The Djembé
Klaus van Boekel
Description - includes the sound of a djembe

The cup-shaped wooden drum stringed with goat skin (in former times with antelope skin), which is today known as the Djembé, derives from the ethnic groups of the Malinke and Bambara (West Africa), and the African countries of Guinea (Conakry), Mali, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast.

The Malinke have a huge number of different instruments.  The most important instrument however is the Djembé. The Malinke are considered to be the vouched preservers of the authentic Djembé tradition. The Djembé is used both as solo and accompanying instrument in the traditional drum ensemble, which consists of two Djembés and three bass drums.

The Djembé is made of a hollowed-out, cup-shaped tree trunk (Lenke wood) and is mostly stringed with sheared goat skin. The skin is tightened by a twisted fur cord. For reasons of durability, these fur cords have nowadays been replaced by modern plastic cords.

The instrument is hit with the hands; the distinguished, sophisticated position of the hands on the skin creates the different timbres. Three rattles (made of tin and wire) are fixed at the fur rim of the solo Djembé; only in exceptional circumstances, they are hit directly with the hands.

As a result of the vibration of the drum resonance body caused by the stroke these so-called “Sesses” make their characteristic, accompanying rattling noise.

The Djembé with the highest timbre is played by the soloist – thus granting the excellent acoustic presence of important solo patterns during the formal course of music and dance. To increase flexibility and to be able to respond to the dynamics of the celebration, the soloist plays standing-up; the Djembé (fixed with belts) hanging down from the upper part of his body.