African Drums and Rhythms
AFRICA is a continent of rhythm and dance. Before it was colonised by the European nations in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was divided into different empires and kingdoms. Each had their own traditions, songs and drums. The DJEMBE (jem-bay) was the drum of the the Mandinke people, from the great West African Mali Empire of the 12th century, situated in the present-day countries of Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal and Gambia. It has become the most widely played of all African instruments.
Today, as before, it is used to celebrate times of importance in village life such as baptism, weddings, full moons, harvest etc, and through the popularity of world music, it's appeal is spreading on a daily basis.
The DJEMBE is a "goblet" shaped drum with a skin (usually goat) stretched over one end. It is played with the hands as part of a group of drums. The other drums in this group are cylindrical and have cow skin heads. Played with a large stick, they come in three sizes and are called the kenkeni (smallest & highest), the sangban (middle) and the dundunba (biggest and lowest). A bell is played at the same time, completing the ensemble.
Traditional West African Rhythms are normally "polyrhythms". This means that there are 4 or 5, and sometimes even 6 or 7 different parts that go together to make each rhythm, and they are often accompanied by singing and a dance. Most rhythms are played for specific occasions, some are mask dances - others are played only at football matches!
Kakilambe, Liberte, Dimbadun, Soko, Soca, Koukou, African Rhumba, Tiriba, Babobo, Yankadi, Kpanlogo, Yole, Cassa, Sorsonet, Mandiani, Doundounba, Fanga, Diagbe, Fankani, Marakadon, Soli, Abondon. - Plenty to learn, you see!
Other drums from Africa include:
Sabar, Bougarabou, Frontonfrom, Atumpan, Apentema, Apetia, Bobo, Brekete, Atsimevu, Sogo, Kidi, Kagan, Kroboto, Totodzi, Kpanlogo, Oslama, Kete, Kurukutu, Sakara, Togo, Bada, Bata and Talking Drums.
How to play the djembe.
There are three main notes played on the djembe.
1) The BASS, played with the flat of the hand in the middle of the drum - a deep "booming" sound.
2) The TONE, played with the bottom pads of the fingers towards the edge of the drumskin, fingers outstretched - a "thick" note.
3) The SLAP, played by striking the edge of the drum with the palm of the hand and allowing the fingers to "flap" into the drumskin - a "sharp, dry, cracking" sound. Like the tone, this takes a while to get right.
Most West African djembe rhythms are a combination of these three notes. The arm bends at the elbow and not at the wrist. This gives more power and greater control. Don't forget to take rings off first!
The CALL is played by the lead djembe player. As the name suggests, it calls everybody into the rhythm, shows them where to start and at what speed they should play. It is also used to draw the song to a close, and sometimes to bring a change of rhythm in the middle of the song.
The other thing to bear in mind is the tempo, which can change dramatically during the song. Usually, we start slowly and speed up either gradually or at a given point. This is called the echauffement (literally "heating up"), and can result in some very fast playing towards the end!
Above all, the most important thing about African Drumming is to have FUN. You hardly ever see someone playing drums without a big smile on their face. It's something you can do on your own, or in a group (or "circle"), loudly or quietly, fast or slow - it doesn't matter. Once you get the knack of playing, you won't want to stop. And the more you play, the better you'll get.
So ENJOY YOURSELF!!
Traditionally, West African rhythms were passed from generation to generation by word of mouth. More recently, various ways of writing down rhythms have been devised. All show the order the different notes are played in, but my favourite shows which hand to use as well. If you are left-handed, just change left for right. Here's an example.
B - Right hand bass b - Left hand bass
T - Right hand tone t - Left hand tone
S - Right hand slap s - Left hand slap
x - Gap
b x T t B x S x b x T t B x S x
x x S s x x S s x x S s T t S s
Dunduns - Only Dundunba and Sangban in this particular song.
D - Dundunba S - Sangban 0 - Bell
D x x x S x S x D x x x S x S x
x 0 x 0 x 0 x 0 x 0 x 0 x 0 x 0
Call - Djembe
Ss x S s x S x s S x T t T t x x
Simon G Spare
C/o Northfield Bungalow
For more information on drumming workshops and Drumfire performances please contact Simon. See details above.
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