Like the trees in a forest or the individual crafting a djembe by hand, traditional djembe drums are beautiful in the imperfections they hold. Understanding the history and culture of the djembe drum is as important as understanding how to play it, and it is this history and culture that is reflected to this day in the sight and sound of all traditionally-made djembe drums.
When it comes to buying a traditional djembe, understanding the process of creating these instruments is important. Each drum is hand carved, and depending on the level of craftsmanship desired, some drums are more carefully crafted than others. With traditional djembe drums, the cost of the drum will be an indication of the types of materials and construction used to create the instrument.
Master djembes from Guinea are carved by exceptionally talented woodworkers that have perfected their skill over generations, making each drum sound authentic to the culture and bringing you the highest quality sound and appearance. Less expensive drums from different sources in Africa, Thailand or India may have imperfections such as natural knots in the wood or small areas that have been repaired with wood filler. These drums are still playable and look beautiful but are less expensive because the resources used for the materials and labor are less expensive.
Synthetic djembe drums allow for the most consistent look and feel of a drum, as they are mass-produced. These drums will always have the same specifications, including colors and weight. Hand-carved djembes are just that, hand-carved, using special tools and chisels to make each drum a unique instrument. The intricate carvings and designs will vary from drum to drum, and there may be slight differences in the weights and color of the wood used.
The natural drum heads will also vary in color. These drum heads are made from goatskin or cowskin that has various pigments natural to the animal, and are not abnormal. In fact, many professional djembe players enjoy the unique look of the natural skins. There are drums available with bleached drum heads, especially those that must comply with fumigation regulations. These bleached drum heads are also good for drummers that want a higher-pitch tone. Traditional drums from Africa and professional level drums from Indonesia and Thailand typically have unbleached heads.
When it comes to a hand-crafted djembe, it is always important to keep in mind the varying factors that will change the look of the drum. From the materials used in the drum shell and drum head, to the skills of the drum maker, each traditional djembe tells its own story of the culture and history of West Africa.
Djembe Buying Guide
2. Djembe Wood Source & Lathing [Video]
3. Djembe Shell Carving & Painting [Video]
5. Which Size Djembe is Right for Me? [Video]
8. How to Tune a Djembe [Video]
10. A Note About African Djembes
11. Djembe Rhythm Exercises [Video]
15. How to Play the Djembe [Video]