RESPONSE. PART 1
This is a response to comments made in both this thread and on Michael Pluznick's website, and addresses environmental issues and business ethics in relation to the djembe. It is a long one, so I've broken it up into two parts.
First I'll respond to Michael Pluznick’s following comment:
“I had and have guidelines on my Facebook page which unfortunately were not being followed.
My feeling is that it's my page, made up of friends that 90% came from my personal page and I moderate it. And really, if someone does not like it why not just move on to another page or group? ...This is a question of censorship vs moderation, maybe it is a Facebook question?”
I understand Michael’s wish to keep the group on a lighter track, especially if it was designed for beginners. What I disagreed with was being cut off without notice. I'd not seen guidelines, so it seems I did not check carefully enough. My apologies for falsely claiming that Michael had not posted guidelines. Also, Michael wrote that he'd posted requests for the discussion be ended, but I believe I was removed before I had a chance to read those. Either way, I don’t want this misunderstanding to sidetrack the discussion, which continues here on djembefola.
One important point that I'd first like to make is that I have my own voice and unique position, and that I was focusing on certain issues within the discussion. I have strong feelings about the subjects being discussed and therefore may seem at times a bit harsh, but I feel that certain activities and certain comments which have been made deserve a such a response. However, although my statement quoted from djemebefola applied to the discussion, it was taken somewhat out of context. I was speaking of an X8 drum called the “Black Stallion”, and below is my original quote; in part:
“They also take advantage of their customers' ignorance of what constitutes an "African djembe". They sell a BAD product, but have gone all out to promote it as the very best, professional quality available…”
This statement and use of the word “BAD” was made in regards to X8’s claims, and should not be taken as an absolute. If they promoted it for what it is then that would change everything. I’d also say that my choice of the word “BAD” was incorrect, as a more accurate word would be “defective”. In the thread ‘ringing overtony djembe’, the customer was unhappy with the sound of the drum. I pointed out X8’s wording which describes their “Professional African Djembe” line (below):
“The X8 Pro Series features hand Carved professional level djembes that sound absolutely fantastic and each one is built to perfection.”
I used strong wording because I strongly disagree with X8's deceptive marketing tactics, but I had not intended to bring this same wording into the discussion on the ‘djembe drum’ group. I wanted only to question the ‘eco-friendly’ part of the name ‘MP eco-friendly djembe’, and its connotations. I did not intend to attack the quality/sound of Michael’s drums, nor his drum business. In truth, although I’ve heard of Michael for years, he is mostly an unknown to me; meaning that I didn’t really know all that much about what he is doing until I (recently) read his website in full, and originally I'd thought that the “MP eco-friendly drum" was only an endorsement. Nevertheless, as I believe Michael has suggested, the discussion does not concern competition between our drums. In my original post on djembefola I mentioned that Wula is not really in competition with Indonesian made drums, as for the most part we deal with different segments of the market. Also, my comments are not officially from Wula or my partners in Wula, but are my own personal opinions.
The core of the original discussion revolves around two separate but related topics - deforestation from djembe production in Africa and Indonesia, and business ethics. Michael has ended up in the discussion (controversy) because of the promotion of his “Eco-friendly” djembe, and his association with/marketing efforts for Bali Treasures/Drum Factory and X8 drums. I’d add that issues regarding deforestation in Indonesia might never have been mentioned if not for their long running campaign to convince buyers that buying African drums from Africa is environmentally unethical. I offered information on deforestation in Indonesia to show people that there are environmental concerns on both sides of the ocean, as up until then I’d not seen mention of deforestation issues in Indonesia (on djembe websites). I also wanted to counter suggestions that African djembes are as major a factor in global deforestation as portrayed.
Although I'm taken aback by accusations of colonialism and big business profiteering (and will address the claim), my intention is to help keep the discussion focused and on track. I believe that Michael’s response in this thread and in the article on his website stray from the issues, and that he has adopted the rationale that it is unfair to use deforestation issues as a reason not to buy Indonesian drums; which is in the original argument I was making against the campaign against African made djembes. Michael recently wrote and posted an article on his website titled ‘Is it prejudice or truth about drums made in Asia; what are they selling us?” which has since been removed. In the article he stated:
“There is a real problem with wood and wood source in Africa and other countries as well and up until recently no one wants to look at the elephant in the room! The king has no clothes!”
Ironically, this is my exact argument, only turned around 180 degrees.
It is undeniable that makers and sellers of Indonesian drums have for years been making the argument that deforestation in Africa, due to djembe production, is reason to avoid buying drums from Africa. But there's been absolutely no mention of the major deforestation problem in Indonesia, and I believe that within the ‘djembe world’ my mentioning of it may have been the first.
My position is that for several years certain producers and sellers of Indonesian made drums have:
• Presented Indonesian made drums as produced from sustainable, environmentally friendly, government certified, plantation grown wood.
• Suggested that the purchase of African made drums is a significant contributor towards global deforestation, while failing to cite comparative statistics with other contributors.
• Used the deforestation issue as a core part of their marketing campaign - to convince customers that buying Indonesian made drums is ethically correct and buying African made drums is not.
• Copied the look and style of drums made in Africa, with X8 marketing them as “Traditional African Djembes”, “Professional African Djembes”, “Hand Carved professional level djembes”, and “Carved by master carvers”. They also name some of their drums with names from African culture, which serves to further confuse first time buyers as to the origins of these djembes.
Regarding the first point on plantation grown wood, the essential argument made in Robert Eshelman’s article, and the main point that I was trying to make, is that the removal of forests to make room for tree plantations in Indonesia poses the biggest threat in global deforestation today. I feel that any discussion about corruption in Indonesia verses Africa is beside the point, and I believe that the focus on the corruption issue has served to skirt the main issue.
X8 and Michael Pluznick contend that Indonesian made djembes are more environmentally friendly than African djembes, but without providing any evidence or comparative statistics whatsoever. Therefore I cited an article by Robert S Eshelman which states:
“Indonesia is ground zero for deforestation. Every year, 3.5 million acres of some of the most biologically diverse tropical rain forests in the world are destroyed in order to make way for plantations of fast-growing acacia trees… Americans unwittingly contribute to the destruction of these primeval old-growth forests…”
But up until now this point has not even been acknowledged, which I suspect is because to acknowledge that TREE PLANTATIONS ARE ACTUALLY THE PROBLEM AND NOT THE SOLUTION would completely discredit their marketing campaign. So the question still stands: does Eshelman’s argument have merit? And if not, then what information is there to counter his claims?
I also believe that claims of deforestation from djembe production have been made without an effort to put things into proper perspective. Yesterday I was in a carving shop near Bambetto and asked what they see as the main deforestation threat in Guinea today. All of the carvers immediately stopped carving and unanimously replied “coal”. I asked “what about the djembe?” They told me what I already know, and that is that djembe production is minuscule in comparison to coal production; and that they the carvers take trees selectively, with hand tools, and carry the heavy rough shells over long distances. They also said that they leave the forest intact, whereas coal producers completely remove the forest by burning anything in sight and trucking it off directly from the site. Djembe production is not even in the race with coal, as coal producers in Guinea are supplying a population of several million Guineans with daily cooking fuel, just as is happening in Indonesia. Not to acknowledge this fact will cast doubt on anyone’s argument regarding deforestation.
In his article “Is it prejudice or truth about drums made in Asia; what are they selling us”, Michael wrote:
“I have seen very beautiful and romantic photos of African workers in the forest or carving drums as well. Very artsy, very nice! But we need to also see photos of the forest that got cut down, too!”
But these photos do not exist, because the African forests Michael mentions still stand and still grow, which is the fundamental difference between the process in Africa and Indonesia - that in Africa the forest does not get cut down to make drums. Trees for djembes (in Africa) are harvested selectively, while plantation grown wood in Indonesia requires that diverse forests must first be cleared away (“cut down”) to make room for non-diverse, monoculture plantations.
Having said the above, I’ll add that my statements and links to articles on environmental concerns in Indonesia are not meant to wage a campaign against Indonesian made drums (based on deforestation issues). Before condemning Indonesian drums for this reason I would want to see statistics or other convincing evidence comparing deforestation from drum production to other industries, and to have a thorough understanding what's really going on.My intention is merely to show that plantation grown wood has been cited as one of the main causes of global deforestation today, and therefore that it is absurd to claim that plantation grown wood in Indonesia is more environmentally friendly than wood cut selectively from African forests.
Moreover, my point is that X8, Michael Pluznick, and others should stop using the threat of global deforestation as a marketing strategy. It is unethical, and it is unjust to the African artists who make their living from drum production and sales. Instead, I suggest that they market their drums on their true merits only.
Michael also wrote in his article:
“And yes, there is a problem in Indonesia and other places in Asia as well. There is a problem all around. So let’s stop pointing fingers.”
But it is the “pointing of fingers” towards African made drums over the past several years which has led to this long overdue backlash. For example, Michael’s past statement on his website:
“While in Ubud, Bali Ed the owner of the company also educated me to the fact that his drums manufactured at Bali Treasures retail outlet…are all environmentally correct. That is to say certified sustainable wood drums… This means they are not destroying forests in Asia to make their drums. Remember! Save the trees!”
He has since has written:
“And also that there is a problem with the wood sources in Africa and that is not being looked at all.”
“I also do believe that the huge amount of drums being made by all the various exporters combined are having a huge negative impact in Africa. I think if we are rational we can all admit this.”
“But the bottom line at the end of the day is I am concerned about the wood sources there. The sources, the forests where they get their wood is all disappearing fast! It is not talked about, it is hush hush, but it is a fact that needs to be looked at.”
“But the people exporting them are making a lot of cash and there are many more drums being produced and sold then you would think. I have seen photos and there are a lot of drums!”
“I think if we knew the exact number of drums being sold from any of these places we would be shocked!”
And I think that if we don’t know the numbers and if we don’t cite comparative statistics, then we should be careful in drawing conclusions and making accusations (“pointing fingers”), as has been done for several years.
“.. if you wish to see this type of discussion progress, then it’s going to have to be based on more than innuendo, generalizations, passive accusations, and vague comments about what happens in “Africa,” and asserting that people making sure they “don’t kid themselves.” The problems, as you perceive them, are going to require a dialogue that deals in specifics, so that resolution and synthesis can be possible.” –Bill Matney, in response to Michael Pluznick’s website article
“And the African people should be having this discussion, not us non Africans discussing the fate of Africa. It is a bit presumptuous of us.” -Michael Pluznick
I presume that anyone involved has a responsibility to discuss it. Africans involved in art and business in the US have the same right and responsibility as Americans to discuss the affairs that they are involved in, as inclusion or exclusion should be not based upon race.
“I find it interesting that there are no Africans involved in any of these discussions!”
“Why is it all non Africans and so much about business?” -Michael Pluznick
The person who was most vocal in the discussion on ‘djembe drum’ is an African drum maker/exporter in Mali, and the only reason that we are discussing djembe business in relation to environmental issues is because there are those who have been using environmental issues to gain business.
“Another issue I would like to bring up is why any drummer who is a teacher, performer or student feels it is valid to learn another cultures music and art form, be good enough (in their own eyes or teachers eyes) to perform and or teach the music (i.e. "art form") from another person culture and even learn how to skin a drum and even make a drum but that same person will not think it is valid that a drum that is made from a person outside of Africa or even from their own culture is not valid?” -Michael Pluznick
I for one believe that anyone has the right to play or make a djembe. On a personal level though, I prefer to see people in the business who have an attachment to the music and the culture, and who are not in it for profit alone. Not to say that the drum makers in Indonesia have no attachment. I have seen the Facebook pages of smaller scale Indonesian drum makers who are obviously into and proud of their work. Djembe has become very popular in Asia and all over, and Asians have the same rights as any other race to play and make djembes. My concern is when I see mass-produced marketed as “authentic African drums”, especially when their sellers try to convince you that buying authentic “authentic African drums” is unethical. But my main concern is with American marketers of these drums, because their tactics are dishonest and lack respect and consideration for the culture and its origins. This is why some African-American djembe players don’t like to see non-Africans getting into the djembe; because some of us adopt it, twist it, and turn it against Africans. Such people are considered rogues. They do not maintain ties with their original teachers, operate outside of their consent and guidance, and are often at odds with them - while still using the names of these teachers to market themselves and often the drums they sell.
End Part 1