After graduating with a BA in Performing Arts (main study dance) in 1981, I began my career in London as a freelance dance accompanist, playing hand drums and piano for a range of classical and contemporary dance classes. I've recorded and performed with poet Maggie Harris, winner of the Guyana Prize for Literature in 2000, worked as a movement specialist with the National Youth Music Theatre, percussionist with The London School of Puppetry, and have played marimba, piano and percussion with various bands in the East Midlands.

In 1999 I was a founder member of , a partnership specialising in West African drumming workshops, projects and courses for primary, special needs, secondary, further and adult education and inset for teachers, as well as with youth and community groups, in arts centres, prisons and at festivals. I continue this work as a freelance artist today, as well as collaborating with other musicians, dancers and theatre practitioners. I've performed at The Royal Albert Hall, as well as numerous community and charity events in the East Midlands and beyond.

My extensive experience (and apparently inimitable style!) enable all participants at every level to take part in workshops and projects that are supportive, encouraging, challenging and fun. Often focusing on traditional West African drumming, and providing drums/percussion for the whole group to be fully hands-on, students will gain a wealth of skills and understanding to inform further work, or to make a perfect introduction or climax to any project about Africa... and above all, will have lots of fun!


The Sileby Slappers

One of the sounds of the djembe is the slap ... when I moved to Sileby I couldn't resist the new name for my community drumming group! The Slappers, as we're more affectionately known, are available for any community event that would like performances or workshops to enhance their day! The group consists of students who've attended various courses I've run over the years, and who enjoy playing and performing. We've provided funky beats at Elton Village May Day, East Midlands Food and Drink Festival, The Green Place, Sileby and The HeArt of Sileby Festival, Stamford Lions Family Fun Day, and even on a carnival float at Lowdham School Fete!

Listen to the Sileby Slappers

Phil Riley and Dave Cooper

Playing as guest percussionist with Backwater is like a breath of fresh air! Lots of hard work, humour and a great party atmosphere with Phil and Coops – a great covers band for any event, book us! (But obviously say you want me to play too!)

Phil performs his own songs at a range of venues around Leicestershire. We've been adding arrangements for piano and percussion, and can be found at open mics from time to time as a duo. Bob Spencer's Acoustic Knights in Sutton Cheney is a favourite, along with John Montague's Monty's Acoustic Club in East Goscote.  Great places to play, with lots of great musicians and audiences. Leicester's Criterion has hosted a couple of duo gigs too!

Other interesting info........

Basic Principles of the West African Drum Group and Traditional Rhythms

There will generally be no more than 7 drummers in a group. One will be the lead drummer – Master Drummer or Griot – whose craft will have been passed down through generations of experts in the family. Their job is to lead the group and perform highly skilled improvised solos over the top of the main rhythms of each dance. One drummer will play the bass drums (doundouns/ djun-djuns) and others will play djembes or other drums (depending on country) and percussion. All rhythms are cyclical, doun-douns providing a bass ostinato under the main djembe parts.

Drum and Percussion Suppliers : Soar Valley Music

Many of you will know that Soar Valley Music, based in Rothley, Leicestershire, are importers of drums and percussion instruments from around the world. They provide a very good service for schools, and I would recommend them, should you wish to buy resources. They also have books, cds, dvds etc. They can be contacted on, or phone 0116 230 4926. Feel free to mention my name!

Origins of the Djembe

The djembe is a Mandé drum, found in all of West Africa, where it is one of the most common instruments. There is general agreement that the origin of the djembe is associated with a class of Mandinka/Susu blacksmiths known as Numu. The wide dispersion of djembe drums throughout West Africa may be due to Numu migrations dating from the first millennium A.D.

Some modern players trace the djembe back 3,000 years to the Bamana ethnic group from the Wosolo region of what is now Mali. The Bamana people have a word "jebebara" or "unity drum" (Abdouli Diakite). Despite the associations of the djembe with the Numu, there do not appear to be hereditary restrictions upon who can play the djembe, as occurs with some other African instruments. Spelling "jembe" with the "dj" comes from the fact that French has no hard "j" sound like that found in English. The "dj" is used to indicate the hard "j" pronunciation. The French were instrumental in studying and describing African drumming to the world. However, colonization by the French is a sore spot for many West African people and spelling jembe with the "d" can be a painful reminder of that. Since independence (1958-1960) African governments have been working toward indigenous ways of spelling their local languages in accordance with international standards of phonetic transcription. (research taken from