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Tuning a Djembe - Mali Weave

Tuning A Djembe 

djembe tuning mali weave diamonds larks heads knots tension twist rope rings flesh hoopMali Weave

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Djembe Skin
Djembes are traditionally fitted with the skin of a goat.  There are a number of options and factors to be considered when purchasing a skin for your djembe.

Size.goat djembe skin rawhide flesh ring hoop mediterranean african female goat

The majority of djembes are around 14", however they are not uncommon in the range 10" to 20", larger and smaller may be available.  In any case when purchasing a skin, you should ensiure that you have at least 2 inches of surplus all around, this means that for a 14" djembe, you would purchase a head no smaller than 18".  This surplus is to account for the folding of the skin around the flesh ring and the top ring and to give you enough to grip when first applying the head.

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Servicing a djembe

Djembe Maintenance 

Just as your car requires a service to mend any faults or to prevent faults occurring, a djembe will require periodic maintenance to ensure that it stays in good playing condition. 

Occasional checks

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History of the Djembe
 An unedited expanded version of the article published in Percussive Notes, vol. 34, no. 2, April 1996, pages 66-72. Portions reprinted by permission of the Percussive Arts Society.

A history of the djembe -

Eric Charry 

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For more on this and related musical traditions see Mande Music


djembe ballets africains mandiani dundunba mamady keita kenkeni
 Les Ballets Africains rehearsal in Conakry, 1994.
Photo by Eric Charry.


The jembe (spelled djembe in French writing) is on the verge of achieving world status as a percussion instrument,

rivaled in popularity perhaps only by the conga and steel pan. It first made an impact outside West Africa in the 1950s due to the world tours of Les Ballets Africains led by the Guinean Fodeba Keita. In the few decades succeeding this initial exposure the jembe was known internationally only to a small coterie of musicians and devotees of African music and dance. In the U.S. interest in the jembe centered around Ladji Camara, a member  of Les Ballets Africains in the 1950s, who since the 1960s has trained a generation of American players. Worldwide, a mere handful of LP recordings were released up to the mid-1980s, most containing just a few selections of jembe playing.

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Shaping a djembe bearing edge

Shaping a Djembe Bearing Edge 

The bearing edge is one of the most critical factors in determining the sound that comes from a djembe, it is also one of the most vulnerable areas.

The bearing edge is the very top of the drum and lies under the skin when the drum is complete.  It makes the join between the head and the shell, or rather it marks clearly the defining line between the shell and the head.  It is important that the edge is level because any unevenness or torsion will manifest itself in unwanted overtones/harmonics, buzzes, difficult tuning, potential damage to the head or your hands and a whole host of other irritations.

It is not uncommon for authentic African djembes to be purchased with poor edges, it is also not uncommon for edges to pick up damage in playing, transit or storage, either way, if it's not level or in good condition, it is a relatively easy matter to fix, unlike it's drum kit counterpart which is a specialist's job. djembe bearing edge shape thumb sandpaper file rasp sander drum head wax grease

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