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The Origins and Evolution of West African Hand Drums

A drum tells the story of the culture from which it evolved, uniting an area or region and telling its own story of the triumphs experienced throughout history. The drums of Africa have some of the most interesting and unique designs and history that have stood the test of time, while evolving into more modern instruments that encouraged the diversification of music and rhythm heard today.

Djembe drums may be the most well-known hand drums today, due in part to the growth of drum circles in communities around the world. Native to the Yoruba tribes of West Africa, Djembe drums were used for festivals, celebrations, spiritual ceremonies and to communicate over distances. In the modern drum circle, the Djembe continues to celebrate and entertain as it provides a foundation for other instruments within the circle.

Bongos are considered Cuban drums, but are also thought to have originated in West Africa. These hand drums continue to inspire Afro-Cuban and Latin musicians, beatnik poets and modern percussionists, as well as hobby drummers of all ages. Noted for the portable size and ease of playing, bongos are not only fun, but produce an unmistakable sound that can be heard in almost all genres of music today.

Conga, or Tumbadora drums are also Afro-Cuban drums that developed in the tribal lands of West Africa and are heard in many modern genres of music. Typically seen as a two-piece drum set, Congas can be found in configurations of up to five drums, each with a different pitch and tone that adds a unique sound to all music styles.

Cajon drums illustrate the undying spirit of music and rhythm. From the Cajon’s roots as a repurposed drum of African slaves in Peru, this drum is most notably heard in Flamenco, Salsa and other Latin-inspired rhythms, but has also become popular in rock, pop and R&B music.

Batá drums are the spiritual center of West Africa’s Yoruba tribes and its culture as it has evolved into today’s Santeria religion. Originally from Africa, the Batá became an important part of the musical history of Cuba and Puerto Rico, and today, it remains a vital part of religious practices in those areas.

With the rich history and significance of drums and hand percussion, the drummer and artist playing these instruments continues a tradition that has been handed down for generations and one that has crossed oceans to become a beloved part of music today.

29th Oct 2014

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