here in the United States was drum class. So she was from here [Leimert Park] and went to the class in Pasadena; she told me she saw a music store called Motherland Music in LA. Do you want to go over there?- she said. I said, ‘Ok.’ I don’t know anything here, but that would be very nice because I like to do music, that’s my thing. That’s how she brought me here [Leimert Park]. So when we came here, Leimert Park, I just come and visit for a couple weeks. So [after] a couple weeks, I found one store here. It was not a store; it was like a little hospital. So my wife tells me, let’s rent this place and do business. That’s how I came to Leimert Park.
What year did this happen?
That was around seventeen years ago. I lived in Leimert Park for seven years and had my own business. It was like a clinic, and after they closed it, for years nobody used it, so I rented the place and took all the stuff outside and gave it away. It was right here next door to the liquor store [Hubert’s]; it’s a restaurant now [Azla Ethiopian Eatery].
What did you call the business at that time?
I called the business Jumbilin Music. That was my first business when I lived over there. I lived upstairs and did the business downstairs. So when the business messed up, I changed it and did all the business as Balle Fette Bu, but Balle Fette Bu Senegal used to be for my dance group company.
So Balle Fette Bu Senegal was a dance company first. Then at some point, you decided to move into drum making and other instrumentation?
Yes, everything I am doing now, I put Balle Fette Bu Senegal.
Who was the person that brought you to the US?
Two people brought me here. His name is Charles; he brought me here in ’96. So when I came, I worked with him for one month and a half, and I go back home. So when I went back home, I stayed for a couple of weeks and came back with Mark; he passed away-he lived in Arizona.
How did you get involved with working with Motherland Music?
So Motherland, when my ex-wife brought me here [Leimert Park] and introduced me to Dan, I went over there to visit and see everything, you know. There is one drum they call “Sabar” it was there, so I see the sabar and try it, and Dan sees me and says -Ok [and asks] you from Senegal?-I say -yes. He asks if I make drums, and I say -this is my life, this is what I do, and I am looking for a job. That’s how Dan hired me.
So at the point when Dan offered you a job, had you been doing your own business?
I worked with Dan ten almost eleven years. After I opened my own business, I basically was working [both] because sometimes he’d give me a job. He’d bring me a lot of drums at my place, I’d fix it, we’d work together. When I closed down my store, I’d go back again over there [Motherland Music].
Tell us a little bit about your involvement with the drum circle over the years and what it is today. How did the classes that you offer in both Leimert Park and Motherland Music come about?
Yeah, here the Sunday Class I started with some people who were doing meditation. So when they do meditation, they feel like they need drumming. They hired me to play the drums. It used to be at Washington, so when I do, the class over there is was not [drum] class. It was meditation but every Sunday. When I started to do that, I said -I think I can teach. So when I came here [Leimert Park], I started the class with Queen Aminah. At that time, the class was with two or three people, and I kept doing it and kept doing it and kept doing it until we could not fit inside and went outside. When we came outside, they didn’t call it class. They called it a “drum circle,” but it’s not a drum circle. This is a drum circle [motions to drummers playing in front of the Vision Theatre]. “Class” we teach them how to play, sing, the history, you know all of those things; that’s why it’s class and different than drum circle. Drum circle, you play whatever you want, but a class has order and one per lead the whole class. That’s how I started here.
Can you speak a little more about how or why a drum class is different from a drum circle? As well as the differences between your Friday class at Motherland Music starts with breaking bread as you cook and feed the students before class begins. I heard them learning Wolof, as well not only learning your history but that of your culture. The drum class in Leimert Park on Sundays teaches dance as well, which is being taught simultaneously.
Yes, the class at Motherland and the class here [Leimert Park] is different. Why it’s different, here they have a lot of people. And I have something I can not share with everybody here because some people are serious and some people are not serious about it. That’s why that class at Motherland is different. So that class at Motherland, we have something in the class to keep for us to protect ourselves our culture. So while I am cooking, I am supporting the people who are supporting the class. And a lot of riddims [rythms], we have a lot of riddims, we have certain food have the same name with the riddim. It’s better if you know the name of the riddim and the name of the food. So I want to teach them how to say the name of the food, how to cook the food and when we finish doing that we start the drumming class. I want them to know everything and don’t want them to miss anything.
I cook for them because if you want to know the culture, I think it’s better that you know the whole thing about the culture. You better know how to speak the culture, how to say the name of the food, what kind of food and how to make the food too. Yeah.
What are the times that the class takes place on Friday at Motherland Music?
The class begins at 3pm, but people come at 1pm to write down everything before we do the class. Eat, talk, speak Wolof, you know, have fun and go do the class.
How long have you been doing the class at Motherland Music?
A long time.
I’ve been doing the class at Motherland for a long time. I used to have two classes at Motherland; Sabar class and Djembe class, but it’s a lot of work for me; that’s why I do only one class now.
What does Leimert Park mean to you personally, considering all the years coming and experiencing the village?
So, Leimert Park, I love Leimert Park because the first thing I learned from Leimert Park is they call it “Village”. We’re missing some little things at Leimert Park, missing a little bit, but maybe one day it’s gonna come, you know. At home [Senegal] when we say – a village – everybody is the same, everybody work together, we help each other, you know. We support everybody, the people who make food, we support them, the people who do the class, we support it. The people sell anything; we support them and be together, no fighting, no hating each other or this kind of stuff. Because when they call it a village, we have to be together. Every time I am here Sundays, it looks like I am back home because that is what we do every day. Every day in Africa is like this. That’s why I love Leimert Park.
What would you like to share with anybody who’s thinking about coming to Leimert Park, whether setting expectations or something you’re excited for them to see? Also, what’s it missing that you would like to see here?
What I like to see here are the people. The first thing is -be together ’cause that’s the whole thing. Be together, no fighting. Sometimes people like to fight. Some people like to divide people, and that’s not good. We’ve got to be together, work together, you know. Respect everybody; that’s what I want to share with people and let them know that, because when they say -the village- we have to keep the village. If we don’t work together, we might be lost, we might be messy, and it might be taken from us.
What are you excited about for yourself or your business for the remaining part of the year?
I am excited about a lot of things like my class is developing right now. It’s big but class getting bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger, you know. The drum circle is getting bigger, and people are starting to come because a couple years ago, it was not like this [crowded]. So now everybody is selling food, clothes, everything, so it’s getting better and better.
How can we connect with Pop for classes or Balle Fette Bu Senegal?
Yeah, you can meet me here [Leimert Park] or go to Motherland Music.
Any questions about Djembe class, times, rythmes
Pop Diouf phone: 323.984-4066
Bookings for Pop Diouf and Balle Fette Bu Senegal
Akilah Lynch: 323-809-9505
601 N Eucalyptus Ave, Inglewood, CA 90302
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