djembe zoom

For chatting and discussions.
#22661
A discussion on Indonesian/X8 drums recently took place in the thread 'ringing overtony djembe', and then spilled over into Michael Pluznick's facebook group 'djembe drum', when excerpts of my djembefola posts were quoted there. The discussion on 'djembe drum' was quickly extinguished when Michael Pluznick deleted the thread and then kicked me and other participants off the group. Some members complained about the censorship and then their posts were censored as well. Within a short time afterward Michael disbanded the group, which I feel is unfortunate, and now it seems to have become more controversy than discussion.

My message to Michael is that it is better to discuss the issue openly than to avoid it. No one can have all of the facts, and for sure Michael has valuable information to share, and a position to put forth. We were voicing opinions, and opinions can change as we become more and more informed. That is the value of discussion and debate. Over the past few days the discussion has continued on my facebook page, but I have decided to try to move it to djembefola, and to this new thread.

To be clear, my position is not that we should avoid buying Indonesian made drums due to environmental concerns, but rather that we should not avoid buying African made drums due to claims by Indonesian drum makers/marketers that African drums are causing deforestation, and that Indonesian drums are more eco-friendly. It is a false argument, and one that I feel is being used as a marketing ploy. The truth is, as Michi pointed out on my facebook page, that in the entire scheme of things "djembes are like sawdust". To claim that you can save forests by buying Indonesian drums as opposed to African is misleading, which becomes clear when you study the facts. I quoted from the following article:

http://www.brooklynrail.org/2010/12/exp ... st-climate

Nowhere in this article will you see djembes mentioned, and when Michael, X8 Drums, and others advise us not to buy African drums because of deforestation issues, it just distracts and misleads us from the heart of the real problem. Global deforestation is a serious issue and should not be muddled. I hope that the facts can be discussed here and that maybe all of us will learn something.
#22665
So what are the facts? In Mali I spoke djembe carvers who hardly find right trees close to Bamako anymore. And who knows for sure that the making of djembe's is like sawdust? Isn't it only justifying your hobby? Containers full of djembe's are transported to Asia, Europe, US. Lots of them end up as coffee tables. In Amsterdam there is an over-subsidised music school with 120 fairly good African made djembe's which are used to teach small kids make music! I don't find it strange that it worries people. So what is Wula drum's policy towards sustainability?
#22669
A serious subject, indeed. Environmentally, it's crayz what we are doing, all the deforestation and the long distance flights. I think in Guinea the situation isn't any better than in Mali. You can see this by looking at the new shells from Guinea: there is hardly any without sapwood. Most people want lenke shells, because Famoudou once said this is the best wood for a djembe. Do you know places with old and big lenke trees in Guinea, Tom? I could't see any in Hamana when I have been there.

But for me, it's no solution to buy Indonesian shells instead. They do not have a tradition of making djembes and I feel we should't take this income away from african carvers. My dealer, the Conakry based David Mühlemann, does plant seeds of lenke and other woods for djembe on private property to compensate for logging. Even though it takes many, many years for them to become big trees, its the best you can do as long as the government in Guinea does not protect some forests in national parks, I think.
#22700
Michel wrote:So what are the facts?
That is THE question. I posses only some of the facts, and will try to share them as this discussion develops.
Michel wrote:In Mali I spoke djembe carvers who hardly find right trees close to Bamako anymore.
I don’t have firsthand experience in Mali, but I’ve heard the same thing. Malians are coming all the way into Guinea to harvest wood for djembes, and to buy finished djembes as well. Mali is a dryer country overall than Guinea, and therefore [parts of] Guinea offer a better environment for forest growth.

But, hardwood trees suitable for djembes cannot be found in and around Conakry either. As a matter of fact, you need to go to Kindia, which is 155 km from Conakry, before you begin finding significant hardwood tree forests, and so much of the land in between has been clear cut and left barren. It is an ugly sight. This deforestation is claimed to be from past harvesting for timber exports and coal production. Chinese timber companies were particularly aggressive in their harvesting, and were racing to move as much wood out of here as possible, before Guinea got wise and banned harvesting for timber. I saw where they were loading de-limbed trees onto barges, which means there was no value-adding going on and therefore very little benefit going to the Guinean workforce. This is how the valuable Teak wood forests were obliterated, and I have been told that they left not a single mature tree standing from Conakry to Kindia. It is a beautiful wood by the way (I once saw a teak board years ago).
Michel wrote:And who knows for sure that the making of djembe's is like sawdust?
Unfortunately there seems to be no statistics available for global djembe production and exports/sales, so the only way to gauge is intuitively. Consider the overwhelming amount of paper the western world uses daily and just throws away. The fast food industry alone is responsible for so much paper waste, thanks to our addiction to fast food. And how many millions of feet of toilet paper get flushed every day? Now there’s a statistic I’d be interested in knowing. Are we ready to give up toilet paper and clean ourselves with our hand, like they do here in Guinea? Not that Guineans are not contributing to deforestation, because coal production for their cooking fires has had a major impact. You know it when you see completely bare hills still smoking from the coal producers’ activities. But this is a symptom of poverty. Also, if you drive around Conakry you will see furniture production and sales going on EVERYWHERE, and in comparison there are just a handful of djembe making shops.

So, is it just sawdust? Maybe, but I do believe that sawdust counts as well, and that we have the same responsibility to the environment as any other industry. As a matter of fact, I’ve had several run-ins with the landlord of our workshop space over my insistence on saving and composting all of the wood chips we produce. He’s even threatened to boot us for it, and the Guineans think I’m a little crazy for keeping this “trash”, but if you visit our shop you will see bags of it stacked up high in a corner of the shop. A little “sawdust” adds up over time.
Michel wrote:Isn't it only justifying your hobby?
It might have started out as my hobby many years ago, but it has since become much more than that. I consider it an art, and one which is connected to a deep and moving tradition. The djembe is an incredibly powerful instrument, which I believe is the reason that so many people are taking it up. The sound of it alters paths, as it did mine in a big way.

Another aspect of it has pretty much taken over my life, and that is the responsibility which has been put on me since I began living and working in Guinea in 2003. I now represent about thirty African artists and their families, all of who count on me to keep them working, and when we are not working they all suffer. I know most of their families personally, and so I am witness to the problems they encounter. It always weighs on me.

For these reasons I consider it more than a hobby.
Michel wrote:Containers full of djembe's are transported to Asia, Europe, US. Lots of them end up as coffee tables.
The idea of a djembe ending up as coffee table doesn’t really sit well with me, but neither does the argument that we should not make djembes from wood because they can end up as coffee tables. If that is the case, then why are we not protesting coffee tables ending up as coffee tables? Aren’t they made of wood as well? It stands to reason that a djembe ending up as a coffee table means that one less coffee table will be needed, and therefore it represents zero loss.

I realize that this is a silly argument, but I just wanted to point out that we are not scrutinizing other products made from wood as critically as we are djembes made from wood. Don't djembes deserve equal rights?
Michel wrote:In Amsterdam there is an over-subsidised music school with 120 fairly good African made djembe's which are used to teach small kids make music! I don't find it strange that it worries people.
It is a matter of opinion. Personally I feel that teaching music to children is one of the most important things that wood can be applied towards, and more important than producing the millions of tabloid newspapers which are just thrown away every day. How many kids will use those djembes over time, and how many lives might end up being changed for the better because of it?
Michel wrote:So what is Wula drum's policy towards sustainability?
We’re adamantly against having policies towards sustainability.

That was a joke, just in case anyone is thinking that I should lighten up. Our policy is stated here:

http://wuladrum.com/wula_giving_back.html

djembefeeling wrote:A serious subject, indeed. Environmentally, it's crayz what we are doing, all the deforestation and the long distance flights. I think in Guinea the situation isn't any better than in Mali. You can see this by looking at the new shells from Guinea: there is hardly any without sapwood. Most people want lenke shells, because Famoudou once said this is the best wood for a djembe. Do you know places with old and big lenke trees in Guinea, Tom? I could't see any in Hamana when I have been there.
Guinea has diverse climates and environments, which change from region to region. Hamana is mostly dry savanna grasslands or scrub-like forest, and supports mostly only small scale farming.
Over the past several years tree harvesting for djembes has been taking place in Dabola. Dabola is the area which most of the carvers know well and where they have their contacts; and it is not too far from Conakry (relatively speaking). Some carvers have therefore been reluctant to seek new areas, and the fact that Dabola has been thinned out means that they end up taking younger trees with more sap wood. For that reason we don’t work in Dabola, and currently are going to more distant Kundara. Kundara offers many mature trees; trees which can produce several full size djembes each, and a lot of them are lengue. This is one of the reasons we've been seeing so many lengue drums over the past year.

As I said, I don’t know Mali personally, but, from all of the information I’ve gathered from others, Mali is in much worse shape than Guinea. Go to Google maps satellite image and take a look. In between Beyla, Macenta, and N’zerekore’ there are massive, mature forest lands. Guinea definitely has much more forestland than Mali, which is why we are seeing more and more Malian drum makers coming to Guinea for drums.

But you are correct in saying that it is crazy what we are doing to the environment. The closer you look at it the more disturbing it is. Americans in general are the absolute worst, as we are so accustomed to mass consumption and waste producing habits, and are addicted to convenience. But it looks as if the wake up call has begun, and that our lifestyles are going to be forced to change.

I know that us drum makers can plant and grow many more trees than we take, and at a small cost, so I believe that we can actually leave the planet in a better condition than before we came. More on this later.
djembefeeling wrote:But for me, it's no solution to buy Indonesian shells instead. They do not have a tradition of making djembes and I feel we should't take this income away from african carvers.
This is a separate but related issue, and one that I’d like to get into at a later time.
djembefeeling wrote:My dealer, the Conakry based David Mühlemann, does plant seeds of lenke and other woods for djembe on private property to compensate for logging.
David has set the example for everyone. He’s been here in Guinea making drums for something like twenty years or more, and has conducted his business with high integrity. He produces excellent quality, pays VERY well, and was one of the first, if not the first, djembe maker in Guinea to replant trees. Great legacy.
djembefeeling wrote:Even though it takes many, many years for them to become big trees, its the best you can do as long as the government in Guinea does not protect some forests in national parks, I think.
Actually, the government is protecting some forests. There are large national parks which are protected, as well as protected forest land, called ‘government land’, which are not to be touched. Also, I was stunned to see fields in Kindia with thousands upon thousands of Teak trees that the government had replanted; all in different stages of growth, and some as tall as twenty feet. I will take photos the next time I am there.

Very important steps have been taken by the Guinean government to protect forest lands over the past two years. All harvesting for timber has been completely banned and even harvesting for furniture production has been heavily curtailed; but the government recognizes the importance of African handicraft production, and has not banned harvesting for traditional instruments like the djembe. Still, the effect has been to make it more difficult to obtain wood for djembes, and the prices have therefore skyrocketed. They are also allowing coal production, which is a huge problem, but one which does not yet have a solution. So there is a change in progress, but it is just the beginning.

The two posts which I just responded to contain exactly the type of questions that I was hoping for, so thanks for the input.
#22704
Tom wrote:The two posts which I just responded to contain exactly the type of questions that I was hoping for, so thanks for the input.
Thank you, Tom, for the interesting information. I did learn from your post and have some new hopes that we won't deforest all Guinee. There is still some doubt that, with all the corruption in Guinee, the national parks and ‘government land’ won't be touched, but "thousands upon thousands of Teak trees that the government had replanted" is really good news.

You seem to care about your workers and the environment, so I wish you all the best for future buisiness.
#22707
djembefeeling wrote:Thank you, Tom, for the interesting information. I did learn from your post and have some new hopes that we won't deforest all Guinee. There is still some doubt that, with all the corruption in Guinee, the national parks and ‘government land’ won't be touched, but "thousands upon thousands of Teak trees that the government had replanted" is really good news.
Yes, the truth is that in any country with a poverty level such as Guinea's there will be corruption, and even the protected forests will 'leak' some wood; but it won't happen freely, and those who sneak wood out do so at their own risk. Those in charge of protecting the forests and controlling harvesting have really clamped down, and all of the carvers are talking about how much more difficult it is to bring wood from the bush. Also, in Guinea most trees for djembes are cut and sectioned with hand axes, but some work with chain saws - a machine which can't be used in protected forests. If not, the people in the surrounding area will hear and report them.

FYI, for a few years now I've had the idea of forming a carvers guild in guinea and to organize a group reforestation effort. The time is right for it now, and recently I began discussing it with the carvers. I had waited because I needed to first get our own program organized and off the ground, but we had suffered two failed attempts over the past years. If you know anything about Guinea you know that it is an extremely difficult place to operate, and all of the civil unrest and street fighting since 2007 has made the surveying of any programs in the interior impossible. So, I have been steadily planning a 'new and improved' reforestation program, having learned from past mistakes, and it looks very promising. This time around we are working with a very reputable agronomist, and one who already has an established nursery in Kindia. If we get all of the carving shops in Conakry involved it will give us a great potential to turn things around. It's an exciting time, and what has brought me to begin addressing the deforestation issue publicly.
#22724
Facebook Censorship

I had and have guidelines on my Facebook page which unfortunately were not being followed.

This is a question of censorship vs moderation, maybe it is a Facebook question?

My feeling is that it's my page, made up of friends that 90% came from my personal page and I moderate it. And really, if someone does not like it why not just move on to another page or group?

I had let people post their ads there even though they were competitors until they directly started attacking my product, one person in particular (not Tom). I do not want to continue the battle with this person on line here so I am not going to mention names.

I said good points were made. I also, said it is time to end the discussion two times! I said people were complaining about the link being too long (over 25 people) and other points as it had gotten out of hand and personal.

People do not realize e-mails get sent out every time someone posts and many people... maybe most do not know how to turn off their e-mail notifications on their FB page. A simple thing but people do not do it then they complain to me.

Unfortutnately, most people who play djembe and write in are beginners and many do not care about the issues. I am not saying the issues are unimportant, this was just not the place for it to continue. So here we are!

When non African people start saying I am responsible for the death of my teacher in Mali because I did not send him enough money, that drums made in Indonesia are the causes of demise of African culture, and quoting sources that say certification of wood for djembes in Indonesia is corrupt based on hear say (not fact) and djembes from competitors are "BAD" in capital letters, drum circles are responsible for the demise of african culture, etc., etc. It is time to remove the post

There are several more very creative accusations, (such as I do not play my own drums in performances, classes and on my Youtube videos) along these lines that are still on Tom's page if you would like to see them.

I never said people should buy my drums instead of Toms.

For the record, from what I have seen on line Toms are in an entirely different high end category and price range as well. Having said that I feel I have a great product that sounds as good or better then many African drums as well. I have posted how great Wula are every time I have seen a photo of them and I have even recommended them to people who have that kind of money to spend.

I do have objections and issues with statements made in posts about certification process in Indonesia regarding drums. I think there are negative and racial cultural stereo types that are being used (Asian government is corrupt), etc. that people just buy into with out questioning. And it is not based on any proven fact. I also, think it is unfair to call a competitors product (X8 Drums) bad. I think we need to be really careful.

Has anyone making the accusations about the certified wood being used in the drums I am talking about being made in Bali been to the wood sources and seen it? And using this wood costs twice as much as the bad or smuggled wood which unfortunately is still being used by many people.

I also do believe that the huge amount of drums being made by all the various exporters combined are having a huge negative impact in Africa. I think if we are rational we can all admit this.

I am not saying buy my drum instead of Toms. I am also not saying that buying my drum or drums from Indonesia will solve the problem and buying Toms will not. There is a HUGE issue with "bad wood" being smuggled around to make drums in Indonesia! And people do need to know about this.

But, there are people using good wood in Asia. The majority are not, but you can not throw the baby out with the bath water on this one. There are people trying AND accomplishing good drums with good wood in Indonesia! It is a start anyway.

I want to make sure that in looking towards Indonesia and Asia as "the culprits" (there are drums coming out of the Phillippines and Thailand as well now), we do not loose site of the problems in Africa. It is easy as you can see here to point the finger at each other and as I have previously stated it is easy to get into a pissing contest of who is right and who is wrong. "My certification is good, no yours is no good! My wood is good , no yours is bad wood".

For the record I am not working for Toca nor do I represent any large company. Yes, I was an endorsee of Toca for one year and as a matter of fact I loved the djembe I was playing (made in Indonesia) and it's sound as well. I have made 80 drums so far and probalBy with have a total of 150 total.

I am saying that people tend to romanticize the African drum. Including myself! And it is hard for people to look at the facts that if we keep on going how we are going now there will not be drums coming out of Africa in the near future! And the African people should be having this discussion, not us non africans discussing the fate of Africa. It is a bit presumptuous of us.

I find it interesting that there are no Africans involved in any of these discussions! Why is it all non Africans and so much about business?

Another issue I would like to bring up is why any drummer who is a teacher, performer or student feels it is valid to learn another cultures music and art form, be good enough (in their own eyes or teachers eyes) to perform and or teach the music (i.e. "art form") from another person culture and even learn how to skin a drum and even make a drum but that same person will not think it is valid that a drum that is made from a person outside of Africa or even from their own culture is not valid?

Does that mean we are not valid as players as well? Isn't that hypocritical? Because making a drum is an art form. It is not magic. I understand the romantic aspects and I love my African drums. But we need to be more open minded on this topic. If you are not from the culture and believe yourself good enough to represent their art form then it is just as valid as someone else from another culture other then Africa producing a drum.

The big argument is "you would never see master so and so play and Indonesian drum" Well if that's all there is, or the drum is good enough or someone gives the master one he will play it. There are drums as good as African drums in Indonesia right now. They are not massed produced, but they are there for sure. I have heard and played them.

I asked Mamday Keita about what he thought of a drum one day after a class and he looked at me and said,"It's not the drum it's the drummer".

There are thousands of drums coming out of Africa every year. There are exporters from Europe, Asia, Austrailia and many other places you would not normally think even have drummers!. Drums of these numbers take thousands of trees. A lot of trees. Saying that drums are not the problem and it is furniture is simply not true. And it's becoming big business.

I applaud Toms effort to establish renewable resources and promote good wood in Africa but it is a band aid on a wound that needs major surgery.

Please check out this letter from Paul Chandler who is a music producer and drummer who has lived in Mali for over ten years:

Paul Richard Chandler: "I have lived in Mali for almost a decade now. I can tell you that African's are making very little off this business. The djembe business. The exporting is done almost exclusively by Americans, Europeans, Australians, Japanese etc. I would love someone to show me one exporter that is serious about sustainability and reforestation because I have not seen it. Africans are trading their future resources for small money so they can survive day by day. Let me break it down for you. Here in Mali the wood cutter makes between 1 and 5 dollars for every djembe. The carver makes between 2 and 10 dollars per djembe. The person mounting the skin makes between 1 and 5 dollars per djembe. And nobody is paying for the tree. That savings is passed on to the exporter who turns around and makes a pretty good "fair trade" profit off the deal. As the wood becomes scarce the price goes up. Master percussionists sometimes find it difficult to own their Djembe. But really, if someone knows of a serious outfit that is putting money back into people and trees, please let me know because I will I go check it out and send lots of business their way".

I personally find the attitude of white or non African dominance and business in Africa to be colonialism. Where is the money going from these expensive drums? From what I gather here it is not going to the carvers.

Since business is about supply and demand and there is a huge demand for djembes, it is actually better for Africa if drums are made in other places . If drum production were to stop completely in Asia and be refocused to Africa the effects would be even more devastating!

We do need to educate people, ourselves and drum manufacturers about wood wherever they are being made. I do not pretend to be a scientist or expert on the subject but if you look at the maps of deforestation in West Africa over the last years it is really sad and scary. As it is in Indonesia as well.

It is interesting how much of this discussion also centers around business practices as well. And the business of making and selling drums. Bali drums are like Honda in the early days, or the Korean cars of more recent years. They were not good at first but soon they will be the standard.
#22725
Some intersting points here... Obviously this s big business... So pluzy whats your price and price break down?

I don't deal in high end stuff myself but I would bring home maybe 10 drums if i went on a trip to Africa... I think its normal to go on a price rise of 3x on drums (this seems to be a formula in alot of business) I have had a batch drums come with 2 broken skin , 2 cracked shell and a slashed bag,, but i cant imagine that is a problem if your big and using containers..

Michi wrote about bringing drums to Auss and I have to admit we have it easy here.. Also the US is going to have higher costs of transit..

Haven't seen your drums so please stick up a link.. There is a market for lower priced drums for sure an being a lefty i dont think your bank balance should determine who gets the best goods...

I will be back studying soon so hope to get at this subject.. Went to a lecture with economist Paul Collier who was just back from advising the new guinea government and had interesting thoughts on how they should fairly set rates on the export of raw materials.. Unfortunately environmental impact did not seem to be on the agenda..

Cheers
#22727
Hi Michael,

first of all I'd like to thank you for all the nice music you produced and the lovely videos you put on youtube! And then I like to say I fell sorry for all the accusations you seem to have suffered on your facebook page. I have no doubts about you being a very good djembe player.

About the argument between you, Tom, and the unknown third man I am at a loss, because I don't know all the facts, and I think I don't want to know. I wish you guys could live with the competition of the others in your business. I can see that wrong has been done to you and you are pretty mad at this, but there is a part in your argumentation that I cannot agree with:
pluzy wrote:I am saying that people tend to romanticize the African drum. Including myself! And it is hard for people to look at the facts that if we keep on going how we are going now there will not be drums coming out of Africa in the near future! And the African people should be having this discussion, not us non africans discussing the fate of Africa. It is a bit presumptuous of us.

I find it interesting that there are no Africans involved in any of these discussions! Why is it all non Africans and so much about business?

Another issue I would like to bring up is why any drummer who is a teacher, performer or student feels it is valid to learn another cultures music and art form, be good enough (in their own eyes or teachers eyes) to perform and or teach the music (i.e. "art form") from another person culture and even learn how to skin a drum and even make a drum but that same person will not think it is valid that a drum that is made from a person outside of Africa or even from their own culture is not valid?
It would be nice to have African people included in this discussion, and this forum is open to them. But since this is a serious environmental issue we all participate in, its not presumptuous of us to discuss it. Its never presumptuous to discuss moral issues, even though you are not directly involved, otherwise amnesty international would have no legitimacy.

You even find "the attitude of white or non African dominance and business in Africa to be colonialism". I would rather like this allegation to be used with much caution. Its just business, no gunboat policy included, and the people involved seem to care about the environment and the workers. The non African dominance in the djembe business could be simply a matter of reliability.

I personally do not romanticize African djembes and I do believe that some of your djembes are really good. It's possible that the skill and technic of djembe craft in Indonesia is catching up. But I would still prefer African drums because I feel it is part of their tradition and belongs to Africa, and because Africa needs the income, even though the Africans get only a little portion of the deal. But this is my personal choice and I think business is going its own way in a globalized world -- i've seen this documentation on TV about this Chinese village where most of the violins are produced today. It fells strange, but consumers decide. So if you use controlled wood for you djembes, I cherish you for that as much as I cherish Tom for his efforts.

Cheers, Jürgen
#22732
Welcome to the forum, Michael. I have been a fan of your videos (especially the Mali ones) for quite a long time.

I think this thread is bringing up some very interesting issues. One question that has been nagging me since the beginning of this conversation is how many drums are actually produced, both in Africa and Asia? When we are talking about deforestation and sustainability, it, to me, implies huge numbers. I would be curious to know what the actual numbers of djembes produced are.

I have a definite prejudice in favor of African (specifically Malian, LOL) drums. My first drum ever was a low quality lathe turned Toca and I will admit that since then, I have basically written Asian drums off. But having said that, I wonder how pianists first felt when the Japanese started making pianos? Or the Chinese making violins? Maybe there will come a day when the quality is, indeed, up to par with the best of the African drums. I'll try to keep an open mind. :-)

As far as comments about slamming x8 in another thread, my gripe was mostly about their advertising. Hand Carved African Djembes! In big letters. It seems deceptive. They ARE handcarved, but only the decorations. Where it really matters, they are turned on a lathe. And they are obviously not African. More correctly they should be called African style. Unless you read the fine print, you are going to walk away thinking you have a Hand Carved African Djembe!

Peace and Love my friends,
Rachel
#22737
Rachelnguyen wrote:
I think this thread is bringing up some very interesting issues. One question that has been nagging me since the beginning of this conversation is how many drums are actually produced, both in Africa and Asia? When we are talking about deforestation and sustainability, it, to me, implies huge numbers. I would be curious to know what the actual numbers of djembes produced are.
This is exactly the key question as far as the the contribution that djembe drums are making to deforestation.