Ashiko drums may be one of the lesser known hand percussion instruments today, as it appears to sit in a shadow behind the djembe, but, its paucity does not take away from its contribution to music and rhythm today. These drums are generally thought of as the compliment to the djembe drum and have a similar history, cultural evolution and purpose within drum circles, drum jams and in performances today. But, the ashiko drum also has a dedicated following by those who have experienced the differences in sound and techniques that distinguish it from the djembe.
The ashiko drum originated in West Africa, just like the djembe. However, ashiko drums were originally crafted from solid logs of wood, giving them a more cone-like shape as compared to the two-piece, goblet shape of the djembe. The difference in shape gives the ashiko a tone that is similar to the djembe, but, one that is unique enough to provide complimentary sounds to any duets played, or as a powerful standalone instrument. In addition, the ashiko is also considered a “talking drum,” meaning that because of the long ropes that attach the head to the drum, it is possible for the drummer to bend the pitch of the drum through manipulating the ropes while playing. In Latin music, the ashiko is known as the botu drum, and is important in many Cuban festivals and celebrations.
Hand percussion and drums are unique reflections of the people and regions from which they originated, and the ashiko drum is no exception to this rule. As an example of the craftsmanship of the indigenous populations of West Africa, both the djembe and ashiko allow for insight into the history, culture and traditions of the Yoruba tribe – one of the greatest resources for today’s hand percussionists. And, as an addition to a drum circle, Cuban beat or just for fun, the ashiko drum brings the same history and culture, with a few extra perks, for the drummer who just can’t stop discovering a new sound.