“The Drum With a Thousand Faces”
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN SENEGAL
“IT BELLOWS, screeches, cries and screams. It whispers and it sings. . . . It is the drum with infinite range, the drum with a thousand faces.” What was it that aroused this writer’s imagination? The African hand drum called a djembe.
The djembe is at the heart of the drumming tradition of some West African tribes. Typically, djembe rhythms are linked with cultural events of village life, ranging from marriages, deaths, and births to festivals, harvests, and even the purchase of new clothing.
Djembes come in various shapes and sizes. In fact, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, and Senegal each have their own unique style of djembe. The instrument is fashioned from a solid log, which is hollowed out and shaped into a drum shell. Some have modest ornamentation, while others are crafted with elaborate carvings.
Once the shell is complete, a skilled drum maker transforms the wooden skeleton into a unique musical instrument. First, the drum maker chisels, scrapes, and sands the shell until it is the precise dimension that will produce the desired sound. This craftsman may also coat the inside of the drum with palm oil and allow it to dry in the sun. This helps preserve the wood.
The drumhead of the djembe is made from goatskin and is attached to a metal ring and placed on top of the drum. It is held in place by a network of cords connected to two other rings. How tight does the drum maker pull the cords? It all depends on the sound he wants to produce. As the craftsman tunes the drum, he periodically checks it by playing his favorite beat.
The djembe enthralls both Africans and visitors alike. Indeed, once you experience a jam session put on by skilled musicians, it is hard to forget “the drum with a thousand faces.”