Hand drums from around the world - History, techniques,
ancient West African drum now taking the world by storm.
Embraced by percussionists and beginners
alike, the djembe's awesome power and versatility make
it one of the world's most popular drums.
The name Djembe comes from the Bambara people in Mali
(West Africa), the drum was used to call people together
and the name "Djembe" derives from the saying:
"Anke djé, anke bé."
Which means "everyone gather, everyone in peace."
In the Bambara language, "djé" means
"to gather" and "bé" means
Djembe rhythms are usually combinations of 4 sounds, the
bass, tone, slap and ghost notes. The bass and tone are
the fundamental notes, and most basic rhythms can be played
using these 2 sounds. Slaps and ghost notes require better
technique and take longer to learn correctly. Traditional
djembe rhythms are often derived from cultural aspects
of village life, and correspond closely to work movements,
for instance - when it was time to bring in the harvest
the drummers would be called to play the rhythm for people
working in the fields, the rhythm would correspond to
their movements and keep the tempo for them.
centuries ago before West Africa was divided into various
countries, the region was ruled by the Mandinka - the
Mali Empire. The Djembe is their traditional drum. The
drum was used to call the tribe together to hear the King
speak, or to bring in the harvest, to celebrate births
& weddings, at funerals.
In all aspects of life the drum played a vital role.
With the onslaught on the West African coast by slave
traders, millions of West Africans found themselves unwillingly
transported to various foreign places, like North America;
Jamaica, Cuba, West Indies, Brazil. But they took their
songs and rhythms, which in turn gave birth to Blues,
Jazz, Salsa, Rock and more..
Djembe drumming Links:
Drame live - Youtube
Keita live - Youtube
bongo is probably the most well known hand drum in the
world, and many hand drums are generally referred to as
bongos. Each drum has it's own name though.
The bongos were invented in Cuba, and have a centuries
old tradition. The bongo actually consists of 2 drums
which are attached to one another - as in the picture
on the right. The smaller drum is called the macho (male)
and the larger is known as the hembra (female).
The fundamental bongo rhythm is known as the Martillo
(hammer) or Marcha (the March). In traditional Cuban music
& salsa there is no drumkit, and the time is kept
by the percussionist, or several percussionists. The bongos
are played together with the congas, timbales, maracas
and bells - each playing complementary rhythms.
America's favourite drum. And closely related to many
african drums. And rhythmically the drum music of Latin
America very closely resembles African music, since Africa
was the birthplace of drumming.
For instance the son clave, an ancient bell pattern from
Africa forms the basis of Cuban Son music, and almost
all conga and bongo drumming, as well as the timbales.
Which all work very closely together
to form a tight knit groove.
The Tumbao rhythm forms the basis of much conga music.
It originates with the Tumbadora - an ancient Cuban drum
based on the african drum. They were used in early Cuban
carnival music in the 1800's - and gave birth to the conga.
In Cuba some say the Conga is as difficult to play
as the Violin.
Studying Congas requires a lot of practise and dedication.
One has to take time to master the hand movements.
It is advisable to find a good teacher, who can assist
with correct technique.
as the Royal Drums of Senegal, djembes may be played all
over Africa, but the Sabar is exclusive to the Wolof people
It can often be seen played at football games involving
the Senegalese national side, as happened during the FIFA
World Cup in 2002.
The Sabar is played asymmetrically - with one hand
and one stick. And a variety of strokes are used.
there are seven drums in the Sabar family. Each is tuned with
seven pegs and rope. Which sets them apart from most peg-tuned drums. Each Sabar
has its own name, and it's own sound - and all together they form the Sabar
Sabar are made from Dimba wood - which is very dense, dark and hard.
They are headed with goatskin.
The Sabar should be tuned for playing only, and then untuned afterward. This
is done by hammering the pegs in, and then pulling them loose afterward.
Mbalax is a rhythm family that forms the foundation for most Senegalese
music, like Baaba Maal and Youssou N'Dour. It is found throughout traditional
Senegalese music, and permeates their modern music too. Listen to
the album Diabote
by Doudou N'diaye Rose to hear traditional sabar drumming.
Diop percussion- Senegal
how traditional Sabar drums are made here.
In Senegal and many West African countries where the griot tradition exists, one
has to be born into a musical family, or be taught by a recognised master in order
to play an instrument.
There are 2 different types of Tabla, the one comes from India and consists of
2 drums, a bas and a high pitched drum.
The other, lesser known type of Tabla comes from Egypt, and is a goblet drum,
known by many names and played all over North Africa, and in the middle East.
Tabla - India
The indian Tabla has an ancient lineage, and descends from the Pakkawaj,
a drum played by very few in the world today.
Like many other drums, goatskin is used to head the tabla which is a complicated
Famous exponents of the Tabla like Zakir
Hussain have revolutionised the way Tabla is played, and brought it into
prominence on the world stage.
The Tabla of North Africa is a goblet shaped drum, similair to the djembe - which
gives it high pitched edge sounds and a resounding bas. It is the lead drum in
the Egyptian drum ensemble, and plays the solo parts in the rhythmic composition.
It is also known as the Darbuka d played throughout the
Middle East - Lebanon, Egypt, and elsewhere. These drums
are used for belly dancing, and use very powerful rhythms.
Modern exponents of the Tabla in Egypt include Hussain
beautiful, melodic sounds of the Zarb are unlike any other
drum. It is an ancient persian goblet shaped drum, made
from Walnut or Mulberry wood, and covered with a goat
skin which is glued in place.
In the 20th century Teherani revolutionised the Zarb,
forming a school of percussion, and making many changes
to traditional Zarb drumming, so much so that it has gone
from a rural instrument to art music.
In the days of the Persian empire the Zarb - also known
as the tombak - came second to the frame drum (Daf), which
was favoured at court, and formed part of the traditional
music ensemble. The Zarb preferred by travelling musicians,
and farmers, who drummed at festivals.
Only in the 20th century has the Zarb come into it's own,
from a simple rhythmic accompaniment to a performance
The Zarb is characterised by melodic rhythms, with the
performer displaying his skill with improvisations - playing
not only the rhythm, but also the solo and the melody.
The Zarb is also notable for the rhythmic roll, which
is different to usual drumrolls.
Like other middle eastern drums, the Zarb is played with
the fingers. However, the Zarb is unique for its wide
variety of unusual techniques and strokes. It is said
to have as many sounds as the piano, and some Zarb compositions
have even been transcribed for piano.
See the Chemirani
Trio on Youtube.
- Talking Drum
The Talking drum is a double headed drum that originates
in West Africa and is played with a hand and stick: the
stick being in your strong hand, the drum held under your
other arm, squeezed against the leg or body, with that
hand on the skin to create hand-stick combinations, as
well as varying the pitch by squeezing the strings.
See a demonstration
The talking drum is played in Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and
other West African countries. It is called the talking
drum because of the unique sounds it makes which can mimic
human speech. Some players can even replicate words quite
accurately by manipulating the drum using their free hand
and stick while squeezing and releasing the ropes. This
causes the drum heads to expand and contract accordingly,
allowing the player to bend notes and create unique tones.
Johan Botha -
Cell: 083 550 6569