How To Play a Djembe

playing Djembe

Djembe which is pronounced as jembe is a West African originated drum that has its root in Bambara (Mali). Just like some of the other percussions, the goblet-shaped drum is played with bare hands.

Have you ever heard of a mystical tale about a musical instrument? Well… The djembe drum gives you an intriguing story. Furthermore, to learn about this instrument, we need to read the story behind the origin of the drum.

The chimpanzees’ drum

Once upon a time, there was a drum that belongs not to the humans but the animal kingdom. No man could play it except the chimpanzees.

Those days, there were no guns for hunting except for traps. There was a great trapper called So Dyeu who also was the leader of all the hunters in the village.

On one of his hunting occasions, he saw some chimpanzees eating and dancing. He quickly hid and watched as one of the chimpanzees merrily beat a drum. So Dyeu loved the drum and wanted it for himself. “This thing they are beating is beautiful. I will set a trap.” So he decided to set a trap for the chimpanzees.

The next morning, the trapper and his dog hurriedly walked to where his trap is before anyone could get to it and probably take the glory. When he got there, he saw the other chimpanzee fled the site. So Dyeu smiled as he noticed his trap didn’t just catch a chimp, but the trap caught the drummer with its’ drum.

So Dyeu proudly took the drum and went straight to the king’s palace. The whole village heard of what, So Dyeu has done and ran along to the palace to see for themselves the mystical drum they have heard of but never seen.

The king was pleased with So Dyeu and gave him his daughter for his first wife.  From that day on, the drum has remained with the humans, and unfortunately for the chimpanzees, they have lost their one true gift from God.

According to the story, whoever plays the drum is called a tambourine player. From that day, the drum remained with the humans, and the chimpanzees were left with nothing to play anymore.

However, the chimpanzees devised a way of playing drums; they turned their chests into the drums they once had. That is why today, they beat their chests and fists to mimic the sound of their lost drum.

Djembe, a man’s drum

According to Bambara tradition, the djembe drum is reserved for men only. Women are not supposed to play the instrument. However, it does not apply to kese kese, shekere, and the karignan musical instruments; women can play these instruments.

With civilization and freedom to make choices, the djembe drum can be played by women although the case is rare.

How to identify the djembe drum

  • The body the drum is made with hardwood
  • The drum head is usually made with goatskin
  • It has a goblet shape
  • The exterior diameter ranges from 30cm to 38cm
  • It has a height of 58cm to 63cm
  • The weight the djembe drum ranges from 5 kilograms to 13 kilogram

The sounds

The djembe drum is not known only for its beauty but also for the ability to produce different sounds. The djembe drum is loud, and even when played together with other musical instruments, one can still hear the unique sound of the drum.

Here’s a tutorial video how to play the djembe