Where Does an African Drum Originate From?

By Mark Orwell ; Updated September 15, 2017
The djembe is one of the most popular hand drums originating from Mali.

Drumming is an important part of African culture and is prevalent through centuries of the continent’s history. Today, African drums are played in many parts of the world. The djembe, for instance, is one of the most commonly played drums in Africa and the West. What all African drums have in common, regardless of their shape or the sounds they produce, is their African origin.

Historical and Geographic Origins

One of the oldest and most widelyused drums in Africa is the membranophone. It has a hollow body and two drumheads on either side of it. These and similar, older drums, were used as early as about 500 A.D.. The djembe evolved from this, having a hollow, hourglass-shaped body, but only one drumhead. The djembe originated with the Mandinka people ofthe Mali Empire in the 12th Century. Today, they are made around the Kayes region in Mali. Other drums were more prevalent in other parts of Africa. The talking drums came from Nigeria and Gambia, for instance. The bata and conga drums come from Nigeria and the Republic of Congo.

Origins of Drum Materials

The materials used to make a drum affect the quality of the sound it produces. Many African drum heads are made using goat skins from Mali or other central African regions because the climate and grazing conditions in central Africa are ideal for raising healthy goats. Other goats, such as those raised in West Africa, have skin that is too thick and tough to create an ideal sound. Drums from southern regions are made from clay or metals, contrasting with the rest of Africa, which typically produces drums from wood. Other drums are made from large gourds. These originate from the Savannah Belt of West Africa.