Advice and questions on making and fixing instruments
By Onetreedrums
#15843
Thanks, Tom, for your efforts to put together some material on the history of the Malinke jenbe shape. I am looking forward to learning more from this discussion. My knowledge stems from conversations with Abdoul Doumbia and Yacu Kone and is particular to the jenbe forms of Mali. The main forms I have learned about are Soule/Soulie, Wassolo, Fula, Tassa, and Soulie-Tassa. I am sure there are more forms and certainly different ways of describing the same thing, but, according to Abdoul and Yacu, the aforementioned types can be used to characterize most jenbes. Here is an interesting link about jenbe forms/shapes that is fairly consistent with what I have learned in my inquiry:

http://www.aatmidjembe.com/produits/forme.htm

I will continue to investigate the shapes with Abdoul as this discussion continues to unfold and contribute any new information and offer a better explanation of what characterize each shape as I learn more. I will provide pictures of some of some of my Soulie, Wassolo, and what Abdoul calls Soulie-Tassa soon. I have only rebuilt one Fula jenbe in my eight years of building jenbes.
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By e2c
#15846
Re. the Fula drums that Tom describes above (and probably many others): there are so many variations on what's sometimes referred to as the "goblet drum" that I feel a little hesitant to use the word "djembe" to describe what might really *not* be a djembe per se.

Nomenclature is tricky; so is tracing origins, especially (imo) in W. Africa, where there are so many different cultures, musical traditions, percussion instruments, etc.
By Onetreedrums
#15847
Thanks, Tom, for your efforts to communicate what you have learned about the history of the Malinke jenbe. I am really looking forward to learning from your experience. My experience in understanding the various styles and types of jenbe is based on conversations with Abdoul Doumbia and Yacouba Kone from Bamako, Mali, and could best be described as a Bamana perspective on jenbe types.

According to Abdoul and Yacu, there are three types of jenbe: Soule/Soulie (I have seen it spelled both ways), Wassolo a.k.a. Bara, and Tassa. They also recognize the fula jenbe (narrow shape with very long stem) in addition, but to e2c’s point, it may very well be something other than a jenbe. Abdoul also describes some jenbe as soule-tassa as they share characteristics of both soule and tassa. Here is a link that describes a perspective very similar to what I have learned about the various forms of the jenbe from Abdoul and Yacu with the addition of some forms that I have come to identify as Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast style jenbe:

http://www.aatmidjembe.com/produits/produ.htm
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By e2c
#15849
Nate, thanks so much for the further info. and link - this is great stuff.

I guess the "Tassa" form (at link) is what i think of when I think of the word "djembe," even though I know that (for example) the Senegalese-style djembe is quite different.

The "Tassa deni" is close to a Persian tombak in shape.

As Mr. Spock would say, "Fascinating!"

*

Duga, I'd forgotten about Vera Flaig's dissertation. thanks for the reminder.
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By DrumSkull Drums
#15867
Let me first start by saying thanks to everyone that have already added to this post. It has brought out some interesting subject matter and I am looking forward to putting my many thoughts down in regards to this topic. I also want to say...let's be careful here with our comments on what is right and what is wrong. It is very human to want to seek out what is right and wrong, but as we all know, in any event there are many factors and usually no one way to do things. I have always appreciated the words of my teacher and all around wise man, Abdoulaye Diakitae. He often says "I don't know a lot, but I know something." He'd say this in regards to djembe and the study of; point being that everyone involved with this music has a piece of it that is true and right and no one person has it all. This coming from one highly considered as a master of djembe and by some a grand master. This statement is said with the greatest of humility and is something that we can all learn from.

Secondly, I want to say that both Drumskulls and Wula should be very careful in how much we ourselves act as the "authority" on this topic. As a rule of thumb, DSD have always defferred questions such as these to those from the culture, as we always remember that though we are knowledgeable, we are only students of this music. We have always been ones to seek influence from the culture rather than try to apply our opinions on the culture. We believe this to be one major reason why we have so much support from the artists themselves and why we have had success throughout the years. We are simply a reflection of this amazing culture, receiving not giving. In this way we are careful not to apply our judgements and opinions on those who we work with in Africa. This has always been our approach, our foundation and in essence the basis for much of my response to come.

One advantage in responding to this is that at DSD we have since day one headed all of our djembes (with the exception of the latest Import Line) ourselves. That said, we have hands on experience from start to finish with literally thousands of drums and we have heavily immersed ourselves into what makes each drum sound it's best. It is very true that the shape of the shell is one factor in what makes an exceptional djembe. Other obvious factors include wood type, wood density, skin thickness, skin origin and heading procedure. Also consider that djembe music is just that, music. Like any music, all artists have a different preference on their instrument. If you pay attention you will find that some djembe 'masters' prefer smaller drums and some prefer larger drums. Some prefer thicker, denser wood and some will prefer a lighter weighted drum. Some prefer goat skin and some prefer cow skin. Some prefer thin skins and some prefer thick skins. Some prefer Lenke, some Khadi (Hare'), some Djalla, etc... You will find some Guinean players that swear by Ivory Coast or Malian drums and some Malian players that swear by Guinean drums for example. I've also seen a few Guinean players prefer Senegalese djembes. Point being that all these drums are carved differently by different carvers in different areas in different shapes, and all these drums are being chosen by professional players as their drum of choice, once again dispelling the idea that there is one right and one wrong.

In regards to DSD's Guinea shell preference:
At DSD we have a non-compromising take on quality. That said, our opinion on what makes a quality djembe is that it must have a full range of tonality, be extremely responsive, play fast and efficient and have strong projection. Furthermore we find that the best drums are those that are fun to play and therefore facilitate proper technique. We have found this to be the best option for all players, both novice and professional alike.

Over the years, DSD has preferred what is being called the "v-shape" style simply because we believe that it offers all of these qualities without compromise. In general we have found slightly "tighter" bowls with slightly smaller holes lend themselves to be extremely responsive. In addition we have found that thicker skins can greatly add to the range and quality of the bass and tone and therefore extend the overall tonality of the drum further from slap to bass. This then is why we primarily prefer to use skins from Senegal or Mali, those that generally run thicker than those offered in Guinea. We believe the option to mix shells from one country with skins from another is one of our great advantages at DSD and is a key element in the DrumSkull sound.

As stated by Tom, "The squared off V shape can help a beginner/intermediate to achieve more distinct slaps, but at some expense of tone quality."

On some levels this statement can be true which is why we opt to counter act this scenario through skin choice. That said, on a similar point, a drum with a larger bowl will also come with a price. The expense of a larger bowl can be a less distinguished slap, less efficiency, more overtones and difficulties in retaining tuning. Generally speaking we have found that larger bowled drums not only are harder on beginners, but also, not the preferred sound of a professional. Though it should be noted that this opinion may vary depending on if the professional in question finds his success in the ballet/performance rhelm or in the village/ceremonial rhelm.

One thing that it seems we all agree on is the importance that a squared off "shelf" at the bottom of the bowl plays. Though our shells have a smaller over-all bowl, you will find that the inside of the bowl is always intriquately "shelfed out". This in our opinion is a key factor for responsiveness, definitive seperation between bass, tone and slap, and projecion. Without this "shelf" the sound would simply slip through the drum and all dynamics would be lost.

One last point....
At DrumSkulls, our preferences are based on todays context of this music. We are building drums for students of this music today, most of which are learning from teachers that have been heavily influenced by ballet style drum and dance. This means that the music is geared faster and the drums need to meet those needs. In our opinion, this is why the drums have evolved to the "v-shape" form which we use, and evolved away from the larger bowled drums from the past. On that note I see nothing that supports the following statement...

"It is true that Guinea has moved toward the straight sided V shape form, but it is due to economization in the carving process and cost cutting, rather than considerations of sound. Also, this move has taken place over the past 30 years, approximately, and especially over the past 15."

A different perspective is that it is within those last 30 years that the ballet style of playing expanded and djembe was experiencing it's greatest amount of change and evolution. It is within this time period that the bowls became smaller and the drums became more geared for modern day use.

In conclusion:
This is a great topic and one that I am happy came about. That said it is a discussion that is greatly focused on very intricate nuances. In going forward I encourage us all to embrace this music less with our head and more with our body. I'd also like to send my hearfelt thanks to Tom for his responses. Though there is some variation in our opinions, our goals are the same. I am genuinely happy to see other guys out there pushing this music in the same way we have done for nearly a decade and a half. I know the hard work that goes into it and the dedication of spirit. Ultimately this music is about community, and personally I am always happy to see that community grow!

Finally, I will not likely be sending further responses on this thread simply due to lack of time. That said, if any one would like to follow up on anything said, feel free to email direct at info@drumskulldrums.com

Thanks to all for your insights, thought and care on this topic.


Ryan
DrumSkull Drums
http://www.drumskulldrums.com
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By e2c
#15879
Many thanks for your thoughts and info., Ryan!

Though I wonder... doesn't the purpose for which a drum is being used have a lot of bearing on the sound qualities sought? I know people who have different drums for different purposes - x for soloing/lead playing, y for accompaniment, etc.

Seems about right to me. :)
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By Djembe-nerd
#15881
Very near in the future we will be able to have product lines based on this discussion, and on a standardised scale made for djembe with mutual consent, Like the following :

- tone projection 6/10, slap projection 8/10, Bass 6/10, volume projection 7/10 , This djembe is for someone with inclination to cracking slaps

Nice discussion above, informative but not conclusive, I can understand why, its a subject with wide variability and cannot be expressed definatively

I would like to share experiences then that give us an idea of what we have already to have an idea, here is mine

- 13" Guinea Lenke, Shell shape substantial tapered, Ivory Coast goat skin, medium thick, sound projection slaps cracking, tones Good, Bass Good, volume exceptional,
- 13 3/4" Mali Lenke (DSD), American cow skin, medium thick, sound projection slaps cracking, tones very good, Bass Good, volume exceptional,
- 13 7/8" Guinea Hare (DSD), Ivory Coast goat skin, medium thick, sound projection slaps very good, tones awesome, Bass Good, volume medium,
- 13 3/4" Ivory Coast Iroko, Horse skin, medium thick, sound projection slaps very good, tones awesome, Bass Very Good, volume lower medium,
#16130
Did that essay ever get submitted?? I'm anxious to read it. I'm in development of a line of walnut wood djembes which are stave built but carved out traditionally... with the spiral pattern on the inside. My first ones had too much of an angle from the top to the middle... my next ones had a bit too big of a sound hole. I'm happy with the one I'm working on now. I'm at the carving out the inside stage, but I'm loving the shape of the interior and exterior. :)
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By Tom
#16131
Rhythm House Drums wrote:Report this postReply with quoteRe: Guinea shell shape DSD vs Wula
by Rhythm House Drums » Fri Nov 12, 2010 3:34 pm
Did that essay ever get submitted?? I'm anxious to read it. I'm in development of a line of walnut wood djembes which are stave built but carved out traditionally... with the spiral pattern on the inside. My first ones had too much of an angle from the top to the middle... my next ones had a bit too big of a sound hole. I'm happy with the one I'm working on now. I'm at the carving out the inside stage, but I'm loving the shape of the interior and exterior.
Not yet. It's about 90% finished, but I'm contacting some of the old timers of the djembe buinsess in Conakry to allow them to weigh in directly; and getting together photos as well. Hope to have everything done soon, but can't yet give a firm date. In the meantime I would be interested in seeing photos of your project.
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By Kallaumari
#16548
Hi Djembe- nerd, All,

I happen to have two drums... one from Mali (Big round bowl - Lengue) and one from Wula (square white hare). Both drums sound delicious but honestly... round bowl and square DO DIFFER in sound, acoustics etc....

Before, I thought that square bowls were crem du la crem but now that I'm starting to know much more about tradiotional rhythms, dununbas, kassas, etc... and the fact that I'm falling in love with djembe sounds from villages, I can tell you... go straight for a round bowl....

If you wanna go "ballet" though.... i would strongly recomend square shapes, ESPECTACULAR SOUNDS for soloist hehe...

Kind Regards,

Josh
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By Tom
#17229
Hello All,

Just a quick update on the progress of the article. I had shelved the project until my return to Guinea so that I would have the opportunity to interview certain individuals directly. As I worked on the article I realized that the subject demanded more thorough research and referencing. It is an oral history, and therefore I want back up my writing with the direct statements of those who have who have played a major role in the development of the djembe in Conakry, as well as those who have witnessed its evolution over the years. I believe this will allow for a more interesting and precise article.

No estimate on a finish date, but I will work hard to complete it as soon as is possible. I am back in Conakry and ready to begin. As a matter of fact I just received a call from Bolokada Conde, who said he is on the way to our shop. I'll see what he has to say on the subject.

Stay tuned.
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By AoxoA
#27920
Tom wrote:Hello All,

Just a quick update on the progress of the article. I had shelved the project until my return to Guinea so that I would have the opportunity to interview certain individuals directly. As I worked on the article I realized that the subject demanded more thorough research and referencing. It is an oral history, and therefore I want back up my writing with the direct statements of those who have who have played a major role in the development of the djembe in Conakry, as well as those who have witnessed its evolution over the years. I believe this will allow for a more interesting and precise article.

No estimate on a finish date, but I will work hard to complete it as soon as is possible. I am back in Conakry and ready to begin. As a matter of fact I just received a call from Bolokada Conde, who said he is on the way to our shop. I'll see what he has to say on the subject.

Stay tuned.
Any progress on the essay?