A higher tuned djembe is like bright halogen light, very bright and shiny but tiresome for your senses. That is why the old generation of djembefolas regretted the new iron djembes with their much higher tension. The richness of possible modulation of sound decreased substantially. Which for beginners and their limited hearing is an advantage.
I find myself agreeing. While the glitter and the sparks coming from a djembe that is cranked to within an inch of its life are attractive, there is something about a "not-so-highly-tuned" djembe that seems a lot more expressive to me. 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.
It's not all about skill, or about the pitch of the drum. And, like with all extremes, make a djembe that's extreme, and you'll get extreme sound in one dimension (such as slaps that sound like pistol shots). But, every time we push things further in one dimension, we diminish some other dimension, such as the ability to play quietly or to produce really fat tones.
The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle to me. That's where Famoudou rules.