Discuss culture and traditions
User avatar
By michi
#26075
The discussion of tuning systems prompted me to have a look at what I could find about the so-called "Djem tree" by doing a few searches.

Wow! Now that's an experience. Google returned 608 hits on the term (a very low number, incidentally). Looking at the results, it appears that almost everyone has copied from one incorrect original source. Some guy invented the story of how djembes are made from the "Djem tree", and everyone blithely copied that.

As far as I can tell, none of these pages cite a source. The "knowledge" that the "Djem tree" is what djembes are made out of seems to have sprung from nowhere.

A few hits say that the "Djem tree" is the same as the Sicamore fig (Ficus sycomorus). That tree grows in West Africa (as well as elsewhere). However, I have never heard of this tree as being used for djembes. No shell supplier I know of, no literature I have read, no master I have spoken to has ever mentioned this.

Some choice quotes from the pages I looked at:
We learnt that the “Djembe” come from Ghana. The drums are made from wood from the “Djem” tree and goat skin (goats are called “Be” in Ghana) hence the name “Djembe”.

http://www.ghschool.net/Music_Art_Drama ... rkshop.php
That is of course complete nonsense. The djembe doesn't come from Ghana, it's not made from the "Djem tree", and even though the Ewe word for goat is "be", that's irrelevant, because "djembe" is a Malinke word.
In West African communities drumming was originally used to communicate across far distances. The djembe drum was the mouthpiece used by tribes to connect and converse with each other regular interactions.

http://www.druminspire.com/index.htm?page=drumming.htm
That is of course complete fantasy material. The djembe was never used a signalling drum by the Malinke and has nothing to do with the bush telegraph of central Africa.
The djembe is used to communicate traditional messages.

Traditionally, each djembe drum begins with a message from the djem tree.

Eric Charry shares in his article, “A Guide to the Jembe” written in April, 1996, "The djembe is used for communication in and among West African villages."

Ali Mazrui's newspaper article entitled, "The Africans, A Triple Heritage" from the Boston Globe, 1986, indicates traditional djembe musicians are of the djeli class, and pass on history and stories through their drumming.

http://www.virtual.yosemite.edu/kgyuran/102inform2.htm
The entire thing is a complete fabrication. (Sadly, this is from a college syllabus!)

The "quote" from Eric Charry is particularly worrying because the quotation marks indicate a literal quote from his article. However, if you go and read Charry's article, you find that he never said any such thing. "Citations" such as this are the bane of academics and researchers; the falsification can be so gross as to make a reputable researcher appear to be completely incompetent.

The claim that djembe musicians are djelis is patently false; the djembe never was a griot instrument.

While looking through some of these pages, I also found that virtually all of them freely copied text from an older version of the Wikipedia page on the djembe. Some of what used to be on that page was also complete fantasy material with no connection to reality or citation of sources.

Another example is the use of the term "djun djun" for dunduns (or "dunun", if you prefer that spelling). Currently, I get about 71,000 hits on the word, even though it is a made-up term that has never been correct. Again, looking through the search results, it becomes clear that the vast majority of appearances of "djun djun" are verbatim (or near verbatim) copies of an old Wikipedia page. In fact, you can trace this back directly to the very first day that article was created, on 31 December 2004. One moron who thought "djun djun" sounded cool (or otherwise didn't know better) created that page; ever since, everyone else blithely copied it.

The Internet is a curse as much as a blessing…

Michi.
User avatar
By Waraba
#26077
I learned the "djun djun" word in 1991, well before Wikipedia.
User avatar
By michi
#26079
Waraba wrote:I learned the "djun djun" word in 1991, well before Wikipedia.
Yes, I believe you. But it is Wikipedia that did the damage. People seem to believe that what's in Wikipedia is true. Sadly, the reality is very different. Anyone can add any garbage they like to a Wikipedia page. And, if it is a page that isn't actively being monitored by other editors, the garbage can hang around for many years. In the mean time, it becomes the gospel truth merely by having been on Wikipedia for a period of time, no matter how wrong the information may actually be.

Cheers,

Michi.
User avatar
By Waraba
#26085
michi wrote:
Waraba wrote:I learned the "djun djun" word in 1991, well before Wikipedia.
Yes, I believe you. But it is Wikipedia that did the damage. People seem to believe that what's in Wikipedia is true. Sadly, the reality is very different. Anyone can add any garbage they like to a Wikipedia page. And, if it is a page that isn't actively being monitored by other editors, the garbage can hang around for many years. In the mean time, it becomes the gospel truth merely by having been on Wikipedia for a period of time, no matter how wrong the information may actually be.

Cheers,

Michi.
Yeah, like the Tree Octopus. I'm not sure if that's on Wikipedia, but it's worth looking up. I'm an elementary school teacher, and I'm aware of kids having done reports on that creature.

Anyway, the djem tree is where the money grows.
User avatar
By michi
#26086
Waraba wrote:Yeah, like the Tree Octopus. I'm not sure if that's on Wikipedia, but it's worth looking up. I'm an elementary school teacher, and I'm aware of kids having done reports on that creature.
It is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_No ... ee_octopus

Fortunately, it is clearly identified as a hoax. According to the Wikipedia article, 24 out of 25 seventh-grade students, identified by the school as their best online readers, fell for the hoax. Seventh grade is what? 12 or 13 years of age? That says a lot about the sad state of science education…
Anyway, the djem tree is where the money grows.
Dang! Where can I get seeds? :)

Michi.
By Daniel Preissler
#26091
thanx and congratulations for your research Michi!!!
You have demonstrated very clearly how things are going on.
Some misunderstanding, some more or less "true" aspect add to the wrong context and some real rubbish being mixed to form a very well selling product called "the african culture" d;-)
Now imagine hundreds of people each year asking Mamady and Famoudou about such stuff: Once or twice they might be just tired and will say "yes and good night" and the next day it starts: "Mamady has said..., Famoudou as well calls it..." ;-)
I think even many books and cd inlays have been realized that way (I now how difficult it is to tell "the truth" about a complex thing in one sentence, like for a disc, but still...)

Best regards,
Daniel
User avatar
By michi
#26092
Afoba wrote:thanx and congratulations for your research Michi!!!
Thanks Daniel!
Some misunderstanding, some more or less "true" aspect add to the wrong context and some real rubbish being mixed to form a very well selling product called "the african culture" d;-)
Now imagine hundreds of people each year asking Mamady and Famoudou about such stuff: Once or twice they might be just tired and will say "yes and good night" and the next day it starts: "Mamady has said..., Famoudou as well calls it..." ;-)
Yes, unfortunately, that's how it happens. I've spent a lot of one-on-one time with Mamady, and a fair bit of one-on-one time with Famoudou, and I know first-hand that they (surprise, surprise) are human like the rest of us. They might have a bad day where they don't remember something, they might be tired, they might just want to switch off and get rid of those pesky students and admirers for half an hour. Every word they speak is put on the gold scales and, thereafter, becomes gospel.

That's unfair to Mamady and Famoudou, and it is unfair to the people who are then fed the (mis)information. I've caught Mamady in inconsistencies on more than one occasion. So what? I'm inconsistent too every now and then. My memory isn't perfect, I change my opinion, I forget something and later remember it again… All these things mean that just because I've heard something from a master once doesn't mean it's the gospel truth.

The signalling drum thing for the djembe is a case in point. Anyone with three neurons to bang together will realise that a djembe makes a very poor signalling drum because it doesn't have low-frequency components that would be loud enough. Even though the drum is loud (as loud as a jackhammer), it doesn't carry well because the low frequencies are the ones that are audible at larger distances. If you don't believe me, just walk away from a drum circle with djembe and dunun and observe what you can still hear while you are moving away. Go a certain distance, and all that remains discernible are the dunun, and even those carry only a few hundred meters in good conditions.

Yet, despite that, people keep perpetrating the myth that Africans had a "drum telegraph" that spanned hundreds of kilometres, which they didn't. The myth is so much more attractive as a narrative that common sense falls by the wayside.

Sigh…

Michi.
User avatar
By rachelnguyen
#26097
Hi Michi,

I was flabbergasted recently to hear one of the Malians in RI use the term djun djun. Later I asked my teacher about it and he just laughed. How in the world will people learn the correct way to say the name of the drum if even some Malians are mispronouncing it? Such is the power of myth to perpetuate itself.

A long time ago I studied a Japanese healing technique called Reiki. The whole background of this technique was myth, based on the story of a well intentioned little old lady from Hawaii. Books included the story. The resources online included it. All the teachers in the US were teaching it to their students. But no one had ever gone to Japan to do any primary research. When someone finally did do the research, the stories that had been told for years were, of course, false. But by then it was too late.

As you may have guessed, my husband's family is Vietnamese. The national dish of Vietnam is a noodle soup called pho. It is pronounced 'fuh'. It is commonly, endlessly, mispronounced as 'foh' with a long o. I usually don't even bother to correct people's pronounciation because I am a white chick... what do I know, right? But at a family gathering a few weeks ago, one of my husband's brothers... born in Vietnam.... eating the stuff since he was an infant... asked for a bowl of 'foh'. I just about choked.

Some time ago on the forum, a friend who studies and teaches Guinea style djembe came to visit us here at djembefola and rather emphatically told us the correct way to pronounce (and spell) the drums I play. I took it to heart and started calling them dunun. I started spelling it dunun. And then, when I was in Mali this year, I started to listen very carefully to my teachers, the guy that built my drums, etc. They call them dun dun. Two ds. Not dunun. So there you have it. For a year or so I have been calling my drums the wrong name because someone told me to.

The power of myth to perpetuate itself is incredible. And apparently peer pressure is too, lol.

Thanks for the awesome post.

Rachel
User avatar
By Dugafola
#26099
michi wrote: The signalling drum thing for the djembe is a case in point. Anyone with three neurons to bang together will realise that a djembe makes a very poor signalling drum because it doesn't have low-frequency components that would be loud enough. Even though the drum is loud (as loud as a jackhammer), it doesn't carry well because the low frequencies are the ones that are audible at larger distances. If you don't believe me, just walk away from a drum circle with djembe and dunun and observe what you can still hear while you are moving away. Go a certain distance, and all that remains discernible are the dunun, and even those carry only a few hundred meters in good conditions.

Yet, despite that, people keep perpetrating the myth that Africans had a "drum telegraph" that spanned hundreds of kilometres, which they didn't. The myth is so much more attractive as a narrative that common sense falls by the wayside.

Sigh…

Michi.
a story i remember reading/hearing is that drummers used to accompany warriors into tribal battle centuries ago and that the drummers would convey signals to tribe members with their fat beats. also, i heard that sese devolved from the shields that drummers would mount on their djembes to protect them from projectiles.
User avatar
By e2c
#26112
As someone else already mentioned, these kinds of stories (and far crazier ones) have been circulating since long before Wikipedia was a gleam in its creator's eye.

There are certain books that were published here in the US shortly after the djembe started to become a craze (back in the late 80s) that also spread TONS of misinformation and just plain foolishness. My least favorite, on all kinds of levels, is the one that says that women should not play djembe because it will literally "fry [our] eggs." Although the author has since apologized for saying that, subsequent printings of the book have not been revised, nor has an "errata" sheet been included.

I have seen remarks by one of these authors (though not in a djembe group) about using the clave concept in playing W. African djembe rhythms. I sent an email to the person in question re. where he had picked that up (???) but never got a reply.

Some people who are well-intentioned but ill-informed seem to be able to garner more public attention than those who are equally well-intentioned but actually know what they're talking about.

Amazing, huh?!

*

I have a feeling that "djun djun" comes from some of the folks who have studied with Senegalese teachers here in the US, back in the 60s, 70s and 80s. It could well be that it's an attempt to Anglicize a legit Senegalese pronunciation. Regional variations exist, after all...
User avatar
By Dugafola
#26115
i think the term 'djun djun' stems from Babatunde....supposedly there's a very similar nigerian bass drum called the djundjun.

go figure.
User avatar
By e2c
#26116
Duga - I'd bet money on the Olatunji connection.

There is a Ghanian drum that's called the dundun - it's a large "talking drum" played by I forget which group of people, but I do know that the answer can be found in John Miller Chernoff's book African Rhythm, African Sensibility, which is mainly about his time studying drumming with (I think) the Ga and the Akan in Ghana.

Problem is, his extrapolations from those studies - his sweeping comments on *all* African music - are often wrong, but most of the book is very good.

I have no doubt whatsoever that weird versions of what Chernoff wrote are circulating out there and have been for several decades...

*

As to mix-ups about names, that goes double in some other contexts. I'm learning to play hand-held clappers from the Thar Desert in NW India, called khartals. Problem is, there's another related but quite different kind of wooden clapper from other parts of India called by the same name - totally different design and use, at least, in most Indian settings.

And then there are the small cymbals played by Hare Krishna initiates and devotees, which are also called khartals and have nothing whatsoever to do with either of the two instruments I just mentioned.

Go figure!
User avatar
By michi
#26117
e2c wrote:My least favorite, on all kinds of levels, is the one that says that women should not play djembe because it will literally "fry [our] eggs." Although the author has since apologized for saying that, subsequent printings of the book have not been revised, nor has an "errata" sheet been included.
Ah, Sule Greg Wilson. Here is the relevant quote:
Sule Greg Wilson, The Drummer's Path wrote:A woman's gonads are inside her, kept safe (she holds all the eggs she will ever have—the one's [sic] she's born with—in there) and relatively cool. Too much heat in the body, be it from sports overdone, bad eating, bad nerves, or wrong drumming, can fry your eggs. Any questions?
This is not, repeat, not to say that women should not play drums. What I do recommend is that women take precautions to safeguard that which cannot be replaced: your generations.
From there, Greg goes on to make some recommendations about the shape of drums that women can play more safely, as well as safer playing positions and energy flow.

Anyway, from the quote, it is clear that he did not say that women should not play djembe. But the entire line of reasoning is just pure bullshit. There is no substantiation of anything he says, no sources, no studies, and it is all mixed up with dubious pet theories and new age hogwash, where he talks about "heat", "energy", "kundalini", "deriving strength from temporary celibacy", etc. To me, all this is simply justification after the fact of his pet theory (and very poor justification at that).
Some people who are well-intentioned but ill-informed seem to be able to garner more public attention than those who are equally well-intentioned but actually know what they're talking about.
I think that happens in part because people love a narrative. Many urban myths are kept alive this way. One example is the story that putting a spoon into a half-empty bottle of champagne so the handle of the spoon dangles inside will help to keep the bubbles in. That one has proven to be impossible to stamp out. That's despite the fact that people have tested it and found that it makes no difference whatsoever. And despite the fact that even high-school physics education is sufficient to immediately identify that the spoon cannot possibly have any effect.

But the spoon makes for a much better narrative than saying "the rate of carbon dioxide loss in champagne is governed by the gas laws and relative partial pressures of the gases in the liquid and the air."
I have a feeling that "djun djun" comes from some of the folks who have studied with Senegalese teachers here in the US, back in the 60s, 70s and 80s. It could well be that it's an attempt to Anglicize a legit Senegalese pronunciation. Regional variations exist, after all...
I have a strong suspicion that it comes from a bunch of people who either thought it sounded cooler, or couldn't be bothered pronouncing it correctly.

I know one drummer here in Australia who insists on pronouncing "sangban" so it rhymes with "bang bang". When I pointed out to her that this is the wrong pronunciation, she replied "I think it sounds better that way". Never mind that this is precisely how the culture gets eroded over time, bit by little bit.

Michi.
User avatar
By michi
#26118
rachelnguyen wrote:I was flabbergasted recently to hear one of the Malians in RI use the term djun djun. Later I asked my teacher about it and he just laughed. How in the world will people learn the correct way to say the name of the drum if even some Malians are mispronouncing it? Such is the power of myth to perpetuate itself.
Repeat something for long enough, and it becomes fact, no matter how wrong. (Repeat after me: "humans do not cause climate change"… :( )
But no one had ever gone to Japan to do any primary research. When someone finally did do the research, the stories that had been told for years were, of course, false. But by then it was too late.
Right, that's how so many of these things come about.

Here is a sterling example from a recent update to the Djembe page on Wikipedia. The edit said the following:
The djembe was also created for the purpose of communication between tribes. As one of the oldest instruments in the world, the djembe was and still is used by tribes in Western Africa as a type of Morse code or telephoning system. This enabled African tribes at spread out distances to communicate information instantaneously and without travelling. The language of the djembe had a vast amount of variety, with the author James Blades observing that "the drum languages are as numerous as the almost innumerable languages and dialects of Africa itself." [8] The djembe was struck in different places and in different patterns to "convey a language as clear as vocal speech".[8]

[8]: Blades, James (1970). Percussion Instruments and Their History. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-933224-61-3.
I was absolutely stunned when I read this, especially seeing that James Blades is a highly respected musicologist. So, I got hold of the book and checked. It turns out that the "quotes" in the edit were taken out of context and the second one was falsified. Here is what Blades actually wrote (page 45):
James Blades, Percussion Instruments and their History wrote: In remote parts of Central Africa, the signals transmitted by means of a drum language (Bush Telegraph) consist of a form of Morse code. Strokes of differing strength and pitch provide a form of 'telephonic' conversation, by which news travels at considerable speed. The drum languages are as numerous as the almost innumerable languages and dialects of Africa itself.
This makes it clear that the quote is taken out of context because Blades talks about Central Africa, where the djembe has never been played until modern times.

Here is the second quote, also on page 45:
James Blades, Percussion Instruments and their History wrote:Speaking of the tribe living on the banks of the Congo at the cataracts which now bear his name (Stanley Falls) he said: 'The islanders have not yet adopted electric signals but possess, however, a system of communication quite as effective. Their huge drums being struck in different parts convey language as clear to the initiated as vocal speech.
Again, the quote is taken out of context because Blades talks about the Congo here, but the quote is also falsified, because the word "djembe" does not appear at all. In fact, a search through Blades's book reveals that the word "djembe" does not appear in the entire book, not even once.
rachelnguyen wrote:But at a family gathering a few weeks ago, one of my husband's brothers... born in Vietnam.... eating the stuff since he was an infant... asked for a bowl of 'foh'. I just about choked.
See "bang bang", above :(
rachelnguyen wrote:Some time ago on the forum, a friend who studies and teaches Guinea style djembe came to visit us here at djembefola and rather emphatically told us the correct way to pronounce (and spell) the drums I play. I took it to heart and started calling them dunun. I started spelling it dunun. And then, when I was in Mali this year, I started to listen very carefully to my teachers, the guy that built my drums, etc. They call them dun dun. Two ds. Not dunun. So there you have it. For a year or so I have been calling my drums the wrong name because someone told me to.
Might you, by any chance, be referring to this thread? ;)

I also paid (and still pay) close attention whenever I hear Malinke speakers use terms from their own language. Most Malinke I have observed saying "dunun" have essentially no "d" in the middle. Sometimes, there is a hint of a "d" that, even though it is weak, can be heard clearly. So, "dundun" is a legitimate spelling, I believe, although when pronounced by westerners, the "d" tends to come out far too prominently, so I believe that "dunun" is closer to the correct pronunciation.

No West African teacher I've ever had contact with would pull up someone saying "dundun". But you will get pulled up if you say "djun djun," at least by Mamady. :)

Using "dununs" or "dunduns" for plural is wrong though. That is just a westernization, albeit a fairly harmless one.
The power of myth to perpetuate itself is incredible. And apparently peer pressure is too, lol.
Right! :)

That's why it pays to always do at least some sanity checking and verify facts you care about. Even the most well-intentioned and conscientious people can make mistakes.

And the plural of "anecdote" will never be "fact"…
Thanks for the awesome post.
You are welcome, and thank you! :)

Michi.
User avatar
By michi
#26119
Dugafola wrote:a story i remember reading/hearing is that drummers used to accompany warriors into tribal battle centuries ago and that the drummers would convey signals to tribe members with their fat beats.
The use of drums in war has a very long history in many different cultures. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that the Malinke used drums in battle and also used them for simple signals. At close range, that could work well. However, that is a long shot from a "bush telegraph" or a "drum language".
also, i heard that sese devolved from the shields that drummers would mount on their djembes to protect them from projectiles.
I strongly suspect that this story is apocryphal. If you think about the physics of this (position, necessary size and weight, effectiveness of protection), it seems very clear to me that this is almost certainly false. It makes much more sense to put the armour on one's body than it does to put it on the drum.

Cheers,

Michi.