Glossary of African Musical terminology
Some words you'll come across on ths site and while studying West African music
This is a glossary of African Percussion drums and other instruments associated with african percussion music, that you will come across on this website and beyond when studying this type of music.
medicine or charm (maninka/bamana)
The bass note on a djembe. This is played in the centre of the drum. See our other article for more information on djembe technique. According to Eric Charry's book Mande Music this may be refered to as duguma.
A musical arrangement that breaks up a rhythm. A break can be used to start rhythms, end rhythms and may also be in the middle of a rhythm.
Some breaks are traditional and may mark the steps of a dance.
masters of the bara
The heart of the village where the dancing takes place
next in line to the baratigi
middle group of the bara
youths of the bara
boys of the bara
robe worn by a jeli
'your head is like a lizard!' - call for dunun rhythms
wolof term for a composed break
respect (1st term maninka/bambara; 2nd term susu)
mudcloth (traditional mande cloth).
bombax costatum, matchwood, melina, main wood for dunun and chun (tion) drums, a good light alternative for djembes but not favoured by professional drummers in west africa
prosopis africana, a very dense, heavy, melodic wood considered great for djembe but rare
crossopterys febrifuga, another rare djembe wood
lannea acida, yet another rare djembe wood
A call is the common name for a signal to start a rhythm. A call marks the tempo of a rhythm and some rhythms have unique calls, so they may identify a rhythm. There are 2 common calls for used for most rhythms. One is 4/4 call and the other is a 6/8 call. This is not traditional and is something that came about as a result of the ballets.
Shea butter, commonly used on drum skins and on the hands of djembe players.
farmer's hoe (maninka/bamana)
axe (as carried by the barati)
trousers worn by barati, displaying a pattern symboli of the vulture, which represents power
'sound of the djembe' - a djembe improvisation (often unaccompanied) - maninka/bamana
hunter's shirt, used for camoflage and spiritual protection
hunter's whistle, used to indicate that he had made a kill
(fulbe: duuki, wolof: dimba) - cordyla pinnata, a heavy, dense wood for djembe
khaya senegalensis, a dense, heavy wood for djembe
This means dance and often appears in the names of rhythms, such as Maraka Don. Which would mean the dance of the Maraka(a Mande ethnic group).
This means a dance step.
This means a song.
This means a song.
Directly translated a djembefola is "one who gives the djembe voice". A djembefola is a djembe player. Generally someone would be fairly competent with a djembe before they are refered to as a djembefola.
The largest of the 3 dundus and the name of festival/party where are played.
to bewitch (bamana)
'heating' phase of a rhythm, or the phrases played to heat up the rhythm. According to Eric Charry's book Mande music, this can also be referred to as golobali.
With a flam one hand hits the drum just before the other, with the second hitting on the point you want to emphasise. If you hit it with your right hand first and your left second then you will have more time to play your next note if you make it with your right hand and visa versa. It is worth taking the time to learn to play a flam with each hand leading.
to play (an instrument)
'land of the black skinned' - africa (maninka/bamana)
black (person) - susu
white (person) - susu
A susu word for dance
A susu word for dance
black person - maninka/bamana
music (rhythm or piece)
Are leatherworkers. Garankedon refers to the dance of the leather workers.
A historian and story teller. male jelike/jalike ; female:jelimuso/jalimuso.
pterocarpus erinaceus, a somewhat lighter wood than lenke, djala or dugura, with melodic sound. used for the bala.
class of former warriors, rulers and community leaders. The common name Keita is of this lineage.
milicia excelsa, popular wood for djembes from ivory coast
the art of jeli / jeli-ness. See our other article for more about Jeliya.
sound, voice, language (maninka/bamana)
magic substance designed to curse or maim the victim
liana bracelets worn by the bilakoro. dunun rhythm played for the bilakoro to dance.
an important fetish and initiation society of the bamana and maninka. They are a secret power society associated with blacksmiths
bambara initiation society
member of the kore society who has a comical function
tubular iron chime twirled and struck by jelimusolu to accompani some and dance. The Malian Karignan, also known as Nege (Bamana for "metal"), which is slightly different. It's a metal rasp that is scraped with a large nail or other metal dowel. The Malian karignan accompanies Kamale Ngoni and Donso Ngoni playing. This instrument is very important! It gives a very distinct feel to the music.
the karignan that accompanies donso ngoni is larger than the one for kamale ngoni.
curse or magic spell (bamana)
small basket rattles from sankaran region (similar to brazilian caxixi)
afzelia africana, sacred tree considered the number one wood for djembes by many masters
tradition, custom (maninka/bambara, borrowed from arabic al-ada)
The Mande are an ethnic group from West Africa. Today they are found mainly in Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal and Mali. The Malinke and the Mandinka are part of this ethnic group of people.
This refers to a note played on a dunun where the stick is pressed into the skin of the drum as it stikes it. This creates a higher melodic note that forms a part of many dundun patterns.
Marabout, koranic teacher and healer
rhythm (wolof), the accompaniments used in sabar rhythms, a senegalese pop genre incorporating sabar rhythms
hippopotamus, emblem and namesake of mali and mande empire
whip made from hippo skin
A blacksmith, who are traditionally strongly associated with the djembe.
bambara initiation society
white person (bamana)
spiritual power (maninka/bamana)
hyena, bambara initiation society
A praise song (maninka/bambara)
A djembe roll is when a djembe player fills space with many notes to create a rumbling effect.
Below is an example of 2 notes in the period on one 16th note.
Notice the 2 in the first space below. This indicates to notes played in the space of what would ordinarily be one 16th note
There are many different kinds of rolls and they may be in several different timings regardless of the timing of the actual rhythm.
A non educated non-African audience are generally impressed by rolls and as such they can be very easily misused.
You don't need to know about African music to roll well, but your playing will be empty and shallow if you don't have the depth of knowledge back it up.
hunter's musician (also: donso jeli) - maninka
master and keeper of traditions, a person who has delved deep into the esoteric arts including herbal medicine
old hunter's harp, like the donsongoni
A festival/party where drums are played (djembe ensemble in conakry, sabar ensemble in senegambia)
'ears' or rattles fixed to a djembe (sesse is in susu, sege sege is a maninka/bamana word, ksing ksing is in mandinka, nanyama is in bamana)
daniellia oliveri, another rare djembe wood
diospryros mespiliformis, you guessed right: another rare djembe wood!
the initiates who have been circumcised
The highest of 3 basic notes on djembe, this is played at the edge of the djembe with finger tips curling and hitting the skin. See our other article for more information on djembe technique. According to Eric Charry's book Mande Music this may be refered to as sanfe or sanma.
In addition to the basic slap, there are also a number of other slaps commonly played on djembe, such as the closed slap, the muted slap and the ringing slap.
The middle note of 3 basic djembe notes. This is played at the rim of the drums with the fingers hitting the skin flat and at the same time. See our other article for more information on djembe technique.According to Eric Charry's book Mande Music this may be refered to as cemance.
cordia millenii, sacred tree from ghana used by akan peoples for carving royal drums. considered too soft for djembe
cutting or breaking (call/appel)
foreigner (usually means white person in bamana or maninka)
original word for a drum, origin of the french 'tam tam'. refers to the seuruba and soninke (maraka) and khassonke drums.
spoken word in wolof, similar to rap
history, chronicle, epic story (maninka/bambara, borrowed from arabic ta'rikh)
A part of Southern Mali and home to a unique style of djembe music.
castanets made of calabash discs, traditionally used by male initiates to announce their passings during their seclusion period and purify the area, as well as for dancing at the initiation ceremonies.
it's a term djembe masters use to refer to the fast style the youth are getting into. in the words of zoumana dembele, "every good percussionist can play warra warra warra! it has no depth, no subtleties.
cola nut tree
cola nut, traditionally used as an offering