A djembe (also jembe, jenbe, yembe, sanbanyi in Susu; pronounced "ZHEM-bay") is a goat skin covered drum shaped like a large goblet and meant to be played with bare hands.
As a result of the goblet shape and the goat skin, there is a large difference in the tones produced. Striking the skin near the center produces a bass note; striking the skin near the rim can produce either a tone or slap note, depending on the technique used. The slap has a higher pitch than the tone.
The djembe first made an impact outside West Africa in the 1950s with the world tours of Les Ballets Africains led by Fodeba Keita of Guinea.
Some consider the djembe female and the ashiko to be male.
The djembe is very popular in drum circles in the US and Europe.
While according to some purists the photos in this Wikipedia article are not true djembes (roughly 5 to 6 inches in diameter instead of 12 inches), some would beg to differ since a number of reputable African drum makers have in recent years begun the manufacture of smaller djembes which produce much sharper tones and are more performance-friendly due to their compact size.
The djembe is said to contain 3 spirits. The spirit of the tree, the spirit of the animal of which the drum head is made and the spirit of the instrument maker. The djembe is also known as the magical drum and a mushroom shaped drum.
Eric Charry, "A Guide to the Jembe," originally published in Percussive Notes 34, no. 2 (April 1996).
Last updated: 10-14-2005 05:34:50