10 Facts About the Djembe
1. The term “djembe” originates from the Bambara saying “Anke djé, anke bé” which translates to “everyone gather together in peace.”
2. The djembe is said to consist of three spirits: the spirit of the tree from which it was made, the spirit of the animal whose skin covers the head, and the spirit of the drum maker.
3. The djembe drum is most commonly associated with the Madinka people of West Africa. The djembe specifically originates out of Mali as far back as the 12th century.
4. The djembe drum is also known as the “Devil Drum” because it was traditionally made from hollow-out trees called Dimba, also known as “Devil Wood.”
5. The three basic sounds that can be produced with a djembe are bass, tone, and slap. Other tones can be produced using a combination of these, but these are the three building blocks. Bass is the lowest of the three notes and is produced by hitting the center of the drum. Tone has a soft, yet full sound and can be produced by playing the side of the drum with fingers that are relaxed, yet held together. Slap is the loudest and sharpest note and can be played by hitting the edge of the drum head with the center of your hand and then quickly pulling it away. The slap is generally considered to be the most difficult tone to perform.
6. Based on Madinka legend, the djembe is said to have come about through a genie (known as a djinn) who gifted the tree to a Madinka blacksmith and taught him how to carve it into a djembe. According to legend, djinns were normally considered to be impish and mischievous beings, however it’s interesting to note that, in this case, the djinn was actually helpful!
7. Goat skin is the most common and preferred head material for a djembe. It is believed that if the goat has a tougher skin, a better quality of sound will be produced.
8. Some consider the djembe to be female and the ashiko to be male.
9. Due to their loud, resonating sound, the djembe has traditionally been used to communicated between tribes over long distances.
10. A master djembe player is called a “djembefola.”