Friday 26 May 2017 News Updated at 03:05 AM IST
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The catchy beats of djembe - Deccan Herald
The catchy beats of djembe
Vathsala V P,
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DeccanHerald
African musical instruments are fascinating, especially the drums. The variety is mind-boggling too. There is a drum for every sound, and every occasion. The latest to catch my fancy was djembe, mainly because of the sound it produced, and also its shape. It was goblet-shaped, beautifully decorated with colourful beads and an artfully crafted exterior.

At the musical ensemble I attended, it was interesting to note that the djembe player, along with the other instrumentalists, formed a circle, while the dancers danced rhthmically in the centre. The beats of the djembe being so catchy, nobody could help but dance.

Captivated by the loud beats of djembe, I wanted to learn more about this unique drum. According to my host, djembe traces its origins to West Africa, while its name is derived from the Bambara language, and means 'gather in peace’. Its history also dates back to several centuries, I am told.

"The body is carved out of hardwood, immediately after it is felled, so that the carving is easy. Carving a djembe out of dry wood is not only difficult, but also not advisable as cracks appear easily in dry wood, affecting the sound quality of the instrument. The wood, chosen for the purpose, should be hard and dense, which again adds to the sound quality,” my host informs.

The head of the instrument is crowned with raw hide. The thinner the skin, the better the sound quality. Hence, the skin of goats is highly preferred, while that of an antelope, cow or horse is also sometimes used.

However, care is taken to see that the thinnest of skins is used as thin skins produce sharper, louder sounds. "For that matter, even when it comes to goatskins, the skin of male goats is preferred as it will be low in fat, hence thinner,” he adds.

Bound by ropes, this drum is also tuned by ropes. These ropes add beauty to the instrument as they come in several bright colours, and offer the makers enough freedom to play with the design of the instrument for heightened visual appeal.

Another point to be noted with djembes is that only men play this instrument, for reasons that are not clear. Though all the other percussion instruments in a musical ensemble are played by women, djembe-playing is reseved only for men. It is quite intriguing to see that these traditional barriers against women playing djembe is still strong.
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