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Djembe History

DjembeAfrican Djembe
The African djembe (also jembe, jenbe, yembe, sanbanyi in Susu; pronounced "ZHEM-bay") is a goatskin covered drum shaped like a large goblet and meant to be played with bare hands. Traditionally crafted djembe drums are carved in one single piece from hollowed out hardwood trees. Specific types of wood depend upon the forests accessible to the drum makers. Some West African hardwoods used for musician quality instruments (carved in Guinea, Senegal, Mali, and Ivory Coast) include dimba (bush mango), lenge, bois rouge, acajou, iroko, hare or khadi, and dugura.

As a result of the large goblet shape and the goatskin head, there is a significant difference in the tones produced. Striking the skin near the center produces a bass note; striking the skin near the rim can produce either a tone or slap note, depending on the technique used. The slap has a higher pitch than the tone. Some consider the djembe female and the Ashikos to be male. The djembe is said to contain 3 spirits. The spirit of the tree, the spirit of the animal of which the drumhead is made and the spirit of the instrument maker. The African djembe is also known as the magical drum.

The African djembe is used for ceremonial purposes such as a wedding, full moon or the start of a harvest season for farmers. There is general agreement that the origin of the African djembe is associated with a class of Mandinka/Susu blacksmiths known as Numu. The wide dispersion of the djembe drums throughout West Africa may be due to Numu migrations dating from the first millennium A.D.

The Malinke, an indigenous people who are spread throughout West Africa, use the djembe to help spread their message of peace. In the Malinke culture it's an expression of joy. And is often used as a way for the African people to share their thoughts about the world. African drummer Mamady Keita, named best djembe drummer in Africa by the Pan-African Festival in Algers puts it best: "For us personally it's a way for us to share our own thoughts about the world. It helps us show through music that all our problems are not needed, and that we can come together as people because we can come together to play music."

 

Next: How to Play the Djembe


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