Dugafola wrote:my buddy just got his container of drums from the same ppl making the Wula stuff...
not real impressed. none of the over the top stuff was included but just basic leg designs. but they were not clean at all...most of them looked pretty hacked. a couple had big knots in the leg that seemed like they could be knocked out if you hit it wrong. they were all skinned with cows and some were tuned up for solo and some were for bass accompaniment.
he's bummed to say the least.
This is Tom Kondas writing. I am co-owner and director of production for Wula Drum in Conakry, Guinea. I visited this site the first time just a few days ago after after my partner in Wula, Michael Markus, informed me of an ongoing discussion regarding Wula. I am happy to see the discussion but was disturbed to see the statement that your friend received a shipment of drums from the same people that make Wula drums. Unfortunately the statement is false and misleading. The people who make Wula drums are Wula employees and work exclusively with Wula. We have a small group of carvers who I believe are the very best and I personally control the quality of their work, from the log to the finished shell. The ability to directly control all
aspects of the drum making is what I consider to be the most significant difference between Wula and nearly all the other companies in the drum business. I’ve been working with most of the Wula employees for seven years and we’ve become a pretty tight knit group, with a single minded purpose to produce the best quality possible. The suggestion that Wula does not make its own drums is surprising to hear, especially when you say that the shop we buy from produced low quality “hacked out” drums for your friend. Whoever is informing you on Wula’s production in Guinea has been misinformed themselves, so please fact-check beforehand. A statement like this can be damaging. Regarding Moungam, the truth is that he operates only a decorative carving/mounting shop and not a shell carving shop. Occasionally Moungam buys shells from the various shell carvers in Conakry, decorates and mounts them, and sends them to customers abroad, but mostly he just does decorative carvings on the drums of others. In 2004 I had bought some shells from Moungam (before establishing Wula with Michael), and on occasion Moungam has bought shells from Wula. Moungam used to decorate some our drums (for Michael since 1995 and for me since 2003) but since 2007 he has rarely worked for us; the reason being is that we want our decorative carvers to work directly inside our shop and Moungam is not able to do so. Moungam is my longtime friend and a talented decorative carver, but the fact that he is now copying the unique decorative style that Wula developed (after having separated from Moungam) and putting it on the drums of others has become a problem. It creates confusion with customers when he copies our carving style/designs on to lower quality drums. Case in point is your suggestion that Moungam produces drums for Wula. When I was in the US several months ago a Conakry drum shop owner named Mr. Kaba (Dada) conspired with a Wula employee (a newcomer hired in 2008) to secretly take photos of the drums inside our shop. Kaba sent the photos to his customer Alex in Montreal, CA and said that these were the drums that he was in the process of making. Alex gave him a full container contract but when he arrived in Guinea he found that the drums were not the same drums in the photos. He agreed to allow Kaba to finish the contract if he would work with Moungam to complete the container shipment. Kaba accepted, so Kaba and Moungam worked together to try to produce the same quality and look of the drums in the photos. Alex returned to Canada and waited for his drums but when they came I hear he was very disappointed. I could very well be wrong, but I'm thinking your friend who received the shipment may be the same Alex in Canada. If not then this problem is bigger than I thought. Most of the shops in Guinea have adopted techniques introduced by Wula. That is natural and I have no problem with it. But there are many who are trying to pass off their drums as Wula drums, or as you say “made by the same people who make the Wula stuff”. That is why we began branding our drums and putting water marks on our photos. Two years ago one Guinean drum maker found a photo of one of our drums on the internet; a beautiful djembe which we had given as a gift to M’bemba Bangoura. Not realizing it was one of our drums he e-mailed the photo to Michael (he was trying to win his business) and said it was one of the drums he himself had made. We were pretty amused. Our decision was to not give him a contract to produce our own drums.
Anyway, I just wanted to set the record straight and to let those following this discussion know that the people who actually do make Wula drums are uncompromising craftsmen. Also, there are other comments and questions in this thread which I would like to respond to, so you will probably be hearing from me in the future. Thanks for listening.
PS-After I wrote but before I posted this response I was able to receive information regarding the shipment of drums you spoke of. Not long ago Moungam prepared and air shipped twenty cow skin djembes along with many cow skins to a customer in the US. It’s unfortunate that your friend did not receive what he had hoped for, but I am sure that Moungam actually wanted to satisfy your friend and develop the business with him. The drum business in Conakry is filled with extreme difficulties, for both the customers the drum makers, so any buyer should be aware.