Playing one Djembe exclusively

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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby nkolisnyk » Tue May 30, 2017 6:35 pm

Good points from all, I just have to add one thing:

Whatever a drum's tuning, it has to be reasonably in tune with itself. First to find the pitch that makes the shell sing, but also the skin's tension from left-right, neck to tail.

On my first djembe, I also tended to crank it up high to get the slaps out. As my technique developed, I realized it's an amazing drum, it just sounds better tuned slightly lower, but in tune.

My first drum now sits in my livingroom ready to play along with Nankama, etc at a moments notice. Even though it isn't cranked, I feel I know this drum, and I know what it needs to draw the notes out.

That being said, there's nothing like a cranked Drumskull Hare drum for dance class! :flex:
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby Carl » Tue May 30, 2017 7:35 pm

Tuning to the shell is an important subject that I do not hear many people talk about.

When tuning drum-set toms, I usually look to tune slightly above the tone of the shell. It helps reduce over-ring and makes a cleaner sound.

With djembe's they seem less sensitive. I think it is because the head tension is well above the fundamental of the shell/length so you get different affects based on which partial you are closest to.

I have heard many drums "choke off" at too high a tension. usually with a lighter/less dense shell. It would be interesting to look at the frequency of the head/shell in a situation like that (Michi... any experience with this you science geek?)

good discussion!
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby djembefeeling » Tue May 30, 2017 9:17 pm

What is a low tuned drum these days is hard to say. Ever since the invention of the iron djembe, i.e. a djembe with iron rings instead of a leather djembe where the skin was sowed to the shell with stripes of leather, the tension is incredibly much higher than it used to be. As for accompaniment and solo tuning, it also used to be the other way round, that is the old guys used to play solo with the lower tuned drum. That seems to give you way more influence in modulation. I guess that the influence of white people reflects in the change and the ever higher pitch. In our own culture, everything said in a higher pitch is more important and gets more attention. Our god lives up high and we want to go there with our dance movements and arpeggios and drum pitch. But the African spirits are earth-bound and everything important is expressed with deep frequencies, dance movements go down as do the arpeggios.

I usually give only as much tension to my drums as necessary. There is a point when I think it sounds good, then I stop tuning. Unfortunately, this is not often the case. A lot of djembes with new skins have some sort of flaws in sound so I usually get higher and higher, especially when they have these dirty ringy overtones that are not in tune with the basic frequencies. That goes away when you crank it up really high - though only with good shells, bad ones really choke off.

Sorry, no science here, just pragmatism...
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby michi » Wed May 31, 2017 1:45 am

No science from me either, I'm afraid. When I tune up a good drum that currently sounds only "so-so", I usually find a point where suddenly (within one or two flips), the drum "comes alive". Tuning further beyond that point doesn't necessarily make the drum sound better (only higher).

To me, it's just a matter of experimenting and listening. Some drums "come alive" at lower tension than others. Presumably that's due to the interaction between the shell resonance and the skin. And, it's not always at the same pitch because skin thickness seems to have something to do with it, too.

In the end, it's really simple: I keep tuning until I like the sound, or until the skin breaks, whichever comes first… ;)

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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby the kid » Wed May 31, 2017 10:46 am

I guess that the influence of white people reflects in the change and the ever higher pitch. In our own culture, everything said in a higher pitch is more important and gets more attention.


Tell that to Leonard Cohen. I suppose whites were to blame for evolution as well. lol

I would say that larger troupes of drummers as in guinean ballets lead in some way to higher pitched drums as lower pitched wouldn't be heard at all among the rest of the instruments. Even old school guys warming up there drums in the fire were trying to achieve a higher sound.

Then lets see with Malian drummers playing according to Polak for weddings and ceremonies or Womens celebrations mostly rather than tourist entertainment or touring. Still they play high enough drums.

I guess steel rings gave the possibility to tune higher and it pleased the ears more and communicated with a larger audience.

Then we can also look at smaller djembe drums from Taga Sidibe. It is way easier to get a high pitch from a small drum even with traditional techniques of mounting. We call these toys drums today.

What we have today is a view of how djembe should be. Most drums today sound similar and are shaped similar.

Someone years ago here, was saying there was actually more variation in djembes in the past.
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby the kid » Wed May 31, 2017 11:50 am

Actually i'm not sure if it was more variation rather differences.

Some conversation on the older traditional djembe here anyways.

instrument-building-and-repair-f3/guinea-shell-shape-dsd-wula-t2407.html?hilit=article
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby djembefeeling » Wed May 31, 2017 12:21 pm

:giggle:

O.k., my theory is risky. But your arguments do not convince me either.
Taga Sidibe is from the wassolon, right?! They have these small drums which are higher in pitch, but it's the wassolon. You cannot really compare. They also play khassonka duns with goat skin, not Guinean duns with cow. Very different sound environment.

Ballet music, isn't that by definition created for audiences abroad? But you are right. The sound environment drives them to high pitch to stand out.

Your strongest argument imo is the traditional fire tuning. That means even that generation wanted at least a relatively higher pitch. The change in pitch of the solo drum is, as far as I know, older than the generation of djembefolas Polak wrote and you talk about. I think it is, given the long history of colonization, possible that white cultural influences had some impact. Take for example the founder of the first ballet and thus the role model. He was musician in the French army in WW2 and deeply incorporated European musical principles.

The main reason for introducing iron djembes in Bamako wasn't that they pleased the ears better and thus communicated with a larger audience. As Polak wrote after interviewing several drummers about this it was simply way easier to mount new skins to the drum. The effect of their holding the tension without a fire was mainly regretted, since it meant the audience didn't tolerate any rest in playing any more.

My weak point in my theory is that I don't know details about the distribution of lower tuned solo drums in the djembe dominated regions, if it was prevailing in all regions. But I think my point is of some importance that deep frequencies are of somewhat more importance than higher ones in that region of Africa and that deep tones express things more sacred.

I do not want to change developments and go back in time. But I think it's relevant to know that the cultures differ in such a fundamental way. And that higher pitched djembes do please us more in many ways than lower tuned drums. To deal with the richness of possible sound modulation is an art form and the mastery of that something I wish I could achieve.
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby the kid » Wed May 31, 2017 2:05 pm

djembefeeling wrote:The main reason for introducing iron djembes in Bamako wasn't that they pleased the ears better and thus communicated with a larger audience. As Polak wrote after interviewing several drummers about this it was simply way easier to mount new skins to the drum.


Still the possibility to create the pitch you want is there and djembe players chose higher pitch. The result is higher, louder drums. There would always be an element of competition, and one fola wanted the business and would want to be louder than the competitors. And so they would all try to get the higher louder sound.

But I think it's relevant to know that the cultures differ in such a fundamental way. And that higher pitched djembes do please us more in many ways than lower tuned drums.


Are we really more pleased by higher drums. Or are Africans more pleased with low drums. I would think that the Famoudou appreciation mentioned above is prove of us liking the lower slower sound to say someone like Bassidi Kone. Famoudou will always win that competition imo. I mean his resource of albums blows most if not all out of the water. That is communicating the culture rather than the newest fastest player on the tightest drum.

The cultures do differ but i don't really see this as an example of this. Don't Africans want bigger and better as much as europeans or americans.
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby michi » Wed May 31, 2017 2:35 pm

the kid wrote:Still the possibility to create the pitch you want is there and djembe players chose higher pitch. The result is higher, louder drums. There would always be an element of competition, and one fola wanted the business and would want to be louder than the competitors. And so they would all try to get the higher louder sound.

Not as if djembefolas would be competitive extroverts… ;)

Are we really more pleased by higher drums. Or are Africans more pleased with low drums. I would think that the Famoudou appreciation mentioned above is prove of us liking the lower slower sound to say someone like Bassidi Kone.

I don't know whether there is a right or wrong here. Each generation of musicians tries to put their own stamp on the music and the culture. I mean, otherwise, all they'd be doing is repeating what the old farts did all their lives…

I can admire the jaw-dropping technique and speed of someone like Bassidi Koné or Baba Touré, and I can admire the feel and groove of Mamady or Famoudou. Either can be spectacular and moving. It depends on me as much as the musicians. If I'm in the mood for some romantic quiet meditation music and I put on a death metal track, I'll probably be disappointed. Just as I'd probably consider "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" a real downer during a New Year's Eve party…

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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby djembefeeling » Wed May 31, 2017 2:47 pm

The higher and louder might simply be a result of growing competition. As the clients got richer, the number of musicians playing for a feast grew from one or two up to six. With konkonis added, the race in low frequency sounds is lost anyway. Also, the djelimusa had to expand their voices with loudhailers, which in turn diminished income for the drummers. Higher pitch is louder. I think this is the main reason behind decisions for higher pitch under these circumstances.

Some of us do like Famoudou and the old guys better than the young guns, mostly because of the speed I guess. Beginners particularly like a warm and full deep base in a djembe. They usually are attracted to drumming to get rooted to earth, don't they. So there are counterexamples. Also, African drummers, the younger the more so, tend to crank their djembes madly. But this is a relatively new development and doesn't really undermines my argument.

Let's have Famoudou play the same phrases on a given rhythm with a djembe of lower pitch and then add some diamonds. Don't tell people that this is the difference. Tell them the form of the file is different and you need an opinion on which one sounds better. Which one will they choose? I can say not the exact percentage by which the higher pitched djembe will win, but it would definitely win.

I don't know how much new developments influenced young African musicians, but my best guess is that even they would still express sacred things or important things with deep sounds rather than high pitch.
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby boromir76 » Thu Jun 08, 2017 8:37 am

michi wrote:
....The Famoudou Konate workshops I attended drove that point home. He isn't the fastest or most technically skilled player by a long shot. His djembes are tuned high, but only moderately high. (His slaps don't sound like small explosions going off…) He can't play many of the more advanced riffs that modern players have come up with.

But, man, just sit there for a while and listen when he plays. He works the instrument. He is a master at playing with the overtone spectrum of the drum. His expressiveness and sensitivity are almost without equal. He likes to play quietly a lot of the time…

I never get bored when listening to Famoudou. He keeps surprising me, and he keeps putting a smile on my face. I do get bored listening to some of the younger hotshot djembefolas who leave Famoudou for dead in terms of speed and technique. But those players don't have Famoudou's artistic sense and sensitivity.

Could not agree more here. Famodou is a poet expressing himself through the djembe instead through words. It isn't about the speed, versatility or power when it comes to his playing, it is all about the feeling, timing and expression... Also his style of playing diverses from many especially joung generation players, where I often get the sense that they are trying to squeeze as many notes in one bar ass possible. He uses opositte aproach, where "less is more". He is probably the best at using silence and pauses as integral part of music. When it comes to sound, not so crancked up djembe with ritch sound and longer sustain is probably best suited for this aproach in contrast to super poppy and short cut sounding djembes tuned for lightning fast and dense soloing...
Last edited by boromir76 on Thu Jun 08, 2017 8:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby korman » Thu Jun 08, 2017 8:50 am

Or .. it may be that his playing style changed with older age. Fadouba Oulare also played moderately high djembe and sparser notes.
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby boromir76 » Thu Jun 08, 2017 9:06 am

It probably did to some degree, but the fundamentals stayed the same.
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby korman » Thu Jun 08, 2017 11:26 am

boromir76 wrote:It probably did to some degree, but the fundamentals stayed the same.


There are almost no clips of him in his younger days, but look at the ending of Les Ballets Africains 1968 show at United Nations, you might be surprised!

[video]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Y-LPfRbqAg[/video]
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby boromir76 » Thu Jun 08, 2017 4:23 pm

Of course it is litlle more energetic... he is almost 50 years younger there. Nonetheless, it is only my opinion, but the general style and sound of playing has definetely changed via last few decades and can be described best with well known"olympic motto": "Faster, Higher, Stronger"
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