Djembe drum
Djembe Drum

This Is What The Djembe Drum Will Do To You

Djembe! The African drum that I love with passion. Have you seen one in real life? Played it? Or just get lost in the beats? It is a puzzle that cannot be solved.

The djembe beats take you to a whole new level of self-awareness. A place where your physical self does not exist. An atmosphere of solace.

I can go on and on praising this magnificent piece. If you have not heard the beats from the djembe drum, you will think I’m exaggerating.

Do not take my word for it. Listen to a djembe beat from a good player. Especially a player from Africa that knows the potency of the drum. I will stop here but before I end this article, I will tell you what this drum did to a friend. It is a true-life story.

You can choose to believe it or not. To be or not to be.

The Significance Of Drums To Africans

For centuries, the drum has been an indispensable part of the lives of Africans. It is an ancient musical instrument used to celebrate all virtues of life.

In European culture, drum music is usually about entertainment. In Africa, the drum has a serious symbolic and historical significance. They predict political and social events.

Partake in birth, death, and marriage ceremonies. Also, they trigger courtship, foreshadow people’s comings and goings, and accompany religious ceremonies and rituals to summon the souls of ancestors.

Drums are used as an alarm or summoning missiles to provoke the emotion of fighting and war. They can also inspire passion and excitement, and even cause trance. A state where the drummer or listener temporarily loses consciousness. 

It embodies and protects the royal family.  Furthermore, the drums are often placed in sacred residences. On the battlefield, they are heavily guarded.

On the other hand, drums are about communicating and making music, which are two essential factors of community life. For centuries, “talking drums” have been the main source of communication between tribes. Sometimes it is used to transmit information over long distances.

Drums are still valued in African Culture in modern times.

Origin Of Djembe Drum 

 

Player of djembe drum
Djembe player

 

The history of African drums, just like general African history, has almost no written records. This is because Africans are more into performance tradition than written tradition. 

However, lately, we are writing our history so that outsiders will not give wrong accounts of our traditions. With this view in mind, let us consider some opinions about the history of the djembe drum.

The exact origin of djembe’s history and tradition is not yet clear, but it must have existed in the 13th century when the great Mali Empire was founded.

Furthermore, the Mandinka divide their society into hereditary social classes or professional groups. The Num are the blacksmith class. They were the first to be associated with djembe and only played it when smelting iron ore.

Historians acknowledge that with the migration of blacksmiths, drums and their culture stretch to West Africa. Over time, the popularity of djembe drums has exceeded the Numu group.

A player of the djembe drum is called djembefola (“the one who plays djembe”). Some players form groups and will shuttle between various activities and performances.

Today, African drums have become an important part of daily life in Mali, Guinea, Gambia, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. Also, the name djembe has acquired various versions. Some of which are jembe, jenbe, yembe, santanyi in Susu.

Other Narratives

One common African tale about the djembe drum is this. One day, the wife of an idiot in the village was pounding millet in a mortar. As she was pounding she made a hole at the bottom of the mortar. Her husband happened to have a goatskin nearby, and they spread it over the hole in the mortar and made the first drum.

This narrative is just African folklore. I guess it was invented to teach something but not the origin of the djembe drum.

I will go with the first analysis about the drum being owned by a group of blacksmiths. In the course of my research on African masquerade and ancestors, I realized one thing. Every occupation or art is grouped.

This is to say that a particular clan/ family is responsible for a thing. We have the royal family, the chanting family, the priesthood family, the palm wine tappers family and so on.

You can bear me witness that up till this day, Africans still have different roles for genders. So a woman from nowhere can not just make a drum from the blues. That is impossible. It must originate from a family/group.

Cultural Significance Of The Djembe Drum

The history and drumming of African drums in the original environment of African villages are purposeful. Various rhythms are only played at a certain time for some reason. For example, the djembe drum can go along with adulthood or marriage. It is also used to praise specific people or occupations.

Drums are a valuable asset for any African community. Their vibrant and rhythmic voices evoke emotions. It helps to pass on noble traditions, and inspire a new generation of people. Thus maintaining a feeling of togetherness, discovery, and dignity.

We believe that the drum contains three spirits. The spirit of the tree from which it was created, the spirit of the animal whose skin is fondled, and the spirit of the carver. Other likely spirits include the one who cut the tree and the people who assemble the drum.

Among the spirits, the most important is the spirit of the trees. Do you believe trees have a spirit?

The Order Of Performance

The djembe may begin the ritual during a performance, followed by the singer and other instruments. The music can, however, start differently. The singer and instrumental players use the rhythm to recognize what they should be playing. Adding to the total, the djembe player can modify the beat of the drums to change the tune.

Meanwhile, guests at the ceremony dance in a circle or are encircled by a large crowd to the music. Solo dancers may leave the circle to dance for the djembe players, or just shift up as needed to dance for the current djembe soloist.

It’s incredible to hear the song, dance, and drumming music, as well as the villagers, clapping and dancing in a circle. And you might need to travel to Africa to see it in action in a local setting.

While the same tempo can be played for hours, there are humorous and spontaneous interactions: dancers challenge drummers to register their moves, and the drummers may increase the heat or slow down to allow the participants to sing and collect their breath.

Relationship Between The Djembe And The Player 

Only individuals born into the djembe family were allowed to play the djembe in the past. If your African last name (family name) is one of those families born into the djembe, it is your instrument and potentially your job to play the drum for the village.

When you play the djembe, you should be able to communicate with the music. It’s as if you’re speaking gibberish with your voice if it doesn’t speak. It takes on a life of its own when you learn how to make the drum speak the language of the people.

The djembe can then participate in both external and internal energies. Also, attempt to get rid of your western accent by learning some Sousou, Malinké, and phrases so you can hear African-sounding djembe phrases and tones.

A djembe player is more than just a drummer; he or she is a link to the djembe’s spirit. We say that the djembe’s sound is in the past, present, and future.

It isn’t actually in us until it enters into consciousness through the hands and into the world. Everything is all happening at the same time! The sound doesn’t belong to the drummer, and he isn’t the only one who is responsible for it. Years of study with masters guiding your hands, fingers, arms, spine, thoughts, and spirit has resulted in this.

What The Djembe Will Do To You If You Listen

A show with djembe player
A show with djembe player and dancer

 

This is the part I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for. Have you ever heard of the term trance? Or been in a trance? Ever seen someone in a trance? The djembe rhythm will accomplish all of this and more for you.

Like the founding meaning of djembe  Anke djé, anke bé” this interprets “everyone gather together in peace”. Djé” means “gather” and “bé” translates as “peace.

During my days at the university, we had a dance and drum workshop. We usually hold several dance classes. Like South Africa traditional dance, Nigeria traditional dance, Kenya traditional dance and Ghana cultural dance.

We did not end there but also studied the meaning of African dance, the history of cumbia dance, and the importance of dance in schools.

In every class, we look forward to something interesting. On this faithful day, we are learning the relationship between dance and drums. Guess what! The lecture was heard by an iconic dancer.

I have never met him or seen him dance before but from his entourage, I know today is going to be a great and unusual day.

Dance And Drum Workshop

Everyone, he said, should form a circle. Three instruments were brought out by some people behind him. A djembe drum, a violin, and a flute are among the instruments used. Oh my goodness, just remembering this day gives me goosebumps.

The flautist opened the show. Followed by the violin and the djembe; the mother drum.

Let go of yourself. Feel the tune. Embrace it with the whole of your being. As he said these words, you will hear the loud bass beat of the drum. As if to connote what he just said. To add to the already tense, serious and sacred atmosphere, he started stamping his feet.

Lose your body, feel the earth. Let go. Let go, let go. One by one he called us out into the circle to express what words can not say. I was conscious all through. The atmosphere was just too heavy.

Then, it was Tega’s turn. Tega was already a fantastic dancer. I envy her sometimes. Tega started dancing, and we all watched with admiration. It started!

Usually, our teacher will tap the dancer to stop so that others can have a chance. For Tega, she could not stop. She just kept on dancing and dancing. At one point, she hit her head on a hard surface. She continued, however. Oblivious of her surroundings.

Will you believe me if I tell you all effort to pull her out of this state did not work? All we did was guild her not to injure herself. I held her tightly to myself calling. Tega, Tega, Tega, it’s okay. She was still stretching and reaching out.

When She Was Dancing

Her steps/movements are defined. That was the best dance I have seen in my whole career. When all efforts failed after 30 minutes, the instrumentalists were asked to stop playing. Other theatre art lectures came in to help.

Still, she was on fire. Like the girl on fire. In the other rehearsal space, they stopped everything drumming, singing and anything that relates to the rhythm.

Gradually, she let go until she was out completely. The rehearsal ended but then we all had an experience and something to say. Like, I’m saying right now.

It was great timing for me because I was writing on the efficacy of unpatterned movement in voodoo worship. From my research, I knew she was in trance but I need to know more.

I interviewed our guest lecturer afterwards. One word that he said that stole my heart was this. ” This is the power of the Djembe drum”. It is a spirit on his own. If you can free yourself and connect with it, then you will find your inner strength.

Do not think it is a theory. Make-believe or superstition. It is real. I have been there and you have seen it for yourself too. He concluded.

When I asked my friend about the episode, she said, I am short of words. I can not describe it. One thing I can tell you is that it impacted me. I have been thinking and finding out some things about myself. However, I can not relate them to you.

These are the only words she told me.

Are you still in doubt about what the djembe drum will do to you?  I will love to know your thoughts in the comment section.

Djembe Design

The djembe has a distinct and unique shape that contributes to its diverse tone. This drum’s “goblet-shaped” body is cut and hollowed out of a single wood trunk. People from Mandinka used to make drums out of wood from Lenge trees. Which has mystical significance for us as well as providing a tremendous acoustic.

The huge bowl-shaped chamber in the upper half of the body produces low resonance for bass strokes. Which are hammered with the entire hand in the centre of the drum.  While the narrow elongated lower section helps project the loudness of all tones.

Due to the thinness of goatskin, the djembe’s head produces piercing high-pitched tones and slap sounds. You hit by the hand at the drum’s edge. (compared to antelope or calf-skin).

The shaved goatskin is wrapped around a steel hoop and positioned over the drum’s upper lip. The tension of the skin can be adjusted by tightening or loosening the attached vertical ropes, lining the outside of the drum’s bowl. You do this by placing another steel hoop wrapped in a coiled rope on top of the skin-lapped hoop.

Evolution Of The Drum

African ballet
African ballet

 

Les Ballet Africains’ globe tours in the 1950s, directed by Fodeba Keita, enhanced the djembe’s appeal outside of Africa.

Djembe ensembles began to perform for more Western audiences as the global demand for drumming developed. Musicians soon discovered that they could make a respectable career performing and instructing away from home.

While drummers relocated to Europe and America, ethnomusicologists relocated to Africa to research the drum in its natural habitat. Eric Charry, Marianne Friedländer, and Serge Blanc have all contributed to the documentation of djembe history, customs, and rhythms.

Around the same period, Babatunde Olatunji, a Nigerian percussionist, published Drums of Passion. An album of African drumming songs. Drums of Passion is largely regarded as the first African drumming CD, according to critics. Despite the absence of the djembe, it was instrumental in establishing the genre.

Djembe has been employed in African pop music by artists like Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita, and Baba Maal. Players have had a lot of success around the world too.

The djembe is now used in a wide range of musical genres, including rock artists such as Ben Harper and Jason Mraz.

Disadvantages Of Djembe Introduction To The Western Society

The djembe has firmly established itself in Western society thanks to ballets and African trainers. It’s often heard with popular Western music, and drum makers have discovered lucrative markets for mass-produced reproductions.

Modern society is rediscovering the therapeutic value of music, and drum circles are springing up in every major city. In the West, djembe drumming is used for team building, therapies, self-improvement, and New Age movements.

We are understandably proud of our instrument’s success. Many of us, however, are dissatisfied to see the djembe divorced from its cultural setting. It’s disheartening to hear our village traditional rhythms not being performed correctly.

Because djembe history is rarely documented, most Westerners are ignorant of the drum’s depth, traditional use, and purpose. Only a few people are interested in conducting their research. Instead, some European tourists to Africa even try to teach Africans how to play the djembe.

It is vital to know the significance and cultural value of the djembe if you must play it. That is the only way it can speak to your subconscious.

Conclusion On What The Djembe Drum Will Do To You If You Listen

The djembe drum is an African heritage. It contains three spirits. The spirit of the tree, animal and the carver. We do not use it as a form of entertainment but significant milestones in the community.

There are many variations as to the history of the drum. Nevertheless, the record of it being from a blacksmith group in Mali is my first choice.

In terms of knowing or finding out your inner self, try a djembe class. I do not know how westerners perform their sessions, but in Africa, it is an intriguing moment.

When you plan your next vacation, try to include these sessions in your routine. You will be amazed and speechless. I have experienced it and have seen someone experience it too. ( You know the story already).

You experience it too and tell me your story when we next meet.

 

 

 

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