Mamady stayed with Ballet Koteba for a year and a half. In 1988, the Belgian non-profit organization Zig Zag invited Mamady to teach and perform in Brussels at Zig Zag’s school of percussion.
In the same year, Mamady established his own performance ensemble, Sewa Kan. (He continues to perform with Sewa Kan to date; the group includes such notable players as Babara Bangoura, Souleymane Camara, Cécé Koly, and Youssouf Traore.) Sewa is the Malinké word for “joy”, and kan means “sound”, so the group’s name literally means “The sound of joy.” The name refers to a Malinké proverb which says:
Ni kan tiyen, sewa tiyen. Ni sewa tiyen, kantiyen.
“Without music, there is no joy. Without joy, there is no music.”
In 1989, Mamady recorded his first album with Sewa Kan, titled Wassolon, produced by Zig Zag and Fonti Musicali. He has continued to record over years, producing an additiona eleven albums, with Hakili being the most recent (see Discography).
In 1990, Mamady was the first percussionist to organize a drum and dance workshop in collaboration with Guinea’s Secretary of Arts and Culture. The four-week camp was officially recognized as an international cultural exchange by the secretary, who hosted the 35 European students who attended. Mamady continues to host students in Guinea annually; in 2007, he took a group of his most talented students back to his birth village Balandugu to perform there.
In 1992 September 2, Mamady opened his own school of percussion in Brussels, called Tam Tam Mandingue (“drums of the Mandingue”). The school rapidly gained an international reputation and Mamady opened branches in other countries, including Germany, France, Portugal, Israel, the United States, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and Australia. Currently, there are over a dozen Tam Tam Mandingue schools, each headed by a school director who is personally selected by Mamady for his or her playing and teaching skills. As part of this accreditation program, Mamady also created the Tam Tam Mandingue Certificate as well as the Tam Tam Mandingue Diploma of Proficiency. These are the only formal qualifications for Mandingue drumming in the world; certificate and diploma holders are personally tested by Mamady not only for their skill on djembe on dunun, but also for their knowledge of Malinké rhythms and culture.
Also in 1991, Mamady’s story was put on the big screen by Laurent Chevallier’s documentary Djembefola. The film depicts Mamady’s return to Balandugu after a 26-year absence. The film contains outstanding footage of rehearsals and performances by Mamady and Ballet Djoliba, as well as heart-wrenching scenes in Balandugu as Mamady is reunited with his family. The documentary won the Wisselzak Trophy, Special Jury Award, and Audience Award at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam. Djembefola propelled the djembe to a place of international prominence and was a major contributor to the rise in popularity of the instrument. The 1998 follow-up documentary Mögöbalu, also by Chevallier, presents concert footage uniting four master drummers (Mamady Keîta, Soungalo Coulibaly, Famoudou Konaté, and Doudou N’Diaye Rose) in a single performance.
In 1994, Japanese producer Nonoue Katsuo and Sponichi TV News created the documentary Mamady Keïta and 38 Little Hands, which follows Mamady to Mishima, a small island in the far south of Japan, where he teaches a group of Japanese children to play djembe and dunun. The children perform with Mamady in Japan’s largest cities before Mamady has to say a very emotional goodbye.
Today, Mamady continues to spend many months of the year traveling the world and carrying out his mission to preserve and share the tradition and the music of the djembe.