As one of the popular instruments of West Africa, it is popular around the globe, especially with youth because of the sound that it produces and enhances any genre of
Originated in the country of Mali, this instrument is very charming with its mystic traits and symbolism as it was born in the Africa. This instrument is djembe — it first came to the attention of audiences outside West Africa with the efforts of Fodeba Keita, who, in 1952, founded Les Ballets Africains and toured extensively in Europe.
‘Anke dje, Anke be’ translates from Bambara to English as ‘Everyone gather together in peace’. This phrase is where the djembe gets its name and can help describe its purpose.
And this instrument is considered to contain three types of energies — the energy of the tree, the energy of the animal of which is made the head of the drum, and the energy of the craftsman. It is known to have the specific form of a goblet and is made from animal skins.
When it comes to making of this instrument, the wooden part is considered to be properly made if it is carved from a single piece of wood. Traditional makers believe that pieces of wood stuck together no longer possess the spirit of the tree. Also, if properly constructed, djembes have a rather rough interior. As far as the animal skin is concerned, craftsmen can use goat, camel, deer, zebra or antelope. Another restriction is referring to the gender of the animals — females are preferred to male animals.
It is one of the most dynamic drums ever made producing a wide variety of sounds. It has a very deep bass tone, and a full round open tone, yet a high slap pitch can be achieved on the same head. It can be played with one’s bare hands. It certainly isn’t hard to play this instrument, but still there are a few basic things that must be known before playing it.
The basic principle is to put the hands in the very right place, and to either strike the drum in a certain place, or to diffuse the energy of the hand. In order to produce a bass note, one should strike the djembe towards the centre.
Apart from their artistic function, djembe were also used in the beginning for communication over long distances. The way of playing the djembe, as well as the dances and other practices associated with it, surely have a lot of meanings that are unknown to the Westerners. It may refer to the natural cycle of life, to the key moments in a man’s life, all these being expressed by rituals and traditions involving the use of the djembe.
This symbolism can also be found in the carvings made on the djembe’s leg. There are several patterns, each having a special significance. For example, such a symbol carved into a djembe is called ‘The Leg of a Hen’. It suggests the condition of a parent, with its two functions — to protect, and to correct — ‘The hen treads on her chicks, but she does not injure them’. Other carvings may include waves, fish, animals, and so on, often having their very own stories. —