Drums of Africa

The African continent is enormous and our own experience and research covers a tiny fragment of the West African region. Within that tiny fragment, we have enough research material to keep us busy for our entire lifetime! Just as there are thousands of different styles of music and rhythms, there are hundreds of different drums all with their own special customs, culture and language. Here are drums that we have explored and share a passion for in our African drumming and drum circle events.

Djembe drum used in drumming workshops.

The Djembe

A single skinned hand drum made out of one piece of hollowed African wood and shaped like an hour glass. It normally stands about two feet high and has a Goat skin which is fastened to the shell with metals rings. These rings are attached with tightly strung rope which creates a complex system of woven ‘diamonds’ around the shell of the drum. The end result is a drum that has an incredible diversity of sounds. The edge of the drum has a dry, high pitched (almost metallic sound) sound. In complete contrast the sound created in the middle of the drum is a deep, booming bass which is quite capable of rattling the walls of a small room.

The Djembe drum originates from a collection of West African tribes in Guinea Conakry, Burkina Faso, Mali and some select regions of Ivory Coast and Senegal. Traditionally played by families born into the trade of black smithing, it is now one of the most popular drums played throughout the entire continent.

Dunduns used in drumming workshops.

The Dunduns

Like the Djembe, Dunduns are made out of one piece of hollowed wood, but carved into a barrel shape. They are double sided and played with a stick, though only one side is ever played at any given time. In Guinea the skin is normally made of a strong, thick, cow skin, while in countries such as Mali, the skin is often a lighter goat skin. There are three types of Dundun played – the largest is the Dundunba, the middle sized is the Sangba and the smallest is the Kenkeni.

There are a variety of ways to play them. They can be played side-ways with one hand while the other hand plays a bell attached to the shell, or they can be played standing upright. You can have several musicians playing different complimentary rhythms on each of the three dunduns or alternatively one musician might strap them together and play all three combined.

Dunduns are the driving force behind the sound and rhythm of the Djembe and thus complete a classic Djembe ensemble. You will rarely see a professional Djembe group in West Africa without the Dundun drums. They have immense power and momentum, creating an intense funky sound which makes it virtually impossible not to move when you hear them being played!

Bugarabu drum used in drumming workshops.

The Bugarabu

The Bugarabu is a single sided hand drum played by the Jola tribe in Gambia, Senegal and Guinea Bissau. Although it looks similar to the Djembe, it’s sound and the way it is played is completely different. The piece of wood is carved into a cone shape and traditionally the skin was pegged down rather than fastened with rope as in the photograph. The single drum can be played on its own like a djembe, but professional players often play four or five of them together, sometimes for hours non-stop!

Bugarabus have a unique, unmistakable sound which is created by a thick cow skin which is fastened tightly to the drum to create a beautifully rich tone.

Hand percussion instruments used in drumming workshops.

Hand Percussion

Drums are not the only component to creating the perfect rhythm sound. Throughout Africa and Latin America the drums are frequently accompanied by a large variety of percussion – metallic sounds such as the Agogo and Apitua bells, Wood Blocks which create depth and timbre and shakers such as the Cabassa and Maracas which create momentum. Hand percussion offers something unique and special giving distinction to the multiple beats being played. They are given the same level of importance as the larger drums in a rhythm ensemble.



Boomwhacker tubes used in drumming workshops and events.

Boomwhackers are tuned acoustic tubes that create different harmonic tones. They are played by tapping the end of the tube against one’s hand or clashing two together, rather like cymbals.

Because each coloured Boomwhacker creates a musical note, amazing patterns can be created which fuse harmony with rhythm. In a Boomwhacker group session, participants can easily identify the harmonic tone of each colour and this enables them to create complex music.

Boomwhackers are versatile. They can be used in many different activities in schools, colleges, parties and private functions, community and corporate events. Boomwhackers work brilliantly with group sizes from 30 to 1500.