Knowledge and history of the djembe (2023)

Knowledge and history of the djembe (1)

The economy took a turn for the worse, reflected in the listless mood of Rhythm Fusion, a small but world-renowned shop specializing in percussion instruments (like the djembe) from around the world. The corner shop had a long history and was a busy bustle for years, but now our favorite neighbor's regular noise complaints went unreported for weeks, maybe months.

Just as I was contemplating the unnatural silence in the drum shop, three local musicians walked in. We nodded gratefully and they immediately turned to the djembes; I don't know why - none of the three had any history with the djembe, none of the three had any experienceDjembefola— but I'm glad they did.


The djembe is a West African cup-shaped hand drum, 11 to 14 inches in diameter and about 24 inches high. Technically, it belongs to the family of percussion instruments known as membranophones, as it consists of a case covered with a rawhide membrane, usually derived from goatskin or cowhide.

Ideally, the bowl is hand carved from a single piece of hardwood, resulting in a resultHelmholtzow-Rezonator, which gives it a deep bass. Before the 20th century, the membrane was attached to the carapace with sinew, gut, or a strip of rawhide. Today, stretch-resistant nylon and/or polyester ropes are the norm.

Wood density, carving patterns, skin characteristics, and the general shape and proportions of the shell give the African djembe a versatile voice.

Origin of the djembe

Culturally, the djembe is an African icon steeped in lore, at least some of which is likely based on a true story. Because African history was not documented in writing until recently, much of what is known about African drumming has been passed down through oral tradition.

That is a common beliefand a, orWrought, of the Malinka people of Guinea, were the first to carve the djembe and originally played the drum only when iron ore was smelted. Another story tells of a woman who, while grinding millet, pierced the bottom of an old threshing machine and had the ingenuity to put a skin on it.

Ready to grind the millet Knowledge and history of the djembe (2)
Those:Barry Pousman

The Baman people of Mali adhere to this proverbAnke dje, anke be, which means in translationgather in peaceserves to give the djembe its name and define its purpose.YESTERDAYis translated intogetting together, IMay beis translated intomir. Infant. . . djembe According to the highly respected DjembefoloAbdoulaye Diakite – The Best of Abdoulaye Diakitea, was originally called drumDamn Barra, which does ______________ meandrum of unity.

This might be a good time to point out that the djembe has many nicknames including jembe, jimbay, djimbe and jimbe.

The cultural significance of the djembe

Whatever the truth about the history of the djembe, the drum is now an integral part of West African culture. For storytellers and healers, the brilliant and expressive voice of the djembe is the perfect complement to their art. The instrument serves to even out differences between the men of the community. Djembes are a dance instrument used for social occasions such as births, funerals, weddings, rites of passage, and crop planting and harvesting, each with their own songs, dances, and rhythms.

Knowledge and history of the djembe (3)

On these occasions it is common to have two djembes and oneDununaccompanythey're gone, ortellerin the common circle. The women take turns singing, clapping, and dancing in the center of the circle as the spirit moves them. TheDjembefola, orDjembe master, directing the tempo of the song and dance, adjusting the tempo while one dancer or group of dancers cedes the stage to another. On most of these occasions, a traditional song is played, which can go on for hours.

Note that the djembe is not traditionally intended as a performance instrument to be played in front of an audience. It should be a participant and contributor in the valuable events of the village to which it belongs, just as every other member of the village will contribute and participate in their own way.

Djembe as a living being

The djembe is believed to have magical properties and is full of life, a life form composed of three spirits: the spirit of the wood from which the drum shell was carved, the spirit of the animal from which the skin was made and the Spirit of the drum maker. Each drum possesses the characteristics of each individual spirit and is therefore unique, although the color of the drum skin is important. Mottled-skin djembes have one particular purpose, white-skinned djembes have another, and dark-skinned djembes have another. Some djembefoles hold special djembes for special occasions.

Knowledge and history of the djembe (4)

Development of the djembe

The role of the djembe began to change in the 1950s as African leaders became concerned that the influence of European colonization of much of the African continent was beginning to erode African culture. National ballets and state-sponsored ensembles were founded. Artists were paid to practice and perfect the art of African drumming. The village festival was choreographically adapted for the stage. African drumming became a performing art and the djembefola a soloist.

Next to the conga and the steering wheel, the djembe is the most popular hand drum in the western world, so at Rhythm Fusion we had quite a large selection of these African drums. The three musicians strolled through the selection, picking a few here and there and tasting them until one of them got hold of the djembe that I had recently re-skinned. He slapped it and immediately withdrew his hand like it was a hot potato. His companions' heads turned to him as if pulled on a string, their eyes wide. The drum screamed! They found seats and formed a small circle.

The discoverer of the djembe was the leader of the band to which my three visitors belonged. He specialized in stringed instruments, but had been playing Latin music for years, so he was very knowledgeable about rhythms and percussion. He played an African drum for a while and then passed it while commenting on how "hot" it was. The next man wasn't a drummer either, but he knew the sound of an extraordinary drum and was dying to get his hands on it.

Knowledge and history of the djembe (5)

Finally it was Jose Reyes' turn. Jose is a monster conguero that I know quite well because he held weekly conga workshops at the store. He placed the drum between his knees and tilted it forward to get the full voice, then played the djembe for no more than a minute and a half, but within seconds my hair stood on end.

I was filled with excitement until he stopped playing. There was silence and I realized I had stopped breathing. I held my breath.

There are drums, like Japanese taiko drums and some Native American drums, that have the power to move me physically, that I can literally feel to my core, but that lack the range and vocabulary to make the emotional impact of a good to achieve a tuned djembe.

As a drum doctor, I love all drums, but none more than the African djembe.

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We are pleased to be able to offer you custom-made productsDjembe for sale. Let us know the size, wood type, rope and leather that will result in your ideal djembe and we will carefully assemble it for you. If you're looking forward to getting a world-class djembe to sing with, we can help make it happen.

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