What makes a good Djembe?
If you are thinking of buying your first Djembe (or if you already have
one and want to know more) - here are a few things to look out for in a
1. Traditional shell
Djembe drum shells are traditionally carved by hand, from a single
log. Drum shells carved in this way have advantages in strength
and tone compared with drums which have been manufactured on lathes or
constructed with non-traditional coopering.
2. Quality assembly
The cord on a well tuned Djembe will be hard and taut.
Check how your drum has been strung. Ideally the knots on the rim
should be less than an inch (2.5 cm) apart. The more knots on the rim,
the better. This increases the depth and tone of the drum and is likely
to indicate a quality drum that has been assembled with care.
Has the shell been tailored to its first skin? Stand the drum on a level
surface and run your eye across the skin. The bearing edge (the rim)
should be the same height from the ground all the way around. This minimises
the chance of the skin breaking due to uneven tensioning and helps eliminate
ringing or buzzing that can come from a poorly fitted head (skin). Also,
the shoulders of the rim should be rounded making it easier for the
beginner and more comfortable for long periods of play.
African Percussion drums are also treated with a "slip-sealed
bearing surface" - a frictionless finish to the bearing edge which
further increases the life of the skin and helps prevent weak spots
developing as the drum skin moves in heat / cold or during tuning.
4. How does it sound?
Lift the drum off the ground (or angle the base) to allow air to escape
from the bottom. Have a hit. Try hitting a bass by trampolining your
palm off the centre of the skin. The bass note should be deep and long.
The bass on a good drum will hang in the air for some time after your
hand leaves the skin. Check out the edge note by hitting the rim and
letting your fingers whip down onto the skin. It should make a loud,
sharp crack. The louder and sharper the better.
5. What suits you?
A big drum with an impressive bass is pretty hard to go past... but
when shopping for a drum make sure you get one that suits you. When
starting out it's good to look at a variety of sizes until you find one
that you are comfortable playing. It is still very possible to find
medium and smaller drums that have long booming bass notes and a
cracking good edge.