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Mahogany from Bali for Djembe? - Djembefola - Djembe Forum

For chatting and discussions.
User avatar
By Nodrog
#4715
Hi there,

I am brand new on here as of today. I have just ordered a mahogany djembe from Mother Rhythm. It has a 15" head and is approx 26" tall and has 3 rings. When I asked for more info I was told the style of drum was based on a type from the Ivory Coast but the wood used was from Bali. I am a complete novice and so I am not expecting or needing a fantastic drum at this stage but I was wondering the difference between African mahogany and Balinese mahogany.

Thanks for any info, Gordon.
User avatar
By Dennis103
#4729
I have come across a few Indonesian 'djembe's'. I put it in inverted comma's because many would not consider them equal to african djembe's. The ones I've seen are lathe turned and very light weight and quite pretty. Whether the wood is mahogany, I have no idea. Often the skin is too thin, with too few ropes, too wide rings and very hard to tune to a correct pitch. However, for a beginner I think they are quite OK.

Happy drumming,
Dennis
User avatar
By Nodrog
#4743
Hi there,what a nice, sunny Friday.

Thanks Dennis for the reply. For what it's worth, this djembe using mahogany grown in Bali is classed as proffesional quality. It is lathe turned first to get the basic hollowed out body and then hand carved to get the correct spiral pattern to cancel out unwanted overtones. After speaking with a rep from Mother Rhythm, they claim that all their djembes are based on trad African instruments from different regions. Mine supposedly is in the style of Ivory Coast djembes and they use trees from Bali to guarantee the wood is eco-friendly and from farmed trees. It should arrive within about a week so I'll let you know what I think then.

Thanks again, Gordon.
By bubudi
#4791
hi gordon, i hope you enjoy your drum and get the most out of it. for an indonesian drum they are pretty good.

however, those drums don't resemble drums made in the native djembe regions, nor is there any mention of that on their site. different carving methods are used. the claim that motherdrums lathe out the drums and then finish off the interior with hand tools to resemble the spiral inner bowl markings of genuine djembes strikes me as not cost effective and i am yet to see an indo drum that has this.

the most common wood used for indo drums is mahogany, which has a density of 0.60g/cm3, compared with 0.80 to 0.90 for the prefered woods used in native djembe regions. it makes a lightweight drum but one that lacks punch. the skins used on the indo drums are way too thin, giving you lots of overtones and easily losing its tune. the rope used on indo drums is not the best quality and has more give than the higher end stuff.

the term 'professional' is pretty meaningless as everyone uses it. standard industry hype.

as for the ecological sustainability issue, plantation timber used in indonesia was planted by the dutch about 200 years ago. the fact a tree cut down was planted does not necessarily translate to several trees being planted in its place. one should definitely do their research into the existence of sustainable forestry practices in the country they are buying from.

i certainly don't want to discourage you from enjoying your drum and i think you will find it adequate for now. i just thought i'd respond to some of the claims made by your supplier.
User avatar
By Dennis103
#4794
bubudi wrote:the most common wood used for indo drums is mahogany, which has a density of 0.60g/cm3, compared with 0.80 to 0.90 for the prefered woods used in native djembe regions. it makes a lightweight drum but one that lacks punch. the skins used on the indo drums are way too thin, giving you lots of overtones and easily losing its tune. the rope used on indo drums is not the best quality and has more give than the higher end stuff.
That sounds like the Indonesian djembe look-alikes that I see here in the Netherlands.
By gfarand
#4803
I have had many Indonesian drums in my hands, and none of them sounded like a djembe.

Indonesian "djembes" make my skin crawl. Such a beautiful instrument from such a beautiful culture being treated with such little respect in the name of profit, i think, is completely symbolic of the world we live in, where everything is a goods that has to be appropriated, then sold with the highest possible margin. And to hell with all those inconvenient people whose culture we're bastardising -we've already made their complaints inaudible, anyway.

And as for ecological concerns, it is worth noting that in sub-saharan Africa drum-making accounts for less than 1% of all tree cuts. The vast majority of the African deforestation happens for agricultural reasons. That said, the deforestation is very real, and it is good to have a conscience about it. Some larger drum-building companies (like Kangaba) run reforestation programs and so it is worth looking into if you want an "eco-djembe"
User avatar
By Nodrog
#4813
A good Monday morning to all,

First of all, I have the drum that I ordered last Tuesday, It was on the porch when I arrived home on Friday. Thanks for all the responses, as I mentioned, I'm new into all this African drum scene although I have loved African music from way back when I was in high school in England, back in the 70's.

I have Indian drums already, including a set of Tablas which I love. This Djembe is to try and get my wife into playing some nice off-beat patterns so I can play along on guitar and just have nice jam sessions on the back deck. I have been listening a lot recently to an African guitarist from Mali called Habib Koite just to give you some idea of the feel I like.

As for sound? It sounds great to me. I'm not interested really on weight and density, (although this thing is heavy), I'm not even interested in the 'correct' technique. The way I see it is, the drum is the oldest musical instrument maybe after the voices of us humans and birds and such and these original musicians had no rules, they just went for what sounded good and whatever had the right feel for the occasion. That's my approach. I will be using all my fingers for rolls and damping probably like in a lot of Indian style drumwork. Like I say, I now have a new drum and for now, we are just geting to know each other. Soon, we will be talking and singing good.

It has a simple carve by the way, on one side, a pentangle representing earth, water, air, fire and spirit. On the other side something called a 'Gye' symbol. I got any additional info from calling Mother Rhythm and speaking to someone who filled me in on more of the details.

Like I said, to me, if it feels good, sounds good and as a bonus, looks good, then I'm happy. Plus it came from eco-friendly forests so that's a bonus too.

It has a real kind of rich bass in the center and a real sharp slap sound although I get this from using just one finger. I'm certainly not a traditionalist.....

I got my 4 year old grandson doing the bass, tone, slap thing and now he wants one for his birthday. Great stuff.

All the best, Gordon.
User avatar
By Djembe-nerd
#6619
I bought one from X8 drums, and sent it right back for size reasons (was displayed as 11-12", and was actually 10.3"). Of course they charge a re-stocking fee in spite of the satisfaction guranttee, minus the shipping costs and shipping to send back. Online buying only with reputed store always, I learnt it.

Comparing it with the one I have now, I can see the difference. I suggest buying a good drum if you are serious first time itself.
User avatar
By michi
#6620
Most of the djembes coming out of Indonesia are quite low quality. As with everything else, the quality of the carving, materials, and workmanship vary widely. And of course, there are those silly 30cm tourist djembes that are really no good for anything, except maybe as a display item.

The main problem with these drums seems to be that the majority are made of quite soft and low-density woods, which affects the sound, no matter what the quality of the carving and workmanship are. So, in general, I've steered people away from Indonesian copies and encouraged them to buy the real thing.

There are also djembes coming out of Ghana. These are inevitably made from Tweneboa, a medium-density wood. The main problem again is the wood. It's not dense enough, which affects the sound and also forces the carver to keep the drum quite thick-walled to remain strong enough to handle the tension. (This is also a problem with many of the Indonesian djembes.) So far, I found that the Ghanaian djembes tend to be a little better than most of what comes out of Indonesia, but the Indonesians are catching up fast.

So, there is no substitute for the real thing, if you want the real sound. Proper African hardwoods simply sound different. Common woods are Djalla, Lenke, Goni, Hare, Gele, Dimba, and Iroko (among others). These are all heavy and dense and very strong. A good African djembe will be quite thin-walled but, despite that, still be quite heavy. The density of the wood affects how the sound reflects inside the shell and how the shell resonates and dampens the sound. A light shell made out of soft wood will absorb some of the force of the pressure wave going through the body of the drum as internal friction, basically sapping the pressure wave of energy and turning it into heat. That reduces the volume and changes the overtone spectrum of the sound.

I'm sure that using the African species isn't essential for a good sounding djembe--I'd love to hear a djembe made out of Black Sassafras, Teak, or Sequoia, for example.

Anyway, back to Indonesian djembes... I disagree with the view that "the only real djembe is one from West Africa made out of traditional djembe wood and you shouldn't play anything else." I think that's just a little too dogmatic. A good quality African djembe sells for around A$ 650 (US$ 550), which is beyond the budget of many people. There is a real and genuine need for a drum at a lower price point. It doesn't make sense for people who've just started out on the djembe to buy a top-of-the-line instrument until they are reasonably sure that they will keep it up for the long term. When a student comes to me and says "I can't afford an African drum, what do you recommend?", I don't want to tell them "Don't bother playing then..."

An Indonesion djembe can fit the bill nicely. The ones made of Mahogany can sound quite good and give a beginner plenty to work with. (I can develop good technique on a djembe from anywhere, even if it doesn't have top-notch sound.) Once people progress further, they inevitably end up buying the real thing but, up to that point, there is nothing wrong with an Indonesian djembe, which retails at about half the price of an African one for the same size.

I just came across a batch of Indonesian Mahogany djembes that are made surprisingly well. Good quality carving inside and out, quite thin-walled, and nice sound. I bought a few to offer to my students as a low-cost alternative. They are currently in the mail and should arrive later today. (I'll post a picture once they get here.) I have no problem offering these to my students, although I make it very clear that I consider such a drum an intermediate step, and that it will never sound quite the same as a West African djembe.

Cheers,

Michi.
By bubudi
#6623
i've seen some of the higher quality mahogany drums from indonesia. many are small but they are also made at a decent size. i've yet to see anything like a 14" head on a djembe. i was told that it's hard to get big trees in indonesia for dunun and large diameter djembes. they still had the lathe turned characteristics, thin walls and thin goat skins, giving them a more ringy/twangy sound, as well as rope that goes brittle after several months.

if you really feel you can't afford a good drum and must go for an indo drum, make sure you measure the diameter of the playing surface. in order to be able to develop proper technique you need a drum that has a playing surface diameter of 30cm at the very least. in my observation the higher quality larger indonesian djembes are more expensive than the average indo ones, and so often by adding another $100 you can end up with a good ivory coast drum. check out baragnouma on ebay for a reasonably priced good quality ivory coast drum.

as far as non-traditional woods go, i have tried teak djembes before and to me they don't sound good at all. the indo mahogany ones are definitely better than the teak ones. i tried a camphor laurel djembe once (a nice tree but considered a pest species in australia and therefore its use is good from an environmental perspective). they sound only slightly better than teak. if you go for a djembe made from a non traditional wood make sure it's a hardwood. the soft to medium woods don't cut it.

as for ghanaian djembes, they are some of the most hacked out drums i've ever seen. they don't have the nice spiral grooves of the mande djembes but are typically splintery in the interior, with uneven thickness and bearing edges and rings that are as loose as a goose on a noose. :lol: they will take a lot of work to get looking and sounding nice. i prefer them to most indo djembes, though.
User avatar
By michi
#6625
bubudi wrote:i've seen some of the higher quality mahogany drums from indonesia. many are small but they are also made at a decent size. i've yet to see anything like a 14" head on a djembe.
The ones I bought are full size and really look quite nice. Still waiting for the bloody delivery to arrive, so I can't post a picture yet...
they still had the lathe turned characteristics, thin walls and thin goat skins, giving them a more ringy/twangy sound, as well as rope that goes brittle after several months.
Inside surface looks good on these ones, I'll add a picture of the inside too. Rope looked OK to me, but obviously won't be as good as Spectra or high-quality polyester rope. I expect it will do the job for two or three reskins, which is OK.
in order to be able to develop proper technique you need a drum that has a playing surface diameter of 30cm at the very least.
Occasionally, I get a male student showing up with a tiny djembe and hands like shovels--one hand is large enough to cover almost the entire playing surface with spread fingers. I always try to be as understanding and polite as possible when I point out that doing this is a really bad idea and will cause bad technique habits that will have to be unlearned later...
in my observation the higher quality larger indonesian djembes are more expensive than the average indo ones, and so often by adding another $100 you can end up with a good ivory coast drum. check out baragnouma on ebay for a reasonably priced good quality ivory coast drum.
I'm selling these ones for A$ 300, less than half the price of a professional quality djembe, so I think that's a good deal.
as far as non-traditional woods go, i have tried teak djembes before and to me they don't sound good at all. the indo mahogany ones are definitely better than the teak ones.
Interesting. Seeing that Teak is quite hard and dense, I would have expected it to sound fairly good. It's possible that cell structure has an influence on sound too. I remember reading an article years ago where scientists had taken microscopic and X-ray images of Stradivari violins. They found that the Stradivaris had unusually high and uniform density compared with other violins, and that the surface texture and pore size of the wood was different. They attributed the superior sound at least in part to these differences. I have no idea whether djembes are affected similarly--but it is telling that the type of wood that is used is a major factor in sound quality and that some hardwoods don't work as well, even if their density is similar to traditional hardwoods.

Another one I would like to try is Kwila (Intsia Bijuga), which is very dense (830kg/m^3) and bloody hard. It's used a lot for outdoor furniture here in Australia because it is very resistant to decay. I bet it could be used to make very good djembes...
i tried a camphor laurel djembe once (a nice tree but considered a pest species in australia and therefore its use is good from an environmental perspective). they sound only slightly better than teak. if you go for a djembe made from a non traditional wood make sure it's a hardwood. the soft to medium woods don't cut it.
I've played some of George Peel's camphor laurel djembes. They sound good, but not as good as West African species (despite George's excellent workmanship). I'm sure it's due to both its softness (only about a quarter as hard as a proper hardwood) and its low density (around 390 kg/m^3), so it barely qualifies as a hardwood.
as for ghanaian djembes, they are some of the most hacked out drums i've ever seen. they don't have the nice spiral grooves of the mande djembes but are typically splintery in the interior, with uneven thickness and bearing edges and rings that are as loose as a goose on a noose. :lol:
Agree. There are some terrible ones around. But I've also come across ones that are well made and, until recently, I would have chosen a Ghanaian drum any time over an Indonesian one. (Before I came across this batch of Indonesian drums I'm waiting for, if someone had asked whether there is such a thing as decent Indonesian djembe, I would have categorically said "no way!") But I think things are changing. The Indonesians have the advantage of a better-quality wood source, so they only need to learn how to carve well whereas, with Tweneboa from Ghana, there is an upper limit to the quality of the sound, no matter how well carved the drum is, because the wood just won't permit better sound.

And let's not forget that Indonesia has access to many different types of (truly hard) tropical hardwoods. I expect that Indonesian drums will become a much stronger force in the djembe market, particularly as the deforestation problems in Africa get worse.

Cheers,

Michi.
User avatar
By michi
#6626
Here they are:
IMG_1765.JPG
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Inside playing surface diameter is 12.6" (32cm), exterior diameter (not including rings) is 13.4" (34cm). At a height of 25.6" (65cm), they are a little on the tall side.

Here is the inside:
IMG_1766.JPG
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The skins are very white because they have been limed and acid pickled. That's unfortunately necessary due to Australian quarantine regulations. Rings are nice and tight, and rope is good quality. Sound is quite good, certainly better than the average djembe out there, and quite a bit better then most of what comes out of Ghana. Once the skins are replaced with proper rawhide goat, I expect the sound will improve some more.

Yes, I know, they are not African drums but, for the price, I'm more than happy to recommend them to beginning students.

Cheers,

Michi.
User avatar
By Nodrog
#6627
Hi there,

I would like to make two points here.

First. I have had my djembe now for a little over three months. Before I placed my order I took the time to call someone at Mother Rhythm and he went into great detail explaining how this new range of drums did indeed use eco-friendly mahogany from Bali, the initial carving out was done by lathe but then the basic shells were shipped to Africa where they were hand finished. My particular drum measure 14 " across the playing surface and stands 25" tall. It is based on an Ivory Coast style djembe.The density of the wood I don't know and honestly, don't care. It's the end product that counts which is the sound and the feel that eminates from the player and the drum. I have recently tied an extra row of knots and it's sounding wonderful! Of course, all this only counts for anything if I believe the guy on the phone and to me he must have been either an expert con-man or as I would prefer to believe, a genuine guy who was very proud of his new range on offer.To me, it sounds and looks fantastic.

Secondly. Anything I say above has to be qualified by the fact that although I have been playing music all my life, (well, since 9 years old), I am a novice to djembes and the playing of these drums. I say this because I have tons and tons of rhythm in me and at this point in my life, I needed a drum to get it out there. Unlike some good folks on this forum I am not a perfectionist nor am I a scholar of African history and geography, (although I do find it very interesting). I wanted a decent drum, not the absolute best, but a drum I could enjoy and explore and just get loads of interesting and pleasing sounds from. After three months, I am getting some good sounds and some real off-beat rhythms and find the djembe to be a truly versatile instrument. It is used usually on it's own or to accompany either my bouzouki or a nylon string classical guitar. We play mainly African style music but even then, it would not be anything the purists here would recognise. I am listening to Habib Koite from Mali at the moment so that's the sound I like.

Here's what it boils down to. I'm not hoping to recreate something that is traditional that has been done before. It's more a matter of playing and aiming at a certain 'feel' in the music which often is African. Sometimes it's more Caribbean, Maybe Celtic sometimes?? That's all part of the joy.

Does that make sense to anyone?

All the best, have a great weekend, Gordon.
User avatar
By michi
#6635
Nodrog wrote:Here's what it boils down to. I'm not hoping to recreate something that is traditional that has been done before. It's more a matter of playing and aiming at a certain 'feel' in the music which often is African. Sometimes it's more Caribbean, Maybe Celtic sometimes?? That's all part of the joy.

Does that make sense to anyone?
Makes perfect sense, Gordon. There are as many ways to play this drum as there are people playing it, and there is no one true path to the djembe. Enjoy your drum and have fun with it. As your style and technique develop, and as you get deeper into its music, you will decide for yourself whether you want to change to a traditional djembe.

One thing I would recommend though, regardless of what style you play: take some lessons with a good teacher to develop your technique. Having good technique is key to playing effortlessly and to speaking clearly. In turn, that will greatly enhance your enjoyment of playing the djembe.

Cheers,

Michi.
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