A Djembe is a goblet-shaped hand drum, that is originated from West Africa and normally has a cow or goat skin drum head. The Djembe drum head is pulled for tension using ropes, mechanical tuning or industrial quality glue. The strongest part of the goat or cow skin is in the spinal area. This is why most of the drum heads have a spiral pattern. The more tension that is created on the drum skin, the higher the tones are when playing the drum. Djembe basically has 3 types of tones: low (bass), mid and high pitch (slap). The combination of the 3 tones can create wonderful African style rhythms.
The outer shell of the wooden drum can be painted or carved. Bali Treasures’ Djembe is painted and carved by master carver & painter families in Ubud. The decoration of the outer shell adds additional value to the customers’ eyes. Some of Bali Treasures Djembes have jingles attached to the outer side of the drum or seeds and beads placed inside the Djembe drum. The drum rhythm is mostly associated with African dance.
The pronunciation of Djembe is “Jem bay” and it is noted to be one of the most versatile drums that exists today as it can generate a wide range of tones. The Djembe drum is able to produce a loud beat that can clearly be heard. Thus, it becomes a good drum choice whether you play it as a solo instrument or along with the other percussion instruments.
The Djembe itself is believed to be full of life philosophy that consists of three spirits. The spirit of the tree that is used as the drum shell portrays firmness, strength, and protectiveness. Meanwhile, the spirit of animal skin portrays prosperity, and the spirit of the drum’s maker is a spirit that can make the sound delivered by Djembe become alive.
For years, most of the Djembes in West Africa was made of local woods and still carved by hands with traditional methods. Yet, at the time passed and the popularity of Djembe has spread across Africa and other countries, it is not made by traditional methods anymore. Along with the advancement of technologies, many Djembe drums are presently made commercially in South Africa.
The Djembe has always played an essential role in Africa as it is used in several spiritual ceremonies and special occasions like wedding ceremonies. As its popularity is increased, it is now used for various purposes like stress relief and enjoyment. Djembe has not really been a musical instrument that is played by women, in other words, only played by men. On the contrary, women usually play other percussion instruments like Karignan, the shekere, and Kese-Kese, even in recent time, we will rarely see women play Djembe in West Africa.
The Djembe drum is now going beyond its original uses. Currently, this musical instrument is started to show up in the western popular culture, for instance; it has appeared in films and ballet performances. In spite of the fact that the Djembe drum is known as a musical instrument for light entertainment, the history of how it was built and the deep culture makes it remain one of the most crucial musical instruments in Africa.
HOW TO PLAY A DJEMBE
First of all, make sure that the drum head is clean and tuned correctly. If you are not sure you can find someone who knows how to tune a Djembe correctly. The West African Djembe has three basic sounds. You have to know that the sound comes from the bottom of Djembe and not from the top. Hence it is important to tilt the drum on its edge when you are playing it. Sitting on a chair is a good position to tilt the Djembe so that the bottom side is open. Alternatively, you can use a Djembe stand to hold the Djembe correctly.
The base sound of the Djembe is the low tone by hitting the center of the Djembe drum head using a flat hand. You better let your hand bounce once your flat hand strikes the center of the Djembe so that the sound is maximized. The mid or open tone is created when you hit the edge of the Djembe with your fingers. The third tone is the slap tone. Slap tone is created when your fingers and hand strike the rim of the Djembe to produce a high pitch tone. Next, you can learn various Djembe drumming rhythms.
When compared to its size, the sound produced by the Djembe is louder than people thought it will be. It delivers a loud beat because the volume of the drum is rising when the skin tension is increased. Thus, it is known as an unusually loud drum in the drum family. The purpose of the strings that run down the sides of the Djembe is not merely a decoration but it is attached to manage the tuning of the sound.
The constant rhythmic patterns that are generated by Djembe and its high-pitched and sharp sound are able to deliver a distinct and magical vibe to the music. This singularity of Djembe makes it an extremely unique musical instrument.
How Bali Treasures Makes Djembe Drums
Bali Treasures produces Djembe from two materials. One is PVC and the other one is Plantation grown Mahogany and Jackfruit wood. Bali Treasures holds the global patent for making the drums from PVC while making a wooden Djembe is still a long process from logwood to final drum. Our logwood is legally bought from the government. The logwood comes in different sizes. It is cut into desired heights; the wood barks are peeled by both workers and machine. The logwood is then lathed using machine and hand carved by skilled workers to make a drum shell. The skilled workers lathe the logwood into many sizes and shapes according to the market demand.
The drum shell is then soaked in pesticide liquid for hours in order to exterminate bugs that could have made a home in the wood. The drum shell is then moved to a warehouse to stabilize after that they are put in the oven to dry up the excess water content. Not to forget the Djembe drum needs to have a barring edge formed to create the proper Djembe sounds. Now the drum is ready to be fitted with a goatskin drum head, painted or carved. Depending on the models the drum is carved by a master carver into various styles or painted into many creative designs.
The History Of Djembes
The precise origin of Djembe is largely unidentified. Yet it is informed that the Djembe drum originated with the Mandinka people of western Africa around 1300 AD. It is said at that time the king was King Sundiata, who ruled over much of West Africa. The King was hailed a hero as his empire spread across over modern day Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, and Senegal.
The Mandika society was separated into castes of professions. The blacksmith caste (Numu) were the first to be linked to Djembe. They played the drum only when smelting iron ore. Along with the migration of the Numu people, so is the spread of Djembe drumming. Overtime Djembe drumming is popular in Numu people and the player of the Djembe is called Djembefola (Djembe player).
Nowadays Djembe is widely played by many people in Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, and Senegal. Soon the Djembe drumming was introduced to westerners and some Djembe experts and players moved to Europe to perform and make a living in there. As Djembe’s role in recent music is enhanced, there are a lot of today’s musicians that incorporate the Djembe drum with various musical instruments to accompany their music. We can find this percussion instrument in many orchestras and other musical performances.
In the present time, Djembe has found its way to be one of those well-known musical instruments from the percussion family. It is a favorable instrument that is played by people from a wide range of ages. From children to adults, people love to play this unique instrument. Today Djembe is not merely used as a musical instrument but also made to be souvenirs and crafts for tourists in various sizes and designs.
How To Take Care of a Djembe Drum
The Djembe drum, like other musical instruments, needs good care to ensure longevity. Good maintenance is required to maintain the sound quality of the Djembe. To protect your Djembe from any elements that could damage it, you have to habitually use a drum bag. A drum bag serves as a cushion that will shield your drum as well as maintain its tune. The size of the drum bag is an important thing you should remember when choosing one for your drum. To prevent the drum to move unnecessarily, the bag must fit the drum properly.
The wood construction and the head of the drum which is made of animal skin are quite sensitive. It needs proper care in order to maintain the rhythm and the sound of the Djembe. Since it needs good care from humidity and temperature changes, remember to always store your drum in a cool and dry place. Prevent it from direct sunlight, out of cold drafts, and any place with extreme temperature changes. The head of the drum made by goatskin can easily break because of an extreme temperature change as it is quite thin compared to the other animal skins. Thus, avoid leaving your Djembe in an extremely hot place like in a car during a hot summer day.
Regular playing of the Djembe ensures the drum skin condition. It is because the natural oils of your hands are absorbed by the drum skin, keeping it hydrated and preventing it from splitting. Yet, if you do not play your drum frequently, it is advised to apply a dab of shea butter to your hands and then rub it into the drum skin to keep the sound quality. As the drum skin is a sensitive part, do not wear rings and any other jewelry that possibly damages the skin while you are playing it. Thus, always put in mind that you have to remove all your jewelry from your hands and fingers to avoid the skin from cracking.
Always pay attention to small holes on the drum skin. If the hole is in the center of the drumming area, it should be replaced with another other skin. Yet, if the small hole is located near the wood and aside from the drumming area, a glue can help you to keep the skin firm. Detuning the drum will ensure its longevity of the drum skin as well. You can detune your drum frequently with the Mali weave to extend the life of your drum skin. Also, avoid over-tightening your drum skin because it will affect the bass tone. The bass tone will only be generated better when the drum skin is tuned properly. The sustain of the bass note will be gone and will turn into a short ringing if you over-tighten the skin.
A clean exterior wood shell is also important to maintain the longevity of the Djembe. The wood shell of the drum that can be found in the market today is usually varnished. In this case, you can simply clean the wood shell by removing any debris with a damp cloth. Yet, if your drum is not varnished, apply some linseed, palm, coconut, or Danish oil to help prevent cracking. You can apply some oils on the varnished drum as well. Apply the oil more frequently in the extremely hot weather and apply it less often in humid climates.
By always paying attention to any physical problems of the drum as well as taking good care of the drum skin and wood shell, it means you are helping to keep your drum in its most superior condition possible.