Get Your Djembe from Dolphin | Learn to Play Today!
L E A R N T O P L A Y D A Y | 3 1 s t M A R C H 2 0 1 2
What is a Djembe?
The djembe is possibly one of the most enjoyable instruments to play! Djembe performances are all about energy and fun, traditionally played for people to dance, sing and clap along with.
The djembe is a traditional West African drum, which has brought the people of Mali, Senegal and surrounding countries enjoyment for centuries, and it was only in the ‘50s that the drum became known in the western world.
Traditionally, djembes are carved of hardwood with hollow bodies, the drum heads are made from untreated rawhide, usually goat skin that has had the hair removed. This raw animal skin factor has been known to, well “freak out” some new drummers, as a lot of djembe’s feature goat hair surrounding the drum’s edge... which is actually a very decorative and attractive feature in a djembe.
Considering that the drum consists of such few and simple materials it is surprising that the djembe can produce such a wide range of sounds, it is one of the most versatile drums in the world, which is why ensembles appear so complete and full.
A real djembe line up would consist of multiple djembe drums and the dundun. The dundun refers to a collection of bass drums, the dundunba which is the largest of the three, the mid-sized sangban and small kenkeni, which support the leading djembe. These names are onomatopoetic reflections of the sounds each drum produces and produce low or high pitches depending on their size.
An ensemble wouldn’t be an ensemble without the dundun!
How to Play
The djembe is played between the knees, at an angle from the floor to allow the sound to escape from the bottom of the drum.
The three main playing techniques are the bass, tone and slap sounds. The bass is made by hitting the drum in its centre with a stiff, flat palm and fingers together. The tones and slaps are made from attacking the drums edge. To achieve a tone, the player keeps their fingers together and strikes the drums edge at a flat angle. Slaps are sounded with open fingers, and a fast percussive attack on the drums edge… the finger tips do most of the work.
The tones and slaps can be pretty painful to maintain for beginners… so take it easy if you’re just starting out!
If you’re more accustomed to popular music, you could think of these three sounds as a bass drum, hi-hat and snare. The bass is most often played on beat 1 of a 4/4 rhythm, the hi hat maintains its consistency through the majority of the performance and the slaps, much like the snare are “accent” beats, determining whether the rhythm is up tempo or down tempo.
One of the most popular and enjoyable djembe rhythms to play is Djole, which or course originated from West Africa and has been entertaining the masses for years. Djole is a great rhythm so begin your playing with, see djembe master Mamady Keita playing Djole here.
Duke Djembe Ensemble
We have a wide range of djembes to suit a variation of players. Traditional style drums with the mounting you might expect from a homegrown drum such as the Meinl HDJ2-L Headliner Series 12 inch Djembe in Black. This particular drum is painted with a tribal design and features the traditional Mali Weave tuning system.
Made of mahogany, this djembe produces a warm tone and features a goat skin drum head, which is exactly what you want in a djembe, if an original sound is what you’re after!
The Meinl HDJ2-L is actually a very good quality drum, featuring traditional materials and we’re letting it go for only £129… it’s a real steal!