The djembe is wooden goblet shaped drum covered by a membrane of goat skin that is played with bare hands. It originated in west Africa, most notably Guinea, Mali and the Ivory Coast. In the Bambara language of Mali, dje is the verb for gather and be translates as everyone. Therefore the primary traditional function of the djembe is to call people together for various cultural events.
Djembes are usually between 30cm to 36cm in diameter and 60cm to 65cm in height. The primary notes are often referred to as bass, tone and slap. The slap is produced with the tips of the fingers and has a high and sharp sound. The tone is more round and full, played on the edge of the drum. The bass note is low and deep, produced by hitting the centre of the drum. These sounds vary between djembes depending on the goblet shape and size, the density and thickness of the wood, and the thickness and tension of the skin.
Traditional west African percussion groups consist of several djembe players together with dundun, sangban and kenkeni players. The lead djembe player will announce the start and stop of the rhythm with what is commonly referred to as a call. The call is a short phrase played on the djembe. Once the call is made each percussionist begins to play their respective parts and together form a rhythm, often with complex patterns, timing and breaks. Within the rhythm structure, the lead djembe player will improvise by playing different phrases and patterns. In west Africa these improvisation are most often played for dancers. Today however soloists often improvise for the entertainment of others.
In recent years the djembe has risen to new heights of popularity, becoming the most common hand drum in the world. Djembes are now made from a variety of materials and are played in most parts of the world by a wide demographic of people.
Jeremy Cloake began playing the djembe in 1995 whilst working in a west African gallery in Auckland, New Zealand. Over the following years he started learning from and playing with several west African griots (traditional musicians). This study is ongoing. In recent years, Jeremy began to teach what he has learnt in an effort to support the appreciation of traditional west African music.
After many years of travelling the world and meeting numerous djembe makers and players, Jeremy is proud to offer his expertise as a supplier of top quality djembes for professional percussionists and instrument retailers. All of the djembes he supplies are made from plantation grown timber. Djembes will be available for sale here when available. To stay informed of new listings please register for the newsletter here. Custom orders and wholesale enquiries are welcome.