The djembe is a type of drum that originates from West African nations. It is a somewhat basic instrument, consisting of a shell that has a drumhead pulled taught over it. This description fits the instrument into the membranophone family. When playing a djembe, the musician uses only his hands and incorporates all parts of the drum for different sounds.
A djembe is a pretty easy drum to identify. The basic shape of the instrument is that of a giant goblet. It is widest at the top, which is where the drum head is stretched across and attached along the edge. Further down, the instrument begins to narrow, and then widen again at the end, though the bottom is not nearly as wide as the top. A djembe is usually decorated with colored fabrics and carvings in the wood.
There are three types of sounds that are produced with the djembe--the bass, tone and slap. All of these are put together to form a djembe rhythm. The bass sound is made by hitting the middle of the drum head with palm and fingers. This makes a low, deep sound. The other sounds are played closer to the rim, where the drum head is tighter and the rim can also be used to change the sound. Tone sounds are made with closed fingers, while the slap sound is produced with more relaxed and open fingers.
The body of a djembe is carved out of hardwood. The specific wood used varies depending on what is available where the drum is made. The drum head is typically made out of goat hide. West African goats are thought to be best, because their diet and the conditions under which they live cause the skin to be very tough. Goats in the United States tend to produce a hide that is more likely to break when the drum is used.
Tuning a djembe is easy if you know what you are doing. The drum head skin is connected to a series of ropes that lead down the top half of the djembe. These ropes are pulled very tight, evenly, all the way around in order to tune the drum. More rope is intertwined horizontally through these in order to keep the rope and the drum skin taught. New drum skins are tightened this way after being soaked in water to make it more pliable.
There are three spirits that are traditional said to be tied to a djembe. One of these spirits is that of the tree that was used to make the drum. Only those drums carved from a single log are said to have the spirit, not those made from many pieces of wood that were glued together. The second spirit is that of the animal used to make the drum head. Finally, there is the spirit of the person playing the djembe. These three spirits work in harmony to create the perfect sound.